Whether your day job involves sitting at a desk, driving to sales calls, or bent over your phone responding to emails and texts while you run around town, we all could use stretching breaks throughout the day.
“Stretching is very important, but not in the way people think, says K. Aleisha Fetters, M.S., C.S.C.S. You’re not thinning out your muscles, she says. Stretching helps you focus in on all the neurological feedback that you have in your muscles and helps you connect with your body throughout the day when you’re stressed, and that’s huge, she says. “You can’t underestimate the value of reconnecting with your body and asking yourself, ‘How do I feel? Where am I feeling tight? Am I holding tension anywhere?’ and then adjusting what you’re doing,” Fetters says.
If you’re deskbound during the day, you’re in a very specific position where muscles aren’t going through their natural, full range of motion, says Fetters. “Stretching is great to do every hour or two when you have breaks during the day,” she suggests. Make an effort to stretch every time you get up to go to the bathroom or grab a drink during your workday. This is also a good routine to add to your bedtime routine so you feel relaxed before bed, Fetters suggests. Releasing muscle tension by stretching—or doing yoga poses—allows you to relax, so you’re more likely to fall asleep faster.
Remember, you should feel a stretch, says Fetters. But it shouldn’t be painful. Breathe into each stretch and don’t bounce, she advises.
Try this roughly five-minute stretching routine to help release muscle tension, open up tight muscles, and reduce pain or risk of injury. Hold each stretch for 30 seconds.
Chest Opener Stretch
Clasp both hands behind you, near your butt, pull your shoulders down and hold the stretch for 30 seconds while taking deep breaths.
Chest openers are so important for people who are hunched forward most of the day, says Fetters. “Our lives are all about our shoulders going forward whether it’s over a phone or a computer or we’re just sitting on the couch. And all of those muscles in the chest are tightened and contracted,” she says. This stretch can help them get into the opposite position.
When you have tightness in your back, doing this chest-opening stretch can help relieve some of the tension and pull in the back, says Fetters.
You might find that you have neck, upper back, and shoulder pain if you’re typing at a computer all day, on phone calls, or bending your head and texting on your phone. You can do this stretch standing or sitting. Place one hand lightly on the top of your head, pulling your head towards one shoulder, stretching the opposite hand towards the ground. “Let your shoulder drop and hold this stretch,” advises Fetters. “A lot of us hold stress in this area, particularly if we work on computers all day.” Switch sides after 30 seconds.
A quadriceps (thigh) stretch will be done on one leg at a time. You can hold onto a chair, table, or windowsill for support, or, work on your balance by raising your other arm that’s not holding your foot in the air. From a standing position, pull one foot behind you, towards your butt. Making sure you’re keeping the knees together, suggests Fetters. “You’re going to get a much better stretch if you keep an upright posture and your knees are stacked next to each other pointing down to the floor while you stretch that leg.”
Also called the piriformis muscle stretch, this is a good stretch for the hips, which can be really tight when you’re sitting all day, says Fetters. The piriformis muscles extend from the upper thighs to either side of the pelvis. Lie on your back on the floor or a mat with knees bent and feet on the floor. Cross your right ankle over the left knee. Think about making an upside-down figure four. Reach both arms through the thighs and pull the left thigh in towards your chest. Your left foot will come off the ground. Hold for 30 seconds. Then switch sides.
The hamstring muscles (located on the backs of the thighs) can be tight even if you’re not working out regularly, says Fetters. Place one leg up on a sturdy chair, couch armrest, or windowsill. Pull your arms long over your head and then lead forward, stretching towards your outstretched foot. “It’s important to lead with the torso and the chest as opposed to leading with the arms and then rounding your back,” says Fetters. The chest should be down towards the thigh of the stretched leg and the back flat. You can also do this sitting on the floor, with one foot tucked in resting inside the thigh of the outstretched leg, says Fetters.
You might experience tight calves if you’re walking around in heels all day, or if you haven’t stretched your calves after a recent workout.
Place the ball of one foot up on a wall, press both hands against the wall, and lean forward. “Try to keep an upright posture while stretching one calf at a time,” suggests Fetters. Keep that back leg straight. If you bend it or you bend your heel, you’re going to stop stretch in there. Switch legs after 30 seconds.
Diana Kelly is a freelance writer, consultant, and freelance writing coach. She loves taking fitness classes, squeezing in mini-workouts between articles deadlines, hanging out with her adopted puppy, Jackson, and hiding messes in closets and drawers.