Coming up on a year since COVID-19 hit the U.S., many of us have largely adjusted to the new “work-from-home” life. Perhaps you’ve created your own at-home work space and figured out your daily routine. And hey, you may even be loving work-from-home life (I mean, who doesn’t love wearing sweatpants to work?). However, with virtual work comes hours hunched over the laptop, which unfortunately may be taking a toll on your body. Maybe you weren’t able to transport your fancy standing desk or cushy rolling chair from your office to your house, and you’ve been settling for the rigid kitchen chair and makeshift desk — and now your back and shoulders are suffering the consequences.
Luckily, we’ve put together a list of stretches and exercises for improving mobility, releasing tension and tightness, and preventing muscle loss. These simple, yoga-inspired movements are easy to do throughout the workday to help release tension, stretch tight joints, and leave you feeling re-energized for the day ahead.
Creating mobility in the spine, neck, and shoulders is crucial for achieving comfort and minimizing pain. Throughout the day, take frequent breaks from your emails to practice these quick stretches — they may seem simple, but they’ll make a world of difference. Just remember that it’s best to practice these exercises slowly in order to deepen the stretch and prevent injury.
- Neck rotations:
Keeping your head upright, slowly turn your head from side to side, peering alternately over each shoulder. If you can, try to move your head past your shoulder. You should feel a good stretch on the outside of your neck each time you switch sides. Hold for 3-5 seconds on each side.
- Shoulder Shrugs:
Standing with your spine long, shrug your shoulders up toward your ears and hold for 5 seconds. Then gently let them fall back down. You should feel the tension release from your shoulders each time you perform this movement. Repeat this 3-5 times.
- Torso rotations and side stretches:
Standing with your feet hip-width apart and your arms at your sides, gently rotate your torso from side to side, keeping your hips squared forward. As you twist, relax your spine and feel the stretch in your lower and upper back as you swing back and forth. To target the side body, lift one arm overhead and lean toward the opposite side, holding for 5 seconds. Keep your core engaged to prevent from collapsing at your waist, and alternate between each side for 3-5 repetitions.
- Gentle backbend:
Sitting in a chair, keep your feet together and firmly planted on the floor. Place your hands on your lower back, and lean back gently over your hands, allowing your lower back to stretch backward. Alternatively, you can try this one standing (Camel Pose). Stand with your feet hip-width apart, and place your hands on your hips with your elbows facing behind you. Engage your glutes, press your tailbone in, and firm your core. Lift your chest and stretch out the spine by leaning back slightly. If it feels comfortable, feel free to tilt your head and look back slightly for a deeper stretch.
Release tension and tightness
Slouching over a computer screen for hours at a time, it’s common to feel some tension especially along the lower and upper back, and if you’re not frequently getting up for walks throughout the day, your legs are likely feeling some tightness as well. Try these stretches for the back and legs to help minimize discomfort and create some looseness in those unused muscles.
For the back:
- Laying on your back, pull your knees toward your chest one at a time, keeping the other leg straight in front of you. Squeeze your knee into your chest for a nice stretch in the hamstring and lower back. Hold the stretch for about 5 seconds and repeat on the other side.
- While seated, bend forward and reach your hands to the ground, pulling apart your shoulder blades for a nice release in the upper back.
- Standing, place your hands on your desk and bend at the waist to stretch your hamstrings and low back. If it feels comfortable, you may also release your hands to the floor for a deeper stretch.
For your legs:
- Standing (and using a chair for balance if needed), grab your right foot with your right hand behind you, squeezing your foot toward your butt. Make sure to push your chest and hips forward. Don’t worry too much about how close your foot is to your backside — the most important thing is that you’re feeling this stretch in your quads. Hold for 10 seconds and repeat on the opposite side.
- Kneeling on one knee, place your front foot in between your hands, making sure that your front knee sits right above your ankle and your toes are facing straight forward. Keeping your spine straight, press down through your back foot to straighten your back leg, feeling a nice opening through the hip. Repeat on the other side.
Prevent muscle loss
Lastly, it’s important to remember that these daily stretches aren’t just good for the short-term, but also the long-term. Maintaining flexibility, mobility, and strength in those often underused muscles is crucial for preventing muscle loss in the future and setting yourself up for optimal health down the road. Try these simple exercises daily to help build and maintain muscle and help counteract the effects of sitting for long periods of time.
(10-30 reps of each)
- Calf raises: Stand up straight and push through the balls of your feet to raise your heels as high as you can, balancing on your toes. Then, with control, slowly lower back down.
- Squats: Standing with your feet shoulder-width apart and toes pointing out slightly, send your hips back and squat down, trying to get your thighs parallel to the floor. Make sure to keep your heart lifted instead of collapsing forward. Then, engaging your legs and glutes, keeping the weight primarily in your heels, rise back to a standing position.
- Wall pushups: Standing arms-length from the wall, place your hands on the wall shoulder-width apart. Then, bend your elbows and lean into the wall, trying to reach your chest forward. Hold the position for a second or two before slowly pushing back until your arms are straight again.
- Single leg stands: Holding onto a chair or wall for balance, if needed, stand and lift one leg off the ground. Try maintaining your balance for 5-10 seconds, then return to the starting position and repeat on the other leg.