If You Sit For Over 3 Hours A Day, These 11 Stretches Can Loosen You Up

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A person in a yellow sweater with a laptop and highlighters on her desk stretches her arms overhead....
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If work is feeling endless and your body is restless from sitting at your computer all day, you're definitely not alone. Over a quarter of American adults sit for more than eight hours a day, and even though sitting can feel delightful, it's not always so great when you feel stuck at your desk. If your body feels the need to shift but you're feeling shy about moving around in the office, desk stretches you can do at work might be your new best friend.

Being the personal trainer nerd that I am, if I'm working from home, I'll typically have my yoga mat laid out next to my desk so I can get some movement in every 15 minutes or so. But if I'm around other people (the horror!), I'm more likely to be shy about the kinds of movements I'll do. Don't get me wrong — if you're comfortable doing some full-out stretches at work, and your office culture is cool with that kind of flex, have at it. But if you'd rather not call attention to the fact that you're stretching, there's a bunch you can do for your body without getting up from your desk at all. (Although you should be getting up periodically too.)

Stretching at work won't just make your body more flexible — it'll also give your mind an opportunity to get less rigid. Stretching can reduce anxiety and improve focus, while sitting for long periods of time can increase stress and wreck your concentration. The next time you're feeling the stretching itch on the job, these 11 stretches can swoop in to restore blood flow and happiness to your day.


Sky Reach

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You probably already do this one between sending emails and answering your third irritating phone call of the day. You can link your fingers together or keep your hands separate. Either way, you want to use your arms to help lengthen your torso, reaching up toward the ceiling while taking a few deep, solid breaths. For added stretchiness, lean into this stretch from side to side to give your torso relief from all directions.


Behind-Your-Chair Stretch

Do you want to get a deep stretch in your upper body and chest without getting up from your chair? You sure can. Link your hands together behind your chair (like you're hugging it, but backwards) and move them toward the ceiling. You won't get very far, but the stretch will be lovely. If you can't get your hands behind your chair, you can scoot forward slightly and do the same motion while simply clasping your hands behind your back.


Hamstring Chair Stretch

Don't want to stand up and then touch your toes while Susan from HR walks past your desk? You can push your chair back and get a similar effect. Plant the backs of your heels on the ground with your legs straight out in front of you, and arch your toes back toward you. Lean forward by hinging at your hips until you feel a stretch in your hamstrings.


Neck Stretch

Tilting your head to wake up the muscles in your neck can be great for reducing the strain from staring forward at your screen all day. Let your head drop forward and move your head in a slow circle, first in one direction and then in the other. Always make sure you're doing this motion with control, because you want to stretch, rather than strain, your neck muscles.


T-Spine Twist

You don't have to get out of your chair to wake up your back. The upper part of your back (starting below your neck) is called your thoracic spine, and this segment of your body is meant to be mobile. However, the amount of time people tend to sit hunched over our computers all day can stiffen the T-spine a lot. To help bring some life back into your spine, brace your left hand on your chair next to your left leg. Using your right hand to guide you, grip the back of your chair with your right hand and let your torso twist gently to the right. Switch sides and breathe in sweet relief.


Shoulder Stretch

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Hit the proverbial pause button right now and tell your shoulders to relax: you were almost certainly clenching them without even knowing it. To help your shoulders relax, extend your left arm across your body and toward the right. Use your right forearm to hug your left arm close to your chest. Shake it out and switch sides, always remembering to breathe through your stretches.


Wrist Relief

Press your palms together and simultaneously lift your elbows toward the ceiling, and you'll feel exactly how tight your forearms get when you're typing all day. Switch the movement so that the backs of your hands are touching and your elbows are tilted toward the ground, and you'll get a nice stretch on the back side of your arms that's bound to get some blood flow going. Go gently, though: wrist flexibility isn't a priority in a lot of people's stretching routines, so you might have to really ease your body into this one.


Upper Traps Stretch

For this one, you're going to tilt your neck and head to the right (so that your right ear approaches your relaxed right shoulder). Once you're settled in that position, let your left arm drop straight at your side (you can be sitting, don't worry) and gently pull down on your left forearm with your right hand. It might seem like a lot of directional math, but once you know what feeling you're looking for (a deep stretch in your neck and upper traps), you'll be eager to switch sides again and again.


Ankle-Over-Knee Hip Stretch

Scoot your chair back a little bit so you have room to cross your left ankle over your right knee. (Bold of me to assume you weren't already sitting like that, I know.) Use your right hand to scoot your left ankle as close to your body as it wants to go. With your left hand, push your left knee down toward the ground gently, producing a stretch that will give relief to your hips in the midst of a long sitting session. Do the same thing on the other side. Remember that it's OK if your legs have different levels of flexibility, so don't feel the need to force anything.


Calf Stretch

Push your chair back and extend your legs in front of you, with your toes pointing toward the ceiling (or the underside of your desk, I suppose). Curve your toes all the way back toward your body, and if the motion makes your feet pop off the ground a little, that's more than alright. You're looking to feel a stretch in your calves, here, so the more perpendicular to the ground you can get your feet, the better.


Tricep Stretch

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Here again, you'll be reaching both arms over your head, but this time, your left hand will capture your right elbow. (Your right arm should be bent such that your hand is touching, or nearly touching, the back of your left shoulder blade.) Use your left hand to pull your right elbow gently toward the center of your body. Breathe through the motion, letting your triceps feel the stretch, before shaking it out and switching sides.


Sometimes, little stretch breaks are the only way to get through a long day at your desk. It'll make you more productive, more focused, and let's be real, there's almost nothing as satisfying as a solid stretch when your body's been still for so long. Get stretching, even if it's only at your desk.

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