There's nothing quite like finally sitting down after standing on the subway for the crowded trip home from work. But now that your daily commute consists of crawling out of bed, dragging yourself into the kitchen for coffee, and collapsing at your "desk" (AKA, your couch) while still in your pajamas, you're probably sitting more often than not. If that restless feeling in your body just won't go away, you might want to dive into some stress-relieving stretches for when you've been sitting for too long.
"Sitting for extended periods of time decreases circulation throughout your body, builds tension in muscles, and has the potential to induce atrophy of the muscle in extreme cases," says Austin Martinez, a certified athletic trainer and director of education for one-on-one stretching studio franchise StretchLab.
You don't have to be a stretching expert to counteract the effects of having your laptop on your lap all day, says MYXfitness coach and head trainer at New Jersey-based studio Yoga Mechanics Donna Scro Samori. "Start small," she says. "Find a few stretches that feel good in your body and try to incorporate them every day." To get into a stretching habit, try these 11 stretches at least once daily, increasing frequency over time. You'll hopefully be moving a lot easier soon enough.
1. Long Lunge
When you're sitting all the time, your hip flexors (which help bring your legs forward when you're walking or running) get no action. Address this by sinking into a lunge with your left leg out in front of you. Let your back (right) knee drop to the ground. Scoot your right knee back a little bit and walk your left foot forward just a couple inches. Squeeze your right glute and lean your right hip forward. You can drop down to your fingertips or forearms if that feels good, holding the stretch for about 20-30 seconds each side.
2. Hip 90/90
You can't take care of your hips too much when you're sitting all the time, and this dynamic stretch will help open your chest at the same time. Sit on your butt and, with bent knees, plant your heels as far apart from each other as you can. Place your fingertips behind you, just behind your hips, keeping your chest tall. Slowly tilt your left knee toward the ground on your left side, following it with the right knee. When you get close to the end of your range of motion, try to make sure that both legs are bent in 90-degree angles in front of you. Plant your heels and reverse the movement, with both knees falling toward your right side this time. Repeat slowly for 10-15 reps per side.
3. Four-Figure Stretch
Getting at your hips from all angles is just as important as finding that camera angle on Zoom. Lie on your back and cross your left ankle over your right knee. Hug your right thigh into your chest and thread your hands through to bring your right leg toward you. To increase the stretch, press your left knee back away from your body. Hold and breathe for 30 seconds, then switch sides.
4. Chest Reach
Your chest caves forward when you're answering emails all the time. To open it back up, stand tall with your chin in neutral position (not tilted up or down). With bent elbows, slowly reach your arms up and back so that you're in a W shape. Imagine trying to reach the back wall with the backs of your hands, and bring your elbows toward each other behind you. Keeping that tension, slowly unbend your elbows and extend your fingers up toward the ceiling. If your shoulders tend to hurt, skip the extension, and just stick to the first part of the stretch. Move through about 15 pulses of this stretch, holding your elbows back for two or three seconds, then releasing, then repeating.
5. Scorpion Stretch
Open up your hips, your chest, and your shoulders all at once by channeling your inner scorpion. Lie on your stomach with your hands placed under your shoulders. Extend your right arm out straight next to you, keeping your palm on the floor. Press the ground away with your left hand as you bend your left leg and reach it up and over your body toward your right side. Go as far as your range of motion permits, stretching your hips and the right side of your chest and shoulder. Repeat 10-15 times and then switch sides.
6. Butterfly Stretch
Your inner thigh muscles close off and stiffen when you sit for so long. To counteract this, sit tall and bring the soles of your feet together. Scoot your connected feet as close to your body as feels comfortable, gently encouraging your knees to drop toward the ground. Keeping your chest tall, hinge at your hips and lean forward as far as feels comfortable. Hold for about 30 seconds.
7. Frog Sits
This intense hip opener can make standing and actually moving around feel much freer. Sink onto all fours with your knees under your hips and your hands under your shoulders. Then, spread your knees as far apart as feels comfortable while keeping your feet right behind your knees (as opposed to scooted in closer to your body). Keeping your chest tall, gently rock back on your hips, then forward, keeping your knees and feet steady. Only sink as deeply as feels good for your body. Repeat about 15-20 pulses, exhaling as you push back and inhaling as you use your hands to help you pull forward.
8. Lunge With Side Reach
Your rib cage gets extra stiff when you sit all day, and lunge reaches can help bring mobility and comfort to your sides, upper back, and hip flexors. Sink into a lunge with your right leg in front. Keeping your hips square, reach your left arm up over your head and toward your right side. If you have shoulder issues, lead the reach with your elbow rather than your hand. Hold for two or three seconds, release, then repeat for 15-20 reps. Keep it even on both sides.
9. World's Greatest Stretch
It's not called the world's greatest stretch for nothing. You'll get into your hips, thoracic spine, hamstrings, and chest all in one. Start in a lunge with your right leg in front and your left slightly behind you. Place both hands on the ground to the left of your right foot. Bend your right arm and gently reach your forearm toward the ground as close as feels comfortable for your body. Keep your left hand planted as you unwind your right arm and reach it up and over, twisting so your right arm is reaching toward the left side of the ceiling. This will give your chest a nice stretch. Follow your hand with your gaze.
Bring your right hand back down to the ground, on the right side of your right foot. Balancing carefully, lean back on your hips and straighten your right leg as much as feels comfortable, stretching your right hamstring. Switch to the opposite side and repeat the movements, aiming for about 10 times on each side.
10. Cat Cows
Reset your breathing and your spine with a much-needed cat cow flow. Start on all fours with your hands under your shoulders and your knees under your hips. Inhale as you arch your back, bringing your belly toward the floor and stretching your chin back to look at the ceiling. Push your shoulders away from your ears. Exhale as you reverse the wave to arch your back up toward the ceiling (like a cat), pressing your palms into the floor and letting your head rest (but not forcing your chin toward your chest). Repeat 15-20 times.
11. Wide-Legged Forward Fold
Release all that sitting tension in your back and your hamstrings by setting up with a wide stance, with a soft bend in your knees and your feet as far apart as feels comfortable. Hinge at your hips and let your upper body fall forward, letting your arms drop down toward the ground and letting your chin and neck relax. Go slow, avoiding just rounding your back and collapsing forward. Shift from side to side if that feels good, figuring out how to make the most out of this position for your own body. Hang out here for 20-30 seconds and enjoy the relaxation.
Austin Martinez, certified athletic trainer, director of education, StretchLab
Donna Scro Samori, MYXfitness coach, head trainer at Yoga Mechanics