That ergonomic chair in your office has been replaced by your living room's
decidedly un-ergonomic bean bag. And while it was a relief at the beginning of quarantine to not have to climb all those subway steps on the way to and from work every day, you're really starting to feel the effects of not being able to get outside and move like you used to. Muscle aches due to working from home are a literal pain in the butt (and neck, and shoulders), but you can help your body avoid creaking every time you try to stand up with some simple stretches.
"Your kitchen chair and your couch were not designed for you to sit in for eight hours consecutively," says
Austin Martinez, a certified athletic trainer and director of education for one-on-one stretching studio franchise StretchLab. "Our desks may be designed to have more ergonomic functions, such as monitors that are eye level, keyboards that mitigate slouching, and excessive wrist extension while typing. This is not the case when your laptop is on your lap."
Martinez says that these positions can cause a lot of
pain and stiffness, especially in your low back, neck, and shoulders. Stretching can help reduce that pain by drawing more nutrients to your muscles and correcting for painful WFH postures. "If you are just starting out, I recommend twice a day for at least 10 minutes," Martinez tells Bustle. "As you advance, increase your duration by five minute intervals. Aim to hold each stretch for a minimum of 20 seconds." These thirteen WFH stretches should get you going on the right track.
Kneeling Hip Flexor Stretch
Sitting all day locks up your hips and that pain can radiate into your low back. Stretching your hip flexors will help alleviate some of that back grief. Kneel with your right knee on the ground and your left foot out in front of you (like you're lunging, but let your back knee stay on the ground). Keep both legs at about 90 degree angles. Squeeze your left glute and push your left hip forward a bit to get the most out of the stretch. Hold for 20-30 seconds and switch sides.
Assisted Hamstring Stretch
When your butt isn't getting what it needs (because yes,
sitting is hard for your butt), your hamstrings suffer, too. Grab a towel and lie on your back. Keep your left leg bent with your foot on the ground, and sling the towel around the middle of your right foot. Extend your right leg up, using the towel to help you gently encourage your leg back toward your chest. Don't pull into pain, just find your edge and stay there. Breathe through 30 seconds and repeat on your other side.
This one lets you open your hips from left to right, where sitting all day locks them up in all directions. Lunge down so that your left knee is in front of you with your knee tracking over your toes. Let your right knee come to the ground under your hips. Keeping your balance and your chest tall, step your left leg out to your left side, trying to bring your hips to about a 90-degree angle. Listen to your body and only move into a range you feel comfortable with. With your left foot facing the wall on your left side, lean into your left thigh. Hold for 20 seconds, then switch.
Your sides tend to shrink down when you're constantly hunching over your laptop, and the relief from stretching through your rib cage will be pretty immediate. Sink into a regular lunge again. When your left leg is in front of you, stretch your right arm to the ceiling and over toward your left side, feeling a stretch through your right rib cage. Stand and switch so that you're lunging forward with your right leg and stretching overhead with your left arm. Hold each side for two or three seconds, then repeat for 10 reps each side.
Behind-The-Back Chest Stretch
Finding the best angle for Zoom is usually terrible for your chest, which caves in all day over the computer. To counter that, stand tall and interlace your fingers behind you. Slowly and carefully, only going into whatever range of motion you have, bring your hands up away from your low back and butt. Try to keep your palms together, but it's OK if they can't quite reach each other. Make a mental note of how closely you can clasp your hands today, and as you continue your stretching practice, see how much progress you make over time. Use your inhales to lengthen your body and your exhales to help you get deeper into the stretch. Keep your neck tall and your face relaxed. Try holding for 20 seconds.
Your inner thighs will be a lot more comfortable when you're making sure to activate them every day instead of keeping yourself locked in seated positions. Sit up tall (on your butt) and bring the bottoms of your feet together. Scoot your heels as close as you can to your body without forcing the movement or arching your back. Keeping your spine neutral, exhale your torso down over your lap, maintaining length through your spine. Hold (and breathe) for 30 seconds.
Opening your chest, shoulders, and hips all at once, this is a helpful all-around body refresh. Lie on your stomach with your arms stretched out by your sides like a T. Keep your palms facing down. Press the top of your left foot into the ground and gently raise your right foot and knee. Keeping steady as you can, bring your bent right leg up and over your backside, touching your toe down next to your left hip if you can. Gently bring (don't swing) your right leg back to starting position. Switch sides. Repeat, alternating sides, until you've gotten 10-15 reps per side.
Your butt and hips (which hate all that sitting) will thank you for this one, and so will your low back. Start on all fours like you were about to perform a pushup. Draw your right knee up toward your chest, then drop it down to the floor. Kick your right foot out toward the left side, trying to make your shin as parallel as you can to the wall in front of you. Straighten out your left leg behind you and shift as you need to so you can make sure your hips are square (one side isn't higher or more lopsided than the other). Keeping your chest tall, exhale your torso down over your right shin. You might be able to reach your fingertips only to the ground, or you may be flexible enough to get down on your forearms. Wherever your body needs to be, hold the stretch for around 25 seconds before switching sides.
This is also helpful for your hips, which otherwise will spend the day tight and uncomfortable. Lie on your back with your feet on the floor and your knees bent up toward the ceiling. Cross your left ankle over your right thigh. Use your hands to hug your right thigh toward your chest, keeping your low back on the ground. To increase the stretch, press your left knee toward your feet. Hold for 30 seconds, remembering to breathe, and switch sides.
Opening up through your chest will help reset your body from all that laptop leaning. Lie on your stomach with your hands just underneath your shoulders. Stretch your right arm out to the side, pressing your palm into the floor beside you. Press down against the floor with your left hand, shifting as needed until you can find that stretch sensation in the front of your right shoulder and chest. Hold this position for 20 seconds before switching sides.
You know exactly what happens to your neck when you're straining to see your laptop from strange positions all day. To start combating that, sit or stand tall with your shoulders relaxed. Slowly bring your chin toward your chest. Roll (don't crank) your right ear toward your right shoulder. Continue the circle by tilting your nose up to the ceiling, then bring your left ear toward your left shoulder. Repeat as needed, completing 10 circles in both directions.
Typing at awkward angles does not agree with your wrists, but these pulses can help get more needed oxygen to your joints. Get into tabletop position, which means settling on the ground with your knees under your hips and your hands planted under your shoulders. With your fingers facing away from you, lean your upper body forward very slightly so that your shoulders come in front of your fingertips. Pulse back and forth into the stretch, never stretching into pain. If you have the ability to do so without pain, rotate your hands so that your fingers are facing your knees and lean back slightly. Complete 15-20 soft pulses in each position.
Being at your laptop and on your phone all day not only puts your wrists in weird positions, but also locks them into one plane of motion (the classic typing positions). Opening them to new ranges of movement keeps your wrists healthy and ready to type another day. Set up in the same way you set up for your wrist pulses, but this time, let your body travel in gentle circles one way, then another. You're aiming to expand your wrists' flexibility to combat the punishing routine of texting and typing. Explore your personal range of motion and what your body needs, finding what feels good. Give yourself 10-15 circles in both directions.
Experts: Austin Martinez, certified athletic trainer, director of education, StretchLab