Desk jobs have their perks. You’re off your feet, sheltered from the elements, and quite possibly have access to free coffee. But they’re also slowly killing you. Sitting all day, it turns out, is quite bad for your body. Specifically, prolonged sitting causes a shortening and tightening of your hip flexors — those hinge-like muscles just below your hip bones that expand and contract as you walk. With yours constantly in the contracted (sitting) position, it begins to take a toll. Similarly, long bouts of staring at a computer screen encourage a shoulders-hunched, bent-over posture that is magnified with age. Combined, all this means that when you stand up at the end of the day, everything is tight and your movement is limited.
Fortunately, a few easy stretching exercises can go a long way to limbering up your body. Start with these seven moves, which can be done in your living room (or at your desk, if you’re feeling bold).
Stretch 1: The Chair Stretch
Consider this a warm-up to the real deal, or a quick fix if you’re locked into your seat for another hour of work. From sitting, reach both hands behind your head and clasp fingers together. Inhaling deeply, turn palms to face the ceiling and push upward, straightening your arms and pushing your chest forward as you do. Hold for 10 counts. Exhale deeply and release the stretch. Do as many times as necessary.
Stretch 2: Back Arch
This basic move elongates your abdominal muscles and stretches the hip flexors and chest. There are a few variations of this move, depending on how flexible you are. Start standing with your back about a foot from a wall, feet shoulder-width apart. Reach your arms overhead and raise your face skyward, feeling a stretch in your torso. Arch your back and reach arms behind your head, aiming to touch the wall behind you. (You can bend elbows slightly to aid your cause.) If you have the flexibility, let your hands touch the wall, and using this for support, push your hips out in front of you, feeling a deep stretch in your hip flexors. Hold for 30 seconds then release.
Stretch 3: Hamstring Stretch
This move requires an exercise band, towel, or a necktie. Lie on your back, knees bent, feet flat on floor. Lift your right foot off the floor and slip the band or towel under the arch, grasping one end in each hand. Slowly straighten your right leg keeping tension on the band. Do not lock your knee. Gently pull the band toward your chest, raising your right foot toward the ceiling. Stop when you reach a point of comfortable stretch in your hamstring. Hold for 10 seconds, release, and repeat two more times. Then repeat the sequence on the opposite side.
Stretch 4: Cobra
Lie face down on the floor, elbows bent and hands by your shoulders. Push through your arms to raise your chest off the floor. How far you can lift depends on how tight your chest area is. Raise yourself to a comfortable stretch, keeping your head up and eyes raised. Hold for 30 seconds, then release.
Stretch 5: Figure 4
Start facing something you can hold onto for support, like the edge of a table, towel rack, or back of a couch. Cross your right foot over your left knee, keeping your bent right knee out to the side so that your legs form the shape of the number “4.” Holding the support in front of you, bend your left knee and sink into the stretch, which you’ll feel in your glutes and iliotibial band (along the outside of your leg). To achieve a deeper stretch, bend the left knee more. Hold 30 seconds, then repeat on the opposite side.
Stretch 6: Lunges
Stand with feet shoulder-width apart. Take a big step forward with your right leg. Shift your weight forward and bend right knee, feeling a stretch along your left quad and hip flexor. If your flexibility is limited, you can also bend your left knee so that it touches the floor, then lean deeper into the stretch from here. Hold 30 seconds, repeat on the opposite side.
Stretch 7: Wall Stretch
Stand facing a wall, about three feet away. Place hands against the wall and lean into it, keeping your legs straight and your body in one long line. Feel a stretch in your calf muscles as you press your heels into the floor. For a deeper stretch, try shifting your weight from one foot to the other, allowing the resting leg to bend slightly as you toggle back and forth.