Spending eight hours a day crouched over a laptop is causing havoc with our bodies. Bookending your day with stretches can help to ease sore shoulders, backs and minds.
There comes a point in every desk worker’s day when your neck begins to feel crunchy. Your shoulders feel like they’ve been screwed up to your ears. Your lower back starts to throb. It’s almost like spending eight hours a day hunched over your keyboard with your eyes glued to the screen isn’t good for you.
But there are two very simple remedies for aching desk bodies.
The first is simple: get up.
21st-century office living involves long hours of high-powered working and minimal movement (whether that’s at home or in a physical office), but a recent study by UCLA suggested that even if you do regular exercise outside of work hours, it won’t undo the damage done by sitting stock still 9-5. So regardless of how busy you are, move. Get up from your computer or laptop every hour and have a walk about – whether it’s to make a drink, look out of the window or chat to your work bud/housemate instead of using G-chat.
The second is: stretch.
“Desk work and commuting both take a toll on our bodies,” says Mel Kent, strength and conditioning coach at PerformancePro.
She tells Stylist that as well as helping to offset the issues caused by office life, daily stretching can help us recover quicker from our workouts and aid better mental health.
“Stretching provides us with a few minutes to escape the stress of the day and get back in touch with our bodies.”
Sore office bodies have become such a problem that studios are providing specific treatment for treating a body that’s been sat for long hours in front of a laptop. For example, Strong + Bendy provide a “Desk Therapy Yoga” class to cater for the insatiable demand for correcting desk-posture aches and pains!
Elise Joan is a Beachbody “super trainer” and Barre Blend programme creator, and she goes further to say that stretches “can actually prevent or even undo some of the potential damage our daily activities cause.”
“Sitting in chairs and hunching over screens are two of the most detrimental activities for our body’s alignment. Adding just a few minutes of intentional stretching can have a powerful impact on recovery. From opening our hearts to stretching our legs, we can improve everything from spinal health, to blood flow.
“So let’s make the time to invest in a body that carries us through our entire life!”
Try these four stretches when you get in from work this evening:
1. For the hips - quadruped rock back
Get on all fours, placing knees a bit wider than shoulders and pointing toes down into the floor. Keeping your back flat, rock back towards your heels gently until you reach the end of your range and return.
Aim for two sets of 10 repetitions.
To further stretch the muscles of the inner thigh, you can pop a leg out to the side with toes pointing forward and repeat.
2. For the upper back - side-lying thoracic rotation
Lie on your side with straight legs and arms outstretched straight in front of you, palms meeting. Bring the knee of the top leg up to a 90-degree angle (you can rest it on a foam roller if you have one to hand).
Keeping the knee across your body, bring the top arm up and over, letting it and your shoulder drop towards the floor, rotating the torso and opening the chest.
Repeat five times on each side then go again.
3. For the shoulders - low-back handclasp
These movements help counteract everything from typing and texting to reading and breastfeeding.
Interlace your fingers behind your back and reach your arms upward to expand the chest - improving your thoracic (upper spinal) posture and opening up the front shoulders.
Hold the stretch for ten seconds, rest for ten seconds and repeat three times.
4. For the lower back - rag doll
Everyday activities allow gravity to put a great deal of pressure on the spine, which can lead to painful cervical and lumbar (lower back) compression.
Eloise explains: “Some of the best ways to counteract this potential damage are a downward-facing dog and a simple rag doll forward fold. Both allow gravity to decompress the spine, curating length and space for the muscles of the lower posterior chain (glutes and hamstrings) as well!”
Simple hold your opposite elbows and roll forwards - hinging from your hips. Hang down there, gently swaying from side to side, nodding “yes” and shaking “no” with your head. Slowly roll back up, one vertebra at a time.
Unsure which stretch is best? Sometimes just doing what feels good is enough.
“Try not to overthink things too much,” Faye Bell, Co-owner and instructor at Strong + Bendy, tells Stylist.
“Your body is pretty good at telling you what it needs if you listen to it. For example, in the group-fitness classes I teach I often offer everyone the chance to ‘just do what feels right’ after a set of exercises, before taking them into a prescriptive stretch or cool down: it’s amazing to see most people naturally finding the shapes and stretches I would have recommended.”
You don’t need to spend long either – just carve out ten minutes when you get home and get into your house clothes. Think of it as part of your coming home routine for winding down after a hard day’s graft.
Want to learn more stretches? Follow @StrongWomenUK on Instagram to watch as our certified trainers go over different stretches and their benefits every Friday on #StretchTheWeekOut. You can also learn more in the STRETCH highlight of our handle.
Miranda Larbi is the editor of Strong Women and Strong Women Training Club. A qualified personal trainer and vegan runner, she can usually be found training for the next marathon, seeking out vegan treats or cycling across London on a pond-green Tokyo bike.