8 Simple Desk Stretches That Take Less Than a Minute

A doctor of physical therapy shows how to undo the bodily damage of sitting for hours on end.

desk stretch

No matter how much time you spend in the gym or yoga studio, if you're an office dweller, chances are you log way more hours at a desk. And when you're not at work, you're probably hunched over your phone. It may be stating the obvious, but sitting for eight-plus hours a day or staring down at a mobile screen isn't how your body was design to function — and forcing it into this these positions can compromise your overall health.

Luckily, there's a fix: Doing a quick set of simple stretches at your desk each day can help offset the ill effects of all that sedentary time. 

Below are eight moves that I give clients at THE WELL, where I am the Director of Sports Medicine and Fitness, to help reduce muscle tightness. Aim to hold each stretch for 15 to 30 seconds — the amount of time proven to be the most effective. Also, make sure that you hold the stretch to a point of mild discomfort, but never pain! It's also important to take breaks where you get up from your chair and walk around a little during the days. Last, if at all possible, use a sit-stand desk at work.

1. Seated Spinal Rotation

How To:

  • Move toward the front of your chair and lean forward. Place palms together between legs with arms fully extended.

  • Reach one hand up and rotate to the side. Work with your breath and exhale while rotating, then inhale on the way back to center. Switch sides.

2. Chest Opener with Upper Back Extension 

How To:

  • Place arms behind the head with fingers interlocked.

  • Extend back over chair while engaging your core and abdominals. Be sure not to allow the lower back to extend.

  • Optional: Use a ball or pillow and place it midway down the back prior to extending backwards.

3. Neck Stretch

How To:

  • Sit tall and upright. Grasp the bottom of the chair with your hand to keep the shoulder depressed.

  • Bring your opposite hand overhead and gently provide pressure on your head as you bring your ear toward your opposite shoulder.

  • Hold, then repeat on the other side.

4. Overhead Triceps Stretch

How To:

  • Lift one arm overhead. Bend the elbow fully, letting the hand drop toward the mid-back with your palm facing your back.

  • Place your opposite hand on your elbow and apply pressure to increase the stretch. Hold, then repeat on the other side.

5. Upper Back Stretch

How To:

  • Stretch your arms out in front of your body. Clasp one hand on top of your other hand.

  • Reach out until you feel your shoulder blades stretching away from each other.

  • Gently bend your head forward. Hold. 

6. Seated Hip Stretch

How To:

  • Sit at the edge of the chair with feet flat on the floor. 

  • Cross your leg and place your ankle on your opposite thigh close to the knee.

  • Place one hand on your heel and opposite hand on your thigh close to the knee.

  • Gently add pressure from your right hand to your right thigh, pressing towards the floor for a greater stretch. Hold, then repeat on other side.

  • If you have more flexible hips, lean your chest forward to increase the stretch even more.

7. Lower Back Rotation

How To:

  • Sit upright, keeping your feet flat on the floor. Twist to one side at the core, keeping hips square and spine tall.

  • Position your hands behind your head or place left hand on right knee to support the stretch. Hold, then repeat on the other side.

  • If you're more flexible, cross one leg over the other to increase the stretch intensity.  

8. Seated Hamstring Stretch

How To:

  • Rest your heel on the floor, keeping your leg straight. 

  • Gently lean forward until a stretch is felt behind your knee/thigh.

  • Hold, then repeat on the other leg.

  • You can intensify the stretch by pointing your ankle and toes upwards towards your body.

Dr. Craig is the Director of Sports Medicine & Fitness at THE WELL. Learn more about our Membership offerings, including a complimentary Movement & Mobility assessment, here.


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