You are likely to be sitting at your desk right now while reading this. If that’s the case, then you may very well be aware, or have personally experienced some of the negative effects associated with sitting for long periods in the day. Due to the nature of our work, sitting may a necessary evil – the “desk-bound problem” has been labeled by the media as the “new smoking”. A bit dramatic maybe, but a point certainly worth taking note. If you are at your desk for 8 to 10 hours a day, you are likely to have experienced the following discomfort:
- Neck pain
- Shoulder pain
- Lower back pain or discomfort
- Wrist and elbow pain
- Weight gain
And bear in mind, that this may be compounded by another 2 to 3 hours of sitting when you get home in the evening!
We may not be able to change our jobs, or drastically overhaul our lifestyles, but we can certainly be smarter about it and try to at least limit the above issues with some simple changes. Aside from getting in 30 minutes of exercise at least 3 times weekly, a good start point is to make sure that you sit correctly at your desk (link to clinic article), with your screen, mouse, and keyboard set in the correct positions.
You should also get up from your chair to do some light stretching exercises every hour or so. Here are some helpful stretches you can do at your desk to keep body aches and stiffness at bay:
1. Hip and Spine Opener
One of the main causes of lower back pain is a lack of hip mobility, pelvic position, and T-Spine mobility. A great way to improve these areas is the modified couch stretch with overhead reach. Now granted that you may need a little more space to perform this stretch, or get a few weird stares from your co-workers, but who cares!
- Place one foot on the chair and a knee on the floor (use a towel or pad for your knee if doing this on a hard floor).
- Maintain a neutral spine position, squeeze your butt and move your hip forward as this will release the hip flexor and rectus femurs.
- Take a deep breath and reach overhead. Be mindful not to arch your lower back as you do this, and hold the stretch for 90 to 120 seconds. Switch your legs and repeat.
Perform this 2 to 3 times throughout the day. Observing and being mindful of your breathing as you perform this stretch also helps to moderate your stress levels.
2. Upper Trapezius Stretch
Our upper traps carry a lot of stress. Tension and tightness in that area is often the cause of headaches and shoulder pains. There are many reasons for this such as head position, stress, weak lower traps and breathing (Yes if we breath only using our chest, we are literally performing thousands of upper trap raises every single day!)
- In a seated position, tilt your head to 45 degrees and gently pull your head forward and chin down until you feel the stretch.
- Hold for 30 to 60 seconds on each side.
3. Banded Pull-Aparts
A lot of the pain and discomfort we feel in our body comes from muscular imbalance or poor postures throughout the day. This causes certain muscles to weaken from inactivity, and create tension in other muscles. As mentioned above, our upper traps is an area of high tension (it doesn’t mean they are strong, they are just under constant tension), so we need to work on the opposite muscles to strengthen and balance out the tension (this is known as reciprocal inhibition).
Banded pull-aparts are a great way of strengthening the mid/lower traps. It depresses the shoulder blades and help to strengthen the rhomboid muscles that retract the shoulder blades, which improves your posture and shoulder position.
- Position your hands with your palms facing up, which naturally turn your shoulder back and down.
- Stretch the band with both hands and imagine you are pulling it through your chest, maintaining the tension on the band throughout the stretch.
- Aim for 20 to 30 repetitions and you should feel the burning sensation (be mindful not to let the upper traps come into play) and repeat this for 2 to 3 sets.
4. Banded Dislocations
This a great exercise to improve shoulder mobility and take you away from the typical hunched-over-the-keyboard seated position. However, if you have a pre-existing shoulder pain or injury, you should be careful with this exercise.
- Bring your arms up and move the band overhead, and bring it down behind your shoulders with a slight below bend. Bring the band back to the front of your body. The stretch band allows you to increase or decrease the mobility needed at the shoulders.
- Aim for 15 to 20 repetitions of 2 to 3 sets.
5. Banded Behind Neck Press
This stretch starts in the finishing position of the band dislocations. It is a great way to reclaim shoulder position and also engage mid lower traps.
- Extend your arms and press the band overhead, and squeeze your shoulder blades as you bring the band back down.
- Aim for 15 to 20 repetitions of 2 to 3 sets.
Now you have 5 simple exercises that you can perform daily to relieve muscle tensions. But if you are seated for 10 to 12 hours a day, this is merely scratching the surface. Incorporating these stretches into your daily routine is a great place to start in terms of improving your posture, and reducing muscle pain and discomfort. The next step to develop a strong and healthy body is to work on building muscle strength and mobility – come speak to us at UFIT and we can help you with that!
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Leigh Withers is a Personal Training Manager at UFIT. Since making a career change from financial accounting 11 years ago, Leigh has lived his passion for the fitness industry in the UK, Middle East, Asia and Europe. He’s worked with some of UK’s leading fitness educators, such as Discovery Learning, Fitness Wales, Train Fitness, along with Cardiff Met University.
During his time in the Middle East, Leigh was part of a ground-breaking project to deliver industry-accredited training qualifications to leading gyms in the UAE. He played a key role with the Bahrain Military Defence Hospital to provide training and education to their physiotherapists who were leading the country's first Centre of Excellence Obesity Project. He also worked with Bapco and the country’s leading dietician to front Bahrain’s ‘Biggest Loser’ campaign, and presented to hundreds of employees.
Leigh has spent time training with some of the leading figures in the industry, and has recently completed his Certified Physical Preparation Specialist Certification (CPPS) with Joe De Franco and Jim Smith at the Onnit Academy in Austin, Texas.