These 10 Stretches Will Feel So Good After a Long Day of Working from Home
Quarantine: It's not a word that you ever imagined saying on a regular basis. And yet now, in the midst of COVID-19, quarantine—along with social distancing and self-isolation—is now part of our daily vernacular. We find ourselves homebound, losing track of time as we're discouraged more and more from going outside. As a result, we're spending unprecedented amounts of time on the couch, clicking from one show to the next, or, if we're fortunate enough, working from home.
No matter how you're spending your time inside, one thing's for sure: You're likely sitting in one spot far more than you would on any given normal day. Because of this, you might start to develop tension in your body due to poor posture and general stagnancy. "The unfortunate truth about adaptability as humans is that we adjust just as quickly to negative stressors, like poor posture, as we do to positive stressors, like exercise," says MindBody wellness specialist Kate Ligler. "The upside, however, is that our bodies can continue to thrive even after a long day of sitting if we integrate a great post-workday recovery routine with a few simple movements."
That's where we—along with Ligler and Pure Barre's VP of Training & Technique, Katelyn DiGiorgio—come in. We've rounded up 10 of the best stretches to do at home after a long day of sitting in one spot. And while these feel-good exercises come in handy now more than ever, they'll be just as beneficial once we return to the (more active) intricacies of normal life.
Seated Forward Fold
According to DiGiorgio, this stretch does an excellent job of lengthening through your spine, glutes, and hamstrings. To put it to the test, have a seat on the ground and send both legs straight in front of you, with your feet flexed. "Sit up tall and reach your arms straight up," she instructs. "Slowly hinge forward with a long flat spine, rounding the back once you can't reach any further." Hold for 30 seconds before releasing and sitting up one vertebra at a time.
Pro tip: "Imagine finding space between each vertebra," DiGiorgio guides. "Allow your lower back to relax and release any tension by letting the head hang heavy. Avoid bouncing in the position and work to keep the movements fluid and controlled."
If you are someone who leans over a keyboard all day, Ligler says that there's a good chance that your shoulder and chest muscles are shortened in the process—and your lower back might start cramping from trying to compensate. Fortunately, child's pose is here for you. "This position helps stretch and reestablish length to reverse the effects of that dreaded perpetual hunch and rounded lower back," Ligler says.
To get in formation, hop onto the floor and start on your hands and knees. Sit your hips back towards your heels while walking your hands as far forward as possible with palms flat on the floor. While some people can get their bottom all the way back to their heels, yours might be more mid-air—do what works for you. Ligler says to deepen the stretch by dropping your head through your elbows to the floor. Again, this depends on your level of flexibility and mobility. If you can't comfortably place your head on the floor, use a prop (like a yoga block) for support. "To go even deeper with the stretch, press your armpits towards the floor to further stretch your chest and shoulders," she adds. "You'll hold this pose ideally for at least 30 to 60 seconds."
After a long day of sitting, it's almost a given that your shoulders will be stiff. "Shoulder opener is a great way to release some tension through the shoulders after sitting all day, which pulls our shoulders inward," DiGiorgio says.
Stand with your feet hip-width apart with a soft bend in your knees. "Hold a towel, belt, or resistance band behind your back," DiGiorgio instructs. "Raise your arms behind you as high as you can without feeling discomfort. Pull your shoulders back and together as you lift." For best (read: the most relieving) results, hold here for 20 seconds and repeat three times.
Door Frame Back and Chest Stretch
When you sit hunched in front of a computer, your shoulders fall inward; this puts stress on your back and compresses your chest. "To help your back and chest find more breathing room—quite literally—a standing door frame stretch is a great step toward reopening the ribcage and diaphragm that may have become compressed from too much sitting," Ligler says.
To stretch out these areas, put both arms at or close to a 90-degree angle on a door frame and stagger one leg in front of the other, Ligler guides. Tighten your core and slowly lean into the forward leg to initiate the stretch. Complete three to five alternating leans to really release any tension plaguing the muscles.
While the upper body is often the first (and sometimes only) muscle group that comes to mind after a long day of sitting, your legs could actually use a boost, too. "The low lunge allows you to deeply stretch through the quadriceps and hip flexors," DiGiorgio says, noting that they can also become tight from excessive sitting.
Lunge that tension away by coming down to all fours; step one foot forward between your hands, with your knee lined up over your ankle. If that feels good, extend your other leg back slightly behind you and plant the ball of your foot on the floor. Then, lift into a low lunge, picking your back knee off the floor. Hold here for 30 seconds and, if you want an even deeper stretch, lower down onto your forearms. "With the front foot planted and the ability to lean more or less into the bottom hip, you have a great amount of control over how deeply you're stretching," DiGiorgio adds.
Pro tip: DiGiorgio says to focus on keeping your hips square in this post. "Avoid letting the front knee track in front of the toes," she says.
Standing Shoulder Rolls
Sure, they're simple, but these essential movements are often overlooked. And, as Ligler reminds us, sometimes the simplest movements are in fact the most effective. "A standing shoulder roll works to not only reestablish length in the chest and shoulders but also strengthens the mid- and upper-back musculature," she explains.
While you may not need a reminder for this one, we're going to provide one just in case: Stand tall and shrug your shoulders up and back, retracting your shoulder blades as you go, explains Ligler. "Gently roll your head from side to side between each shoulder roll to loosen the muscles around your neck and jaw," she adds. Complete at least five rolls per side, taking your sweet time as you do so.
The butterfly stretch is another simple, yet effective way to recharge after sitting for extended periods of time. DiGiorgio points out that it's especially effective for relieving the hips and lower back.
Take a seat on the floor and bring the soles of your feet together to touch in front of you. "Allow your knees to gently fall open, as you keep the chest lifted and shoulders relaxed," Digiorgio instructs. "You can hold here, or try folding forward from the waist for a deeper stretch." Whichever you choose, hold for at least 30 seconds before attempting to sink lower.
There's a reason why you were taught this stretch in grade school gym classes—it loosens you up and makes tension a worry of the past. DiGiorgio agrees, noting that cat-cow stretches are a phenomenal way to release tension in your neck and upper back.
As a refresher, get down on your hands and knees. "Inhale as you move your sit bones up towards the ceiling, arching the back and pressing the chest towards the floor as you lift the head up," DiGiorgio instructs, noting that this is the cow position. "Relax the shoulder blades away from your ears and hold for a few breaths. Then, inhale as you round out your back and push your shoulder blades away from you to form a C curve in the opposite direction for cat." Cycle through this stretch five to 10 times for maximum post-work relief.
Bent-Knee Windshield Wipers
Don't let your not-so-ergonomic home office chair wreak havoc on your mid- and upper-back at night. Instead, use this stretch to improve mobility throughout your thoracic spine, which Ligler says will reduce that stiffness and stretch as far down as your low back and as high up as your neck.
"Start by laying on your back and bring your legs into a tabletop position with your knees bent at 90-degrees," Ligler instructs. "Extend your arms to a T at your sides. Then, inhale, and with a tight core, slowly lower both bent knees to the left side of your body until the side of your left leg is fully on the floor with your right stacked on top."
While moving through this, Ligler says to make sure that both shoulder blades stay flat on the floor at all times for the best results. "After five to 10 seconds, re-engage your core and rotate your legs to the right side," she adds, noting to complete three to five rotations per side.
Last but not least, push up into a cobra to give the front of your body the same love as the back. "A cobra stretch is a great way to elongate the front side of your upper body after sitting all day," DiGiorgio says.
To perform this stretch, lay on the floor, on your stomach. "Place your hands directly underneath your shoulders," DiGiorgio instructs. "Slowly and gently press away from the floor as high as you can without feeling discomfort in your lower back—it may only be a small lift." Hold here for 20 seconds and repeat at least three times.
Use Your Breath
No matter which stretches you cycle through at the end of your day (or ever, for that matter), the soothing results will be magnified if you align them with your breath. "Regardless of your ergonomic setup, the stress of the workday can have a dramatic impact on the quality of our breath," Ligler says. "Belly or abdominal breathing is the basis for almost all meditation and relaxation techniques and has been shown to boast benefits such as stress reduction, lowered blood pressure, and improved immune system response." So, before you move, bend, or stretch, she says to start by inhaling through your nose into the lungs and all the way down to the base of the ribcage so that your belly expands. "Exhale through your mouth—again focusing on movement through your belly and midline," she guides. "This is a great desk chair exercise for any stressful moment during the day, as well."