The Top 4 Must-Do Stretches for Desk Workers

March 26, 2021

If you’ve ever felt stiff after a few hours of work, you aren’t alone. In fact, millions of people are searching for the best “stretches for desk workers”—and with good reason!

Not only does your body need to take a break from being sedentary and move regularly, but your brain needs the break as well! In fact, there are many benefits of taking short stretch breaks throughout your day.

So, let’s jump right in and take a look at some of the best stretches you should be doing if you regularly work at a desk.


The Top 4 Stretches for Desk Workers

It can be hard to take a break when you’re “on a roll” at work or up against a deadline. But studies have shown just how important it is to incorporate minor breaks in your weekly schedule.

In fact, taking a 10-minute stretch break at work twice a week has been shown to improve mental and physical functioning, bodily pain, vitality, and even mental health! [1]

According to the study, published in 2020, 313 office workers with an average age of 43 and an average BMI of 24.5 completed 10-minute stretch routines twice a week for 12 weeks.

Given the benefits, the researchers said the routines provided significant improvements to the participants’ quality of life.

So, what were the exercises? Well, they were all trunk focused, meaning they stretched the participants’ core muscles, and partly resembled yoga poses. Specifically, the poses stretched the abdomen, chest, hips, and sides.

Based on this research, that’s exactly what we’re going to discuss: the top four stretches for desk workers.

The best part? If you’re limited on time, all of these stretches can be done right at your desk (though I absolutely recommend getting outside, if you can).

Another perk is that if you’re familiar with yoga, you likely already know how to do some of these. So, let’s dive right in!


Stretches for desk workers - Dr. Pingel


1. Cobra pose

When you’re sitting at a desk all day, your abdominal muscles tend to remain crunched. So, one of the top stretches for desk workers focuses on stretching out those abs.

The common yoga pose known as the cobra pose does just that. By getting on the floor, lying on your stomach, and using your hands to push up your shoulders, you’re naturally stretching out your abs.

Click here to see exactly how it’s done.

In addition to the cobra pose, if you could also choose to incorporate a few bilateral leg raises to help strengthen your abdominal muscles, which will help to support your posture and reduce back pain while working at your desk.

In fact, according to a 2019 study, bilateral leg raises showed significantly greater activation of the abdominal muscles than other exercises. [2] And we all know that a strong core is crucial when you’re sitting all day behind a computer.

Click here to watch a video on how to correctly do bilateral leg raises.

2. Side stretch

When it comes to the top stretches for desk workers, this one is perhaps the easiest to incorporate regardless of your location. It can be done sitting in a chair or on the floor, or even while standing.

To stretch out your sides, simply sit or stand up straight and raise your right arm all the way up as if you’re reaching for the ceiling. Lean to the left and bring your right arm over your head toward your left side, as if you’re creating an arch with your arm.

You should feel a stretch in your right oblique muscle. Hold it for a few seconds and then repeat with the other side. Click here for a quick video tutorial on how to complete a side stretch.

If you struggle with tight obliques, do this stretch regularly and also consider including a muscle-building component as well.

Interestingly, the same study I mentioned above about bilateral leg raises also revealed that doing planks activated internal oblique muscles. [3]

For information on how to effectively do a plank, you can check out this video, which shows a modified version for easier execution. And when you’re ready, you can shift to the full plank.

3. Butterfly

We’ve covered your abs and obliques, but some of the best stretches for desk workers are focused on your hips as well.

Why? Well, it’s common for people who work at a desk all day to complain of lower back pain. And while it’s often contributed to poor posture, it’s actually due to something else entirely.

The truth of the matter is that lower back pain is often connected to tight iliopsoas, or hip flexor muscles.

And studies have shown that stretching these muscles not only increases hip extension but also reduces lower back pain. Moreover, stretching these muscles help those with lower back pain return to their normal activities. [4]

So, why does this stretching help relieve lower back pain? When your hip flexor muscles are tight, they pull your hip bones forward and cause your lumbar spine to become hyperextended.

And it’s this hyperextension that causes increased pressure on the joints throughout your lower back. Makes sense, right?

So, if you’re a desk worker who regularly experiences lower back pain, consider taking a few minutes each week to do the butterfly pose, which is known to stretch not only the hips but also the lower back and thighs.

Simply sit on the floor and pull your feet up and together. Your knees will be facing up.

Keeping your feet together, allow your knees to fall outward as far as possible. Hold that pose for several seconds until you feel the pull of the stretching in your hips.

For a visual guide and more benefits of the butterfly pose, you can check out this article.

4. Cow pose

If you’re stuck at a desk all day, odds are you’ve been guilty of having rounded shoulders posture. But it’s not your fault, especially if you’re stuck behind a computer most days.

The truth is that the simple act of typing promotes this posture. And the big problem with rounded shoulders posture? It’s a big reason why so many desk workers experience neck and shoulder pain along with hip pain, lower back pain, and more!

Interestingly, due to basic physiology, tight chest muscles are often to blame for this posture. In fact, according to the National Health Service, sitting in a hunched position over your keyboard is often a sign that you have tight chest muscles. [5]

So, what are the best stretches for desk workers who want to stretch out tight chest muscles? The best and easiest one I’ve found is the cow pose.

To do the cow pose, get on all fours on the floor and look down. As you inhale, lift your hip bones and chest toward the ceiling while lowering your belly toward the floor. Lift your head up to extend your neck slightly.

As you exhale, return to your original position, or you can choose to combine this pose with the cat pose for more benefit. To see a visual representation of the cow pose, click here. To watch a video of how to combine it with the cat pose, click here.


Key Takeaways

  • It can be hard to take a break when you’re “on a roll” at work or up against a deadline. But it's important to incorporate minor stretching breaks in your weekly schedule.
  • Studies have shown that stretching for just 10 minutes twice each week improves mental and physical functioning, bodily pain, vitality, and even mental health.
  • Some of the best stretches for desk workers include: cobra pose, side stretch, butterfly, and cow pose.
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