Sitting at a desk for work all day can take its toll on our bodies. The more we move, the more we can counteract these negative effects and work pain-free. Imagine your position when sitting at a desk for a long period of time. Usually your shoulders will hunch forward. Hunching activates your trapezius muscles (traps), which lift your shoulders, while also engaging your pectoral muscles (pecs), which pull your shoulders forward.
Constant activation of any muscle results in hypersensitivity. This means that when you perform other activities — whether it’s moving a box or lifting weights at the gym — those muscles will activate, even when they’re not the targeted muscles. For example, the goal when performing a pull up is to engage your latissimus dorsi muscles (lats). However, hypersensitive traps will engage during a pull up, disengaging the activation of the lats. Your body naturally wants to use the larger muscles on a day to day basis, yet hypersensitivity usually results in the smaller muscles engaging and pulling on joints.
The same happens with your lower body when you are seated all day at a desk. Your gluteus muscles (glutes) are part of your primary lower back support; these are stretched when you’re seated. This position disengages them and activates your quadricep muscles (quads) instead.
Tight quads result in your pelvis being pulled forward and can lead to what’s known as anterior pelvic tilt. This postural position puts pressure on your lower back, and will eventually develop into pain.
Thankfully, stretching and basic exercises can counteract postural deficiencies and pain. This will help to strengthen and activate the appropriate muscles, while relaxing and disengaging the others. Here are a few options to add to your daily schedule so you can take care of yourself a little more!
The pec stretch releases tension that’s built up in your chest muscles from sitting all day. Find a corner or a pole and face away from it. Place one hand against the pole and step forward, keeping your elbow straight. Remember to pull your shoulder down into your lat to really target the pec. Turn your torso away from your hand to increase the stretch. Hold the position and breathe into it. This stretch can also be done with your elbow bent and pressed against the pole to target the shoulder more than the pec.
In a standing position, bring one foot up behind you and hold it with the corresponding hand. Hold on to something for balance if you need to! While holding this bent knee position, remember to maintain good posture and avoid arching your back. Squeeze your glute muscles to increase the stretch. You should feel it working along the front of your thigh.
If you struggle to bring your foot up, you can also perform this stretch lying on your stomach with a towel wrapped around your ankle. Pull the towel forward to imitate the standing version of the stretch.
This excellent stretch is so versatile, it can be done anywhere, including when sat at your desk! Bring your right hand over and to your left ear. Pulling your left shoulder downward, gently pull your head to the right with your right hand. Hold this position and breathe into the stretch. Remember, this is your neck, so be gentle! Repeat on the other side.
Lat pull down
Your lats are the big muscles on the side of your back. Strengthening these will help to improve your posture, and lat pull downs are an awesome way to go about it. Place your hands symmetrically on the bar above you. Pull your shoulders downward, lift your chest, and tuck your hips to engage your core. Pull down as if you were pushing something with your elbows. Wider grips on the bar will be more difficult, but will engage your lats more. Start narrow and progressively widen your hands as your lat activation improves.
The bridge is one of the best ways to activate your glutes. Lie on your back with your feet flat on the ground and knees bent. Dig into your heels, keeping your feet flat, then squeeze your glutes to raise your hips. Roll your spine vertebrae by vertebrae and avoid sudden movements. Control the motion and focus on your glutes to lift.
Maddy has worked in the health and fitness industry for 5 years. She has a bachelors in Exercise Science and has recently received her Masters in Exercise Physiology. She has worked with a wide demographic of clients as a Personal Trainer and loves helping people reach their goals and continue to grow. She is an outdoor enthusiast and dedicates her workouts to rock climbing, hiking and whatever new experiences may come her way.
Main Photo Credit: Anatoliy Karlyuk/shutterstock.com; Second Photo Credit: New Africa/shutterstock.com; Third Photo Credit: StratfordProductions/shutterstock.com; Fourth Photo Credit: LightField Studios/shutterstock.com