Our sedentary digital culture keeps us parked in front of screens for hours at a time, not only keeping us from activity, but shortening hamstrings, tightening hip flexors, and atrophying muscles. The solution: chair exercises.
Ideally, we’d get up and move throughout the day. But if you don’t have that freedom and you’re glued to your desk for hours on end, it’s still possible to perform movements that will counteract the negative pressure of sitting.
Before moving, take a look at your desk chair. It should be positioned so that your knees are at the same height or slightly lower than your hips. Move the chair to a 110-degree angle, slightly reclined, so you’re not at a rigid 90-degree angle that puts stress on your back. The armrests should support your elbows, which should be bent at 90 degrees, shoulders relaxed.
Next, take a look at your computer position. Stand-up desks have become popular for several reasons, not the least of which is because you’re less likely to look down at the computer screen, which rounds the shoulders and spine. Remain seated and position the laptop or computer monitor straight in front of you so the angle of your chin is flexed down 20 to 30 degrees.
Once that’s sorted, tackle these chair exercises without leaving your desk. Do it throughout the day—and, please, for the sake of your mind and muscles, find the time for some daily movement.
The Best Chair Exercises to Relieve Pain From Sitting
1. Glute Activation
Having a flat posterior doesn’t mean you lack the genetics of an offensive lineman. It’s more a symptom of tight hips and poor movement patterns that translate to deactivated glutes, which leads to posture-related ailments like an aching back. To activate those muscles without standing, squeeze your glutes one at a time throughout the day. Do it at the desk or while stuck in a meeting in sets of 10 on both sides. When it comes to chair exercises, this couldn’t be easier.
2. Shoulder Drops
Sitting rounds the shoulders and produces that hunched-over look while also contributing to neck and back pain. Throughout your day at the desk or in a meeting, pull your shoulders back and down in sets of 10. Imagine rolling them down toward your back pockets. This resets posture and prevents neck pain.
3. Tummy Tighteners
The transverse abdominus is a remarkable little muscle from which movement from the core region begins. Unfortunately, it also shuts down from too much sitting. Reactivate it by slowly pulling the belly button away from your belt buckle or waistband. Think not in terms of sucking in the gut or holding your breath, but rather slowly moving the belly button back and forth.
4. Ball Squeezes
Squeezable stress balls were a popular office gift years ago. Stress relief is still important, but carpal tunnel syndrome has become a bit of an epidemic now that we spend so much time on a computer or smartphone. Keep a golf ball and/or lacrosse ball at your desk and grab it several times a day. Roll it along your fingers and especially along the pads of the hands to release tension.
5. Toe Rolls
Take that same golf ball and/or lacrosse ball and roll it along the bottoms of your feet, ideally barefoot but at least in socks. We carry a lot of tension in our feet, and rolling releases that stress while also improving our sense of proprioception, which helps the body avoid falls. Roll between the toes, along the length of the feet, all the way to the heels.
6. Towel Stretch
This is another effective stretch to open up those hunched-over shoulders. Unless you have enough flexibility already, you’ll need to keep a small hand towel at your desk. Lean forward with one hand behind your neck holding the towel and your elbow pointing up. Use your other hand to gently pull the other end of the towel down. You’ll likely find this easier on one side than the other. Unlike a lot of stretches, you can make relatively quick progress on this one if done daily, to the point where you can forego the towel and gradually grasp hands on both sides. Do a set of 10 two-second holds on each side.
7. Ankle Stretch
Our ankles go unused during all of these hours at a desk. Keep them at full activation with a simple stretch. With feet extended and off the ground, flex feet, pointing the toes down. Hold for a count of two, then repeat for a set of 10. Next, dorsiflex the feet, pulling the toes toward your shin. Hold for a count of two, then repeat for a set of 10.
Pete Williams is a NASM certified personal trainer and the author and co-author of several books on performance and training.
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