Monday, June 28, 2010

10 Easy Stretches for the Office and Elsewhere

Stretching an be a very important part of your workout routine since it will help you limber up before a workout, help you avoid injury during a workout, and loosen muscles that have been worked after a workout. But it is also important to stretch out occasionally when not working out. For instance, even if you exercise frequently during the week, but you sit at a desk staring at a computer all day, those eight or more hours with very little movement can put stress on the back, neck, shoulders and legs. It's a good idea to take a few minutes every now and then during the work day to walk around, stretch out and loosen up a little. And if you're still feeling pain, keep stretching and try using a heating pad--that will likely relieve some of that pain until you can get to a massage therapist.

There are a some easy stretches you can do, right in the context of the workplace. What's great about them is that they're also stretches you can do where people probably won't look at you and think, "What the heck are you doing?!?" The main thing to remember is to do these stretches whenever you feel tension or pain in the affected area. Hold the stretch for about 15-20 seconds, make sure to stretch both sides of the body and stretch as often as you can remember.

1. The Side Stretch: This one is easy enough to do and one that pretty much everyone knows. It targets the low back muscles just above your hip bones. First, stand with your legs about 1-2 feet apart. Raise both arms above your head and bend to one side. Make sure to really reach with your arms to make sure you get a good stretch. You can modify this by tipping forward or backward a little--this will stretch more parts of the low

2. The Neck Stretch: This is a good one to help relieve some of the tension in the neck after reading a book or staring at the computer for long periods of time and it can be done seated or standing. Let one arm hang down (if you're seated, hook your fingers around the edge of your seat). Take the other hand over your head to your ear and pull your head to the side. You can modify this by tipping your head forward to stretch those muscles that go down your neck into your shoulder. You can also tip your head back to stretch some of the muscles that travel toward your collarbone--these muscles can often become tight from looking down at a desk or book for long periods. It's more effective than just doing head rolls or trying to stretch without using the extra force from your hands.

3. The Pec Stretch: Because of the way nature designed our bodies, anything we do with our arms pretty much has to be done in front of us, which means that our chest muscles get shortened often, even when we're just typing away on our computers. Many of us slouch, which exacerbates this situation. A good way to counter this is to stand facing a wall. Put one hand up against the wall so that your arm is at about a 45 degree angle relative to the vertical line of the body. (Hint: If both hands were up, you'd be the "Y" in YMCA.) Now turn away from that arm and you'll feel it stretch the pecs close to the armpit. You can modify this by increasing or decreasing the angle of the arm relative to the body in order to stretch different fibers of the muscle.

Note: If you're having a lot of back pain between the shoulder blades because you slouch or because you're at a desk most of the day, this is a good stretch to help counter that. Sound weird? Not really. If you're hovering over a computer all day, you're shortening the chest muscles and overstretching the back muscles--this is why you're feeling pain in the back. If you do the pec stretch, you'll take some of that pressure off the back muscles. But it's a good bet you still need to see a massage therapist.

4. The Quad Stretch: If you're sitting all day or if you're driving long distances, chances are your quads are becoming shortened, just like the chest muscles I just mentioned. Get up and stretch your quads now and then by grabbing one ankle and bringing your heel to your butt-- but make sure you can grab something else with your other hand in case you lose your balance. This is known as "the runner's stretch" and the most effective way to do this stretch is to push your hips forward. If you don't, you're not really stretching enough.

5. The Hamstring Stretch (a.k.a. Touching Your Toes): Again, another easy one that everyone knows. Stand with your feet together, bend at the waist and try to touch your toes. Try to keep your knees as straight as possible. I like to do this against a wall or sitting on the ground so that I don't embarrass myself by pointing my butt in anyone's direction. You can modify this by placing your legs a few feet apart. This helps target the inner adductors of the legs (your inner thigh muscles).

6. The Calf Stretch: There are two ways to do this one. First, you can stand in a lunge position. Make sure your back knee is straight and push your heel down to the floor. The farther back you put your back foot and the more you press your heel to the floor, the more you'll feel a stretch. The other way to do this is to stand facing a wall. Point the toes of one foot up and try to place your sole as flat against the wall as possible, then push with the back foot into the wall. The more flat your foot is against the wall, the better the stretch.

7. The Piriformis Stretch: This muscle is located a few layers beneath your gluteus maximus and it can get very tight if you stand or sit for long periods of time. There are several ways to stretch this muscle, but if you're in an office, the easiest and least weird-looking way to do it is this: While sitting at your desk, place one ankle on the opposite knee. Then either reach under your ankle and try to pull it to your chest or simply bend your torso toward the ankle. You can sometimes push down on the knee of the same leg while pulling the ankle up to modify this stretch. This muscle can also be worked (in-between visits to your massage therapist) by using a tennis ball--either sitting on it or laying on your side with the tennis ball under the hip in the affected area.

8. The Spinal Twist: Another very easy one to do. An effective way to do this is to stand with feet apart. Use the momentum of your arms to twist from one side to the other, making sure to twist only at the waist while keeping the knees facing forward. (Think Karate Kid II, drum technique.) Another way to do this is while seated, use one hand to grab at the desk on the opposite side of your body (or your opposite knee) while the other hand reaches behind to the opposite side of the chair.

9. The Forearm Stretch (Flexor Side): This is great for people who use their hands a lot--those who type, play sports that involve gripping a racquet or club, massage therapists, assembly line workers, writers, etc. Stand at a desk or table. Place your hands flat on the table with fingers pointing toward your body and lean back. You're stretching the muscles that allow you to grip things with your hands, since the muscles run from the tips of your fingers (on the palm side of the hand) to your elbow.

10. The Forearm Stretch (Extensor Side): This is the complimentary stretch to the Flexor stretch I just talked about. Again, stand at a desk or table, but this time, place the backs of your hands on the table--again also, fingers pointing toward your body. Then lean back. This stretches the muscles that allow us to open up our hands because the muscles run from the tips of your fingers (on the back side of the hand) to your elbow. When the hands get tired, use the forearm stretches.

If you'd like to know more about these stretches or if you'd like to make an appointment for a massage, please visit my Web site at