Everyday Stretching Routine for People with Desk Jobs


everyday stretching routine for desk jobs on the switch and click blog

Question and Answer

I know this is a blog about mechanical keyboards, but I read that ergonomics post recently and was wondering if there was anything else, I could do beyond getting up and moving occasionally. I’ve been feeling a lot of pain everywhere after work after a long day of sitting and typing. Is there a stretching or mobility routine that I can do everyday to prevent injury and decrease my pain? If there is, I would love to hear it. I’m just tired of being in pain.

I love how you’re getting super into this topic. After doing a lot of research and pairing it with my skills in occupational therapy, I’ve compiled a list of stretches that you can do daily to improve your mobility and decrease pain in your entire body from your shoulders, chest, hips, neck, pretty much every muscle. Moving and taking a break is still key, but here is a generalized routine that will target every muscle that you are shortening while being seated at a desk. We will be talking about 2 different routines that you can do, one 5-10 minute joint mobility routine, a longer 20-minute focused stretching routine you can do 3-5 days/week, and other tips and tricks to maintain good posture throughout your day.

Introduction to Flexibility

If you feel extreme pain in a very specific place, I highly recommend that you see a doctor or a specialist in that area. This is not an end-all-be-all that will cure all your problems. Stretching is not the cure to everything, unfortunately. If only it were that easy.

Let’s start by clearing up some myths regarding flexibility.

Flexibility is not something that you have or do not have from the get-go. Like strength training, it is something that must be consistently trained to improved and then practiced regularly to maintain.

One day, you might be able to do the splits. If you take a long enough break from stretching, you won’t be able to do it maybe a few months from then.

So how do you increase flexibility?

Flexibility can be trained through daily dedicated training sessions focused on improving flexibility in specific muscles.

What are the different types of stretching?

There are two types of stretching. The first one is isometric or static stretching. This is what everyone thinks when they hear the word stretching. When you do static stretching, you go as far as you within your body’s tolerance to discomfort, but not pain, and hold it there for an extended period.

This is the type of stretching when you see someone reach for their toes and hold it for about 30 seconds to 1 minute.

The other kind of stretching is called dynamic stretching or ballistic stretching. Unlike static stretching, in this form, you are reaching your end of motion through dynamic motions such as leg swings, arm swings, hip rotations, and the like.

Is stretching supposed to hurt?

Stretching is supposed to be uncomfortable if you are trying to increase your end ranges of motion. It is NOT supposed to hurt.

Go to a place where it is manageable, but you feel the burn from stretching. Stop before you enter pain. Back off for a bit if you experience pain, breath, and maybe try again after being in that position for a while.

You do not want to feel any sensations of nerve tingling, nausea, pain faces, gritting teeth, or breathlessness.

Do I have to stretch every single day?

Not exactly.

For a daily routine such as gentle stretching and dynamic stretches, you can do them as often as you would like. You can even do them more than once a day to feel limber and mobile.

When you are doing intense stretching to improve your range of motion, you are not supposed to do this every day. This is because you are causing small amounts of damage to your muscles, similarly to strength training. You can do intense stretching 1-3x/week depending on the amount of soreness you are in.

A Daily Mobility Routine

This routine is made by phraktured and is meant to be done every day, taking about 5-10 minutes for a single session.

It incorporates joint rotations of the different areas of the body: neck, fingers, wrists, elbows, arms, shoulders, torso, hip, legs, knees, and ankles.

I linked the routine above, so please check it out for more details. It has links to each of the movements, but I’ll try to explain them to the best of my ability.

The Routine (to be done every morning or evening, preferably morning)

Phraktured recommends performing each movement the same number as your age once per week.

Daily, doing each movement about 10x each side will suffice and will save time. Start with less, check-in, do it, then repeat. If you feel you need to do more, after developing the habit, go for it.

  • 3 Plane neck movement – stand up straight, looking forward, head straight.
    • First plane – Rotate your head to the right so that your nose is over your shoulder blade, keeping the head level. Repeat for the other side. Repeat this movement X number of times.
    • Second plane – look up to the sky as far as you can within comfort while inhaling. Now go down, chin towards your chest, while exhaling. Repeat X number of times.
    • Third plane – lean your right ear towards the right shoulder, with your right arm, reach for the floor. Go back to middle, lean left ear to left shoulder, reach left arm towards floor. Repeat X number of times.
    • The first plane stretches your sternocleidomastoid muscle also known as the SCM. It also hits the trapezius on the opposite side of your rotation, the levator scapulae (the muscle that lifts your shoulder blade)
    • The second plane stretches out your upper trapezius when looking down and your SCM and other neck muscles while looking up.
    • The third plane stretches your levator scapulae, scalenes, SCM, and upper trapezius.
picture of anatomy of neck muscles
Muscles of the neck and upper back
  • Finger flexion and extension – make fist with your hands and open your fingers as far back as you can X number of times
    • Stretching all the smaller flexors and extensors of the fingers.
    • Your hands have a lot of small muscles.
hand anatomy
The hands have many small muscles that also can get tight.
  • Wrist circles – using your pointer finger, make the largest circle you can do X number of times.
    • This will stretch all the muscles that do wrist extension (up), wrist flexion (down), radial deviation (moving thumb side towards forearm), and ulnar deviation (moving pinky side towards forearm)
Muscles of the forearms
Muscles of forearm.
  • Elbow circles – standing up straight or seated, arms out front, make circles with your elbows moving towards your face and then around back out again. Repeat for X number of times.
    • When you’re typing a bunch, this is a great mobilization to do when you’re walking around the office or your room.
    • Along side getting your blood flow going, it also opens your shoulders.
  • Large arm circles – standing up straight or seated, arms out to the side, make large circular motions like two windmills blowing in the wind to generate energy. Repeat X number of times.
    • The primary purpose of this one is to stretch the muscles of your chest and anterior shoulders, muscles that consistently get tight after being seated for too long.
    • At the bottom of the movement, you’re also going to feel some stretches in your upper traps.
    • At the top of the movement, your lats (back) are stretching.
  • Circular shrugs – standing or seated, hunch up your shoulders to your ears, make circular motions forward or backwards. At the bottom, reach your elbows to the floor. And move circularly back to a shrug. Repeat X number of times.
    • Whenever we’re seated, often, our shoulders and upper traps get very tight. By doing shrugs, we’re using the end ranges of motion rather than being stuck in one position all day long.
  • Torso twists – standing up, arms out to your sides, palms facing up to facilitate shoulder external rotation, twist your torso while keeping your hips and legs still. Repeat X number of times.
  • Torso side bends – standing up straight, moving the upper part of your body, lean your head towards the right until you feel a stretch in the opposite side of your body. Repeat for the left side. Repeat X number of times.
  • Pelvic tilts – Standing up straight, bend your knees a bit, posteriorly tilt your pelvis, bottom of hip up, and then go back to anterior pelvic tilt, arching your back. Very similar to slow twerking.
    • It may look and feel a bit strange, but often when we’re sitting, we’re in posterior pelvic tilt. This places pressure on our low back, gives us weak or tight leg muscles, and poor posture.
    • It doesn’t mean we should be sitting with anterior pelvic tilt either. When sitting, we want to be in the middle. Get up and move often, tight hips and leg muscles will further facilitate poor posture.
    • You can also do it seated, as show here, and won’t look as awkward.
  • Hula hoop hip circles – Stand up straight, bend your knees slightly, hands on your hips, and make circles going forward in a clockwise manner. Do so for counterclockwise too. Repeat X number of times until your hips feel limber.
    • Another mobilization that may look weird to the outside world. If this is too awkward, just do it in the bathroom. Side note: sometimes I do bodyweight squats in the bathroom too when I think my body needs more movement. People will probably look up to you and respect you for not caring what other people are thinking because you care about your body.  
  • Leg rotations – I recommend you watch the linked video for this one. It’s difficult to explain and needs to be done correctly.
    • I’ll try my best though. Stand up straight on one leg. Take the other leg, straight at the knee, and lift it up slightly, now make circles with the big toe leading forward and across your body and back and around your body.
    • Mobility of your hip joint between external and internal rotation. This is BIG! When we’re sitting too long, we don’t access any of these ranges of motions.
  • High Knee Raises – stand up straight, lift one knee up to your chest, repeat with other side. Repeat X number of times.
  • Butt kicks – kick up your heel to your butt with one left, repeat with other. Repeat X number of times. Done in place!
  • Ankle circles – can be done seated, point toes and draw a circle, a big circle, with your big toe. Repeat X number of times.
    • When we’re sitting our ankles are relatively still and blood could pool down there, causing bloating.
    • When we do mobilizations such as these, we’re using the muscles in our calves, pumping any blood that’s pooling back up.
  • Toe Flexion/Extension – like making a fist and opening your hand, curl all your toes down tight and then open and fan them out all the way. Repeat X number of times.

Doing something short like this consistently every morning to all your joints allows you to access the end range of motion for all your joints.

There are many other things related to this topic that I would like to write about such as a routine focused on improving range of motion, daily things to do while seated at a desk, and exercises that you can do every hour or two to decrease pain and injury.

Unfortunately, right now, there’s not enough time, so I’ll link some of these things in the sources. Future articles coming soon regarding this topic as well.

stretching cat
Photo by Tamba Budiarsana

Sources

Phraktured.github.io

1 Exercise to Improve Rounded Shoulders YouTube.com

Kelly Starrett: “Deskbound” | Talks at Google YouTube.com

Yoga with Adriene YouTube.com

Jake Harrington

Jake has been an avid mechanical keyboard user for the past six years. He has a background in Mechanical Engineering and wants to apply his expertise to break down how mechanical keyboards work and show the world all of the cool aspects of the mechanical keyboard hobby.

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