If you spend most of your waking hours in front of a computer, standing stretches will save your butt … and your aching shoulders, tight hip flexors, and stiff neck.
Standing stretches are space-efficient, so you can do them between (or during) calls and meetings.
Stretching feels great — try a few of the stretches below and you’ll see what we mean.
Plus, it’s crucial to overall health, especially if you’re deskbound, explains Saara Haapanen, M.S., a certified personal trainer and sports psychology Ph.D. candidate based in Denver, Colorado.
“Humans are meant to move, not to sit in chairs all day in front of computers,” she says. “If you don’t stretch, your muscles shorten and become tight. Then when you need to recruit those muscles, they are unable to extend all the way, and you have an impeded range of motion.”
How Often Should You Do Standing Stretches?
“ANY stretching is better than no stretching,” explains Haapanen.
A general rule of thumb is to get up and move for two minutes for every half hour you sit, but she knows that’s not realistic for everyone.
“The top of every hour would be great,” she adds.
Pick standing stretches that target areas that feel tight, and don’t skip leg stretches, the hip flexors, thoracic spine, and pectoral muscles, says Jessica McManus, PT, owner of Full Circle Physical Therapy and Wellness Coaching in Newburyport, Massachusetts. “These areas tend to be the hardest hit from sitting.”
She recommends holding each stretch for 30 seconds for 3-5 sets.
That’s about the time it takes for you to wait for a kettle to boil water for tea — or for the microwave to reheat your leftovers.
The following stretches address common tight spots, from the neck muscles all the way down to the ankles.
Pick out the individual standing stretches that you need most, or do them all for a satisfying, full-body stretch as part of your morning stretch routine.
1. Ear-to-Shoulder Stretch
- From a standing position, drop your right ear toward your right shoulder while simultaneously driving the left shoulder down (away from the left ear).
- Use your right hand to gently guide your head toward your right shoulder while using your left hand to keep the left shoulder from lifting. You should feel the stretch on the left side of your neck.
- Hold for three breaths. Release and repeat on the opposite side.
2. Shoulder Roll
- Stand with your feet hip-width apart, your shoulders relaxed, and your arms at your sides.
- Slowly roll your shoulders in a circle (forward, up, back, and down).
- After 30 seconds, reverse the direction.
- Standing with your feet hip-width apart, extend both arms out to your sides, forming a “T.”
- Bend your elbows 90 degrees so that your palms face forward. This position is “cactus arms.”
- Squeeze your shoulder blades together, and draw your arms back slightly behind you until you feel a stretch in your chest. Be careful not to arch your back.
- Transition to “eagle arms.” Keeping your elbows bent and upper arms horizontal, cross your arms in front of you, right arm under left, and intertwine them, so that you can press your palms together (or the tops of your hands).
- Tuck your chin and round your shoulders until you feel a stretch between your shoulder blades.
- Hold for at least 30 seconds, and then lift your chin, unwind your arms, and return to cactus arms.
- Continue alternating between cactus and eagle arms, switching your top arm during eagle arms each time.
4. Forward Fold Chest Opener
- Stand with your feet slightly wider than hip-width apart, bending your knees slightly.
- Interlace your fingers behind you and roll your shoulders back. Allow your elbows to bend.
- Keeping your back flat, hinge forward at your hips as far as you can. Let your gaze follow to keep your spine aligned. If you have the mobility, straighten your legs and lower your interlaced hands toward the floor in front of you.
- Hold, and then reverse the movement to return to the starting position.
5. Wrist and Fingers Stretch
- From a standing position, place both hands on your desk, palms down, fingertips facing your body. To intensify the stretch, lean away.
- Hold the stretch until you feel the tension release.
6. Hip Circles
- Stand with your feet hip-width apart and your knees slightly bent. Place your hands on your hips.
- Move your hips in a clockwise circle (forward, right, back, and left), making larger circles as your muscles warm up.
- Continue for 30 seconds, and then repeat in the opposite (counterclockwise) direction.
7. Standing Quad Stretch
- Stand with your feet hip-width apart. Keeping your chest lifted and core braced, bend your right knee and lift your foot behind you, grabbing the top of it with your hand. Use a chair or wall for balance, if necessary.
- Actively press the top of your foot against your hand to feel the stretch in your thigh and hip flexor.
- Release your leg, and repeat on your other side.
8. Hip Opener
- Stand with your feet wider than hip-width apart and your toes turned slightly outward.
- Keeping your back flat and core engaged, push your hips back and lower your body as far as you can into a wide-leg squat position, placing your hands on your knees.
- Straighten your right arm so that your right hand pushes against the inside of your right knee as you rotate your upper body to the left. You should feel the stretch in your right shoulder and inner thigh.
- Hold, and then repeat, this time straightening your left arm and rotating your torso to the right.
9. Cradle Knee Hug with Prayer Hands
- Stand with your feet hip-width apart and lift your right knee.
- Hold your right knee with your right hand and the outer part of your right foot with your left hand. Keep your back tall.
- Hold the balance for two to three breaths.
- Next, place your right ankle just above your left knee as you slowly bend your left leg, hinging at your hips as you lower your butt. Press the palms of your hands together in a prayer position. Press your right knee down toward the ground to intensify the stretch.
- Hold this position, then return to a standing position and switch legs.
10. Standing Calf Stretch
- Stand with your feet hip-width apart.
- Keeping both legs straight, step one foot slightly back so you’re in a staggered stance. Press your rear heel into the ground so you feel your calf stretch.
- From this stance, bend your back knee. Try to keep your rear heel pressed into the ground to stretch the lower part of your calf.
- Hold, then repeat on the opposite side.
11. Ankle Circles
- From a standing position, shift your weight to your left leg and lift your right foot out in front of you a few inches from the floor.
- Trace a clockwise circle with your right foot.
- Repeat 3-5 times, then change directions.
- Switch legs and repeat in both directions with your left ankle.