Desk-Friendly Stretches to Improve Your Mood and Productivity

Oct 12, 2021 | Being Active, College Health

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Sitting at a desk all day and typing for most of it can cause all sorts of aches and pains. In addition to making sure your workstation is ergonomically designed and taking plenty of walk breaks, you can regularly stretch your body to keep yourself limber. Studies have shown that regular breaks to move your body can improve your mood and make you more productive at work.

While you can’t just roll out your yoga mat for a few full-body stretches in the office like you could when working from home, there are easy and effective stretches you can do to release tension and make yourself feel better right in your desk chair. Adrian Brumfield, Our Lady of the Lake Children’s Health Health Care Centers in Schools health educator and group fitness trainer, shares his easy, chair-based routine and recommends you move through the stretches a few times per day. If you have the time, each stretch should be held for about 30 seconds. You shouldn’t feel any pain and only go as far as is comfortable in each stretch.

Start by sitting up straight on the edge of the chair, which engages your core and gives you a break from slouching.

Move your chin to your chest to stretch the back of your neck, then left ear toward left shoulder to stretch the right side of your neck and right ear toward right shoulder to stretch the left side.

Stretch both arms straight up toward the ceiling, stretching the lower back. Imagine picking oranges. Reach first right then left, back and forth a few times, a little higher each time. Then move your arms down and back at the same time, as if you are spreading wings. The backs of your hands should face the wall behind you as you open your chest and shoulders, nice and slowly. Repeat this combination movement–picking satsumas and stretching your wings–two or three times, taking your time to feel the stretch.

Next, bring your right arm across your body in front and use your left hand to pull that arm closer to your chest. This stretches your right shoulder and right side of your back. From there move your right hand to your right shoulder – pat yourself on the back for doing a good job. Take your left hand and grab your right elbow to stretch the back of your right arm. As a bonus you can lean to the left to stretch out your right side in this position. Repeat the two arm stretches on the left side.

A good treat is the chair twist, which is something many of us do instinctively throughout the day. Still on the edge of your chair, look over your right shoulder. Take your left hand and grab the right arm of the chair, and your right hand grabs the top of your chair as you rotate and hold. This stretch rotates the spine and stretches the back. Repeat on the left side.

Moving on to the lower body, take your right ankle and cross it onto your left knee, with your left foot flat on the ground. This makes your legs form the shape of the number 4, with your right foot hanging off your left thigh. This may be as far as some people can stretch but others can push further. Reach into that figure 4 with the right hand and grab your left kneecap while slightly leaning forward to get a bonus stretch on the hip flexors, glutes, lower back and IT band. Repeat with the left ankle crossed over the right knee.

To stretch the front of the legs, first take your right foot and point your toes under, so the top of your foot is on the floor. Lean back in the stretch of the front of your shin and quads. Repeat with the left foot.

Stand up out of the chair to create a tripod with yourself. Put your right leg forward with your heel down and toes pointed up. If you can pull your toes toward yourself, you can get a good calf stretch, but if you’re not as flexible stay with your foot on the floor and you’ll still be stretching the back of your right leg, glutes, hamstring and lower back. Repeat with the left leg forward.

Finish with a stretch called the rag doll. Inspired by tai chi, it should be done very slowly. Stand with your feet hips width apart. Roll shoulders up to your ears nice and slow, and then keeping your knees slightly bent, just like a rag doll roll forward as if you’re touching your toes. Stretch out your shoulder blades and release the tension from working at a computer. Go as far as you can go, and then take a deep breath in. As you breath out you should be able to go down even farther. If you have the time reach over to your right leg and stretch, then your left leg and stretch. Then return to the middle and nice and slow, bend your knees, sink your hips and roll right back up to the starting position. 

Finally take two or three deep breaths, in through your nose and out through your mouth. Focus on relaxing, clearing your mind, destressing and releasing anxiety to signal the end of the routine. You should be able to return to your tasks refreshed and more comfortable.

If you need a little more than stretches to feel better, we’ve got you covered. Find a provider who can help at

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