Six Stretches for People Who Sit at Desks

“Sitting is the new smoking,” say all the experts everywhere. Hunching over a keyboard creates tension in your shoulders, neck and lower back. (Do you feel that way right now?) So, we asked yoga instructor Holly Ramey to show us six stretches to help soothe our aching bodies…

First, Holly suggests stretching with your shoes off, if possible: “Feeling your feet connecting with the floor is very grounding.” You can also take mini breathing breaks, which will help you feel centered and reveal where your body is holding stress. “The hands and fingers often hold onto tension,” says Holly. “They’re always ready to work, ready to go.”
Pose #1: Cat and cow: These seated poses help counter hunched-over-the-keyboard posture by stretching the spine and shoulder blades. The cat pose is a gentle backbend, and the cow is a forward bend. Start with your feet flat on the ground, hands on knees. On an inhale, push your chest and belly forward, letting your spine gently curve. Life your gaze slightly upwards. As you exhale, round your spine, drop your head and take your gaze downward toward your navel. Repeat for 5 to 10 breaths.
Pose #3: Shoulder opener: If you’re feeling the mid-afternoon slump, simply interlace your hands behind your back, then draw your shoulders in behind you. This opens up your shoulders and the front of your chest. To go deeper into the stretch, extend your arms backward and bring the stretch all the way into your wrists and forearms.
Pose #4: Ankle-to-knee pose: “When we sit, our hamstrings can become tight, which can then create tension in the lower back,” cautions Holly. One way to counter lower back pain is to open up the hips. Cross one leg over the other, so your ankle aligns with your knee. Hold it for a few breaths, then repeat on the other side. If you want to go deeper, lean your upper body over the desk.
Pose #5: Side stretch: Place one hand on the side of your chair, the other arm up. Keep both shoulders relaxed as you lift up and over. Repeat on both sides. “There are breathing muscles between our ribs, called intercostals,” says Holly. “When we breathe into them, they soften. The fuller and deeper our breath is, the more relaxed our mind will be.” (Sounds nice, right?)
Pose #6: Twist: “If you only have time for one quick stretch, make it the twist,” says Holly. Lace fingers behind your head. Gently twist your body in your seat from one side to the other. Twisting is also good for digestion (so try this post-lunch!), detoxifying, and stimulating the kidneys. Twists create release for the neck and shoulders, as well.
Pose #7: Just kidding.
Thank you so much, Holly! We’re feeling more relaxed already.

P.S. Do you exercise?

(Written by Caroline Donofrio. Photos by Julia Robbs for Cup of Jo. A huge thank you to Holly Ramey for demonstrating all of the poses)

  1. Wow I was in search for that. I would be happy to share this with my friends

  2. Megan says...

    I bookmarked this on my work computer when you posted it and have been using it for 3 years now. I don’t always remember to do it but when I do I am so thankful to have this. Thank you!

  3. Jen Ware says...

    Totally off topic but I love her outfit! Where id she get the jeans & sweater?

  4. Maggie says...

    Any chance this could be turned in to a one page print-formatted document? I’d love to be able to pin up a cheat sheet reminder at my desk!

  5. These stretches are incredible. I love the removing your shoes to be more grounded. These are great stretches no matter if you have a standing desk or not.

    • John Hudachek says...

      I agree

  6. These are great, I will be recommending them and trying them myself. I have been looking for easy to do exercises at the desk.

  7. thanks for this, joanna! i keep this bookmarked and do the exercises often – it really helps!

  8. Very helpful and interesting! The pics are perfect!

  9. I love yoga and have been learning how to head stand so I will be able to do #7 soon! Haha.. lovely post for someone with sore shoulders x

  10. LOL! Love that last pose! HAHA! I needed to see these stretches because I’ve been suffering from some back pain that I know comes from blogging.

  11. Great post, just tried these after lunch, feel wide awake now :-) Thanks!

  12. I am a typical office girl so I really appreciate those stretch ideas. Back in the office tomorrow and I will definately try those!

  13. Number 7 is my favourite ;). They were really helpful and gave my back a nice stretch!

  14. Great tips. I’ll do them except for the last one.

  15. Love this, its beautifully written and the stretches are genuinely so helpful! I love yoga so this is perfect ♡

  16. I tried these yesterday and just loved them! The upper back ones were so nice. I love the sounds of little cracks when you stretch your spine and the muscle release that immediately follows.

    Thanks for posting!

  17. Love these. How about something similar for all of us Moms nursing and carrying our babies all day? Not that I’m complaining :)

  18. #7 hehehhe I’d get some weird looks. Then someone would call an ambulance.

  19. These are great! I love to exercise and practice yoga. I was so into yoga before I got pregnant last winter that I was practicing on my lunch break in our lunch room. It sounds a little crazy but it totally rejuvenated me for the rest of the day.

  20. I love this. Some days I feel like I am rotting away, but these are so refreshing!

  21. Just did all of these at my desk. Feeling refreshed for the afternoon push! Thanks Jo!

  22. i needed this – thanks! love the last one :)

  23. You’re funny!
    (Love this blog!)

  24. oh i love this! it made me pause and breathe and move around just reading. i’m a yoga teacher too and just wanted to clarify that the gentle back bend is actually cow pose where you stretch your front body long, and cat pose is like the scared cat shape where you stretch your back body long and spread your shoulderblades wide apart on your back. happy stretching!

  25. Thank you so much for posting these stretches! My lower back was aching right before I read this post. I just finished every stretch and I feel so relaxed. I’m going to encorporate these every day. I love health posts like this, you make them so accessible.

  26. Thank you so much! I lift weights AND sit on a desk for 8 hours a day, so my muscles can get super achy. This was a life saver.

  27. pose 7 made me laugh out loud. ha! these are great. i find myself doing variations of a few of these daily as i work but i’d never thought to do a leg stretch while seated. thanks for a great post!

  28. These are great! A lot of office pose posts are really awkward or unapproachable but these are great. The only clarification, #3 is chest opener, not a shoulder opener.

  29. CB says...

    shitttt, wreally hard to tipe when doong pose numbr 7

  30. These are such great exercises – I feel better already! Thanks for the tips.

  31. This made me smile. I just clocked out and thought checking Cup of Jo would be a great end to my desk-day. Poof! Just what I needed! All stretched out and feeling good :)

  32. Yes! I’ve been feeling so tense in the shoulders and low back recently.

    Last week I told my husband- I just don’t think I was made to sit this much. Apparently, I was right. I keep thinking I should look into a stand up desk, but in the mean time- I will add these into my routine!


  33. Wow, these are so great!

  34. Yessss! Perfect timing! I was just taking my daily “look at my favorite blog” break- I’m going to hang this up at my desk.

    Thanks for sharing- the end made me giggle :)

  35. When doing the second pose, you should really point your sacrum up, and stretch out the backs of your legs, especially if you wear a shoe with any type of heel!

  36. loved this post. i would love to do some of these, but i am pretty sure everyone in the office would look at me as if i were insane.

    rae of love from berlin

  37. #7 totally cracks me up.

  38. I’m a librarian in a small library and sit way more than I want to. But I keep a yoga mat in my office and actually do headstands and stretching several times a day and it changes my whole attitude!

  39. Exactly what I needed today. I work from home and it’s always so difficult to stay at my desk – then when I do, my shoulders and neck are so tense at the end of the day. Hooray for a reminder to stretch.

  40. I can’t be the only one dying to know where her gorgeous blouse is from, right?!

  41. So helpful! I needed this today!!

  42. This is so weird. I was just sitting at my desk feeling stiff and sore and thought I would take 5 minutes to read your blog and this was the post! Thank you!

  43. Pose #7: Just kidding…haha! Caroline you’re the best. :)

  44. I wish you could have seen my face when I saw pose #7:)

  45. Oh! I’ll try to do it… except number 7 jajaja I can’t.

    Very useful :) thanks!