10 months into the COVID-19 pandemic many of you will be work from home pros. You’ve carved out a little workspace nook, curated an aesthetically-pleasing edits of “objets” to fill it with and invested in a laptop tray or, high five to you, an ergonomic chair. While WFH home definitely has its pros – the proximity to the fridge and loungewear on repeat being up there – how your body feels at the end of each day can be a big con.
Research shows many people are working longer hours during the pandemic as the work/life boundaries blur, sitting in less-than-optimal positions and racking up a daily step count that’s, let’s say, rather shy of 10,000. Cue neck and backache, stiff joints, tight hips and a general feeling that you’ve aged about a decade since last March. A study by the Institute for Employment Studies conducted during the first two weeks of the original lockdown found that there was a significant increase in musculoskeletal complaints with half of the survey participants reporting new aches and pains – 58% in the neck, 56% in the shoulder and 55% in the back. We can relate, hard. Ultimately, the body is designed to move, so schedule in a stretch break (or five) every day, and give yours some TLC with these full-body moves. All together now, “Aaaaahhhh.”
Why do it? A makeshift seating set up – think sofa or kitchen bench – is a fast track to “tech neck” and a forward head posture. The muscles in the neck are designed for rotational movements, not constantly bearing the average 5kg load (yep, that blew our minds too) of our head.
- Sitting or standing with your feet hip-width apart, put your arms down by your sides.
- Gently tilt your head toward your shoulder and try to touch it with your ear. Keep your opposite arm long and flex the wrist to intensify the stretch, but don’t take it too far and avoid raising your shoulder.
- Hold the stretch for 5-10 seconds, then return to the start position and repeat on the other side.
Thread the Needle
Targets: Thoracic spine and shoulders
Why do it? Sitting without proper support can lead to rounded shoulders and a tight thoracic spine – the bit that runs from the base of your neck to your abdomen. Rotations are key for opening up the chest, improving breathing and reducing tightness in the surrounding joints like the neck and shoulders.
- Start in a neutral position on all fours, keeping your hands under your shoulders and your knees under your hips. Tuck your toes under.
- Open up your chest as you extend your arm toward the ceiling. Direct your gaze toward your raised hand.
- Thread your raised arm under your chest toward the mat. Your torso should naturally shift to face downward. Keep both knees and your other arm grounded for support. Continue to slide your arm onto the mat, allowing your shoulder to rest on the ground.
- Hold the pose for a few seconds, focus on your breathing and repeat. Aim for 3-4 each side.
Targets: Upper and middle back
Why do it? The whole of your back needs some love (and mobilization) when you’re WFH, and Cat/Cow provides instant relief with endless benefits. Not only does it increase flexibility of the neck, shoulders and spine, it can help with lower back pain and sciatica, relieve menstrual cramps and stretch the muscles of the hips, back, abs and chest. Talk about bang for your buck.
- Start on your hands and knees, with your wrists underneath your shoulders and your knees underneath your hips. Curl your toes under.
- For Cow pose, inhale and tilt your pelvis back so that your tailbone sticks up. Let this movement ripple from your tailbone up your spine so that your neck is the last thing to move. Your belly drops down, but keep your abdominal muscles hugging your spine by drawing your navel in. Take your gaze gently up toward the ceiling without craning your neck.
- For Cat, tip your pelvis forward, tucking your tailbone under and bring your chin to chest as you round your spine. Draw your bellybutton toward your back and look through your legs.
- Repeat 3-4 times.
Targets: Pecs, shoulders and biceps
Why do it? Shoulders looking a little more rounded lately? We hear you. It’s a result of poor posture and it could be making neck and upper body pain worse. Keeping your chest muscles flexible means you’ll be able to maintain good mobility in your shoulder joints.
- Sitting, kneeling or standing, interlace your fingers behind you and raise your arms up to gently pull your shoulders into extension. You should feel a stretch in your chest.
- Squeeze your shoulder blades together to maximise the stretch. Hold for around 10-20 seconds then rotate gently from one side to the other.
- Lower your hands and release the stretch before repeating x 3-4.
Kneeling Hip Flexor Stretch
Targets: Hip flexors
Why do it? Sitting at a desk all day leads to short, tight hip flexors, which can contribute to lower backache, poor posture, neck tightness and painful glutes.
- Come into a half-kneeling position with your right leg at a 90-degree angle and your other leg extended behind you with the top of your foot resting on the mat.
- Keeping your chest up and shoulders back and down, brace your core then lean forward into your right hip, slightly tucking your pelvis under to avoid arching the lower back.
- Lean further forward and squeeze the glute of the kneeling leg to deepen the stretch.
- Hold for for around 20 seconds then switch sides. Do 3-4 each side.
Targets: Glutes, back, hamstrings, calves and core
Why do it? While your hip flexors are getting tighter, your glutes are getting weaker. This delightful combo means the hip flexors pull you into a slouched position and the glutes haven’t got it in them to pull you back. Bridges will strengthen both the glutes and the erector spinae muscles of the back, helping to keep your posture upright while also activating your core stabliser muscles.
- Lie faceup on the floor, with your knees bent and feet flat on the ground. Keep your arms at your side with your palms down.
- Exhale and lift your hips off the ground until your knees, hips and shoulders form a straight line. Squeeze your glutes and keep your abs drawn in so you don’t overextend your back during the exercise.
- Hold your bridged position for a couple of seconds before easing back down. Repeat x10.