Whether you're working remotely or in the office, staying active is perhaps more important now than ever. Sitting for prolonged time periods has been linked with a whole host of physical [*] and mental [*] health challenges, and over time can have a negative impact on posture and joint mobility [*].
In this article, we’ll look at a few simple mobility exercises you can do to free things up and restore balance. Everything is equipment free - ideal for breaking up your workday or unwinding after a long day.
Posture Exercise 1: Wall Slides
Wall slides are great for addressing rounded shoulders and forward head posture - two common adaptations that come about from chronic sitting.
Forward head posture has been linked with increased incidences of neck pain [*] and a decrease in respiratory function [*]. Rounded shoulders close the space between the rotator cuff and the acromion (your shoulder joint), potentially irritating the tendons that run through there and contributing to shoulder impingement [*].
This exercise activates the deep neck flexors and the mid-back area, helping you to open up through the front of the body and adopt a more upright position.
Stand with your back flat to a wall, touching the wall with your head and your entire back (flattening the arch in your lower back).
Place your arms out to your side with your elbows bent at 90 degrees, touching the wall with your elbows and the backs of your hands.
Slowly slide your arms up the wall, aiming to get your arms straight up overhead while maintaining all of the points of contact mentioned.
When you reach the top, slowly reverse the motion, pulling your elbows down towards your hips.
If you find it difficult to maintain contact between your lower back and the wall, you may initially need to step your feet further away from the wall and bend your knees.
Perform for 10 slow repetitions, followed by a 10-second hold in the overhead reach position.
Posture Exercise 2: Wrist Opener
The wrists and hands often tighten up after long bouts of typing. In fact, cumulative keyboard use is associated with increased wrist pain and even the development of carpal tunnel syndrome [*]. This drill is designed to open up the wrist flexors in the forearm - particularly useful if you have any pushing exercises coming up in your training.
From an all-fours position, plant your palms on the ground with your fingers facing towards you.
Keeping the arms straight and elbow pits facing forward, gently rock your weight back towards your heels, opening up through the forearms.
Return to centre, repeat for 10 repetitions followed by a 10-second static stretch at the end.
Posture Exercise 3: Cat-Cow Circles
Sitting for 7+ hours a day is associated with a reduced range of motion in the mid-back [*], which can leave you feeling stiff and restricted. Cat-cow with an added sideways shift is a simple, effective way to restore movement through that area.
From a neutral all-fours position, drop your belly towards the floor to arch through your mid to lower back (cow pose).
From here, shift your ribcage to one side as you begin to reverse the curve in the spine, ending up with the tailbone tucked under and chin to chest (cat pose).
Continue this motion, shifting your ribcage to the opposite side as you drop the belly towards the floor and return to cow pose.
Perform 10 repetitions one way, then reverse the circle for another 10 repetitions.
Posture Exercise 4: Thread the Needle
Hunching over a laptop all day can exaggerate the natural kyphotic curve through your mid-back (think hunching forward).
This can restrict your ability to rotate [*] which may put the shoulders and elbows at an increased risk of injury during certain sports and physical activities [*]. Alongside the cat-cow drill above, threading the needle is a great way to restore some of that rotational capacity. Instructions:
From a neutral all-fours position, drop your right shoulder and right side of your head to the floor and thread your right arm through the gap between your left hand and left knee.
Pause here for a breath, then retract your arm and continue that rotation, reaching your right arm up to the sky.
Return to the centre and repeat on the opposite side.
Perform 10 repetitions per side.
Posture Exercise 5: Couch Stretch
Sitting all day leads to chronic tightness in the hip flexors, which can alter hip mechanics and reduce glute activation [*], which isn't great for a number of reasons:
“The Gluteus Maximus (GM) muscle is the largest and most powerful in the human body. It plays an important role in optimal functioning of the human movement system as well as athletic performance. It is, however, prone to inhibition and weakness which contributes to chronic pain, injury and athletic under-performance.”[*]
The good news is that dynamic stretching and static, PNF style stretches are effective in improving hip extension [*], reducing shortness through the hip flexors and allowing those glutes to fire properly again.
One of the best ways to do this is through the couch stretch, the brainchild of Kelly Starrett - a pioneer in the movement and mobility world.
From a low lunge position, place the top of your left knee into the junction between the floor and wall (or the back of the couch).
Begin with your torso hinged forwards and hands planted on the floor, aiming to keep your left glute switched on (so it’s firm to touch) throughout the stretch.
As you begin to raise your torso towards vertical, you’ll likely feel an intense stretch through the quads and hip flexors on that left leg. Try to breathe slowly and relax into the stretch, backing off if it feels too intense.
If you want to go deeper, you can alternate between 5 seconds of effort (driving your back foot into the wall and your knee down through the ground) and 25 seconds rest.
Hold for 3 minutes per side.
Posture Exercise 6: Hamstring Fold
Hamstring tightness is another common adaptation the body makes after prolonged sitting [*]. It's associated with various injuries, including plantar fasciitis [*], patellar tendinopathy and patellofemoral pain syndrome [*] - none of which are fun to deal with. Use this simple stretch throughout the day to maintain or improve hamstring flexibility.
Plant the heel of one foot onto a raised surface.
The raised leg can be straight or have a generous bend - whatever you need to maintain a straight torso.
Staying tall, hinge at the hips and lean forward to place a stretch on the hamstring.
Return to standing and repeat for 10 repetitions per leg, holding a static stretch for 10 seconds at the end.
Luke Jones - a Movement Coach & Content Creator at HERO Movement. Through articles & online training, he explores and shares ideas in all things performance, wellness & adventure.