Have you ever noticed that your body feels tight, closed off, and generally blah after sitting for extended periods? Yeah, us too. The thing is, our bodies weren’t made for this sitting-at-a-desk-all-day stuff; they were made for motion. Good news, though! Even a little movement every day can counteract the negative effects of prolonged sitting — but there are a few things to consider.
Contrary to popular belief, the “‘tight muscles” (which actually means shortened muscles) that cause that icky, bound up feeling don’t just want you to stretch statically for fifteen minutes and call it good. It’s also important to look at the mobility of your joints and the strength of various antagonist muscles to keep yourself in balance.
Since almost every muscle in your body crosses at least one joint, keeping your joints mobile will naturally give you a greater range of motion (read: flexibility), resulting in a more relaxed state of being for muscles. What’s more, for every muscle in the body, there’s another muscle — or group of muscles — that keeps it in check. Those balancing muscles are called antagonists. The muscles they act on are called agonists. The antagonists present tension that acts as a counterweight to the agonist muscles. That symbiotic relationship results in alignment in the body, meaning less discomfort when you’re bound to one or two positions for most of the day.
For example, if you tend to hunch when you sit, your pectoralis (chest) muscles are being shortened, meaning they’ll likely feel tight and uncomfortable when you get up after a long day. The pectoralis’ antagonists are the muscles of the rotator cuff and deltoids (those are in your shoulder), which means strengthening those muscles will lead to a more balanced posture and happier chest muscles — naturally! This is true for literally any muscle in the body. In summary, you’ll get the most bang for your stretch if you don’t neglect the strength of opposing muscles.
So, you’ve been working on your mobility and strength. Now, let’s look at some stretches that will provide much-needed relief after a long day at the office (or home office).
The sternocleidomastoid (SCM) and scalenes are important muscles at each side of your neck that tend to get locked up when you sit with your head facing forward for long periods of time. This stretch releases them and makes it easier to rotate your neck.
Chest and Abs
Cobra pose is a godsend for the chest and abdominals, which need a lot of love after you’ve been folded over a desk for hours at a time. This pose engages the muscles of the shoulders and back while creating lots of beautiful space in the front of the body.
This simple doorway stretch is perfect for correcting sad, rounded shoulders.
The spine is arguably the most fundamental structure in the human body. When we sit upright in one position for long periods of time, gravity works against us, compacting the vertebrae and causing the muscles around them to tighten. Increasing your spinal mobility is critical for a body that feels long and relaxed, and this dynamic stretch does just that.
Every time you’re seated, some of your most important muscles, like the hip flexors and hamstrings, become shortened and tight. This makes even simple movements, like walking, difficult. It’s important to ease your hips into a good stretch, so progressive routines like this are perfect for recovering from a long day of sitting.
xx, The FabFitFun Team