Taking stretch breaks instead of coffee or that afternoon snack you don’t really need works out the kinks and gives you a natural and sustainable energy boost, rather than the peak and subsequent drop that many people experience with caffeine or sugar. Instead of consuming extra calories, you’re fueling your metabolism and stimulating circulation. Try this sequence to counteract cubicle confinement (if you have injuries or experience pain, consult your doctor before proceeding)
Shoulder rolls and neck tilts
Roll your shoulders in a circular motion: front, up, back and down. Repeat 6-8 times. Tilt your head toward the right shoulder. Keep your shoulder blades down and hold for at least three breaths, then return to center and do the other side. Benefits: Strengthens and stretches muscles of the shoulders and neck and releases tension.
Start standing with your back straight. Sequentially move to a forward bending crouched position, fingertips dangling toward your toes. First move your chin toward your chest, then round your shoulders forward so your upper back curves. Next bend forward at the waist and allow your knees to bend. Let your head hang and look toward your stomach. If you want more of a stretch, bend deeper at the waist and bend your knees if necessary so your fingers touch your toes. Hold for a few breaths, then roll up and repeat three times. Inhale deeply and move slowly as you roll up to prevent dizziness from sudden changes in blood pressure. Benefits: Reduces stress, improves circulation, and lengthens muscles of the back and legs.
Sit sideways facing the right side of your chair, with your right hand on the chair back. Make your spine vertical, not slumped. Slowly rotate your abdomen, ribs, shoulders, and head toward the right, gently pulling the right hand against the chair for leverage. Enjoy your maximum stretch for a few breaths and then slowly unwind. Sit for a few moments with a neutral spine before doing the other side. Benefits: Relieves sore lower backs and wrings out accumulated toxins.
Reach your arms in front of you; extend your wrists while spreading out your fingers toward the ceiling (as if you are a police officer saying ‘Stop!’). Hold that position for a few seconds, then flex your wrists, reaching your fingers toward the floor; repeat 8-12 times. Benefits: Eases compression of the median nerve and tendons at the wrist; may help prevent carpal tunnel syndrome.
Place an elastic band (with a reasonable amount of tautness, mind, not a really flimsy one) around the middle of all four fingers and the top of your thumb, all digits together. Now draw away your thumb, working against the resistance of the elastic band. Hold for a count of three and repeat five times. Swap hands. Benefits: Eases pressure on the carpal joints, great for RSI injuries and may help prevent carpal tunnel syndrome.
Wrist and forearm stretch
Great for anyone who uses a keyboard regularly. Hold your right arm straight out in front of you with your palm facing up. Use your left hand to pull your fingers back and down to the floor. Feel the stretch on the underside of your forearm and wrist. Now turn the arm palm down, and draw the fingers back towards the forearm, keeping them straight. Swap sides Benefits: Eases compression tendons at the wrist; may help prevent carpal tunnel syndrome.
Start with your arms extended in front of you. Pull your elbows back as if you are rowing a boat. Draw your shoulder blades towards each other and down your back while keeping a neutral spine (don’t allow your back to arch, or your ribs to jut forward.) Return to starting position and repeat 8-12 times. Benefits: Stretches pectoral muscles, strengthens upper back. Helps correct poor posture and muscular imbalances from hunching over a desk or computer. We humans just aren’t cut out for sitting all day. Pain is your body calling, so don’t just plow through it – take time to move. Your stress level and risk of injury will drop; and those chronically tight muscles will breathe a big sigh of relief. Lauren Tepper is a certified yoga and fitness instructor