It doesn’t take long to figure out that sitting all day will impact you physically. Even the most conscientious workers hunch over their keyboard while writing a complicated email or find themselves skipping an afternoon break to eat lunch slouched at their desk. While performing simple desk exercises can help beat common aches and get your blood flowing, years of sitting at a desk will take its toll. When you slouch, your chest muscles tighten, which pulls your spine forward and rotates your shoulders inward. Doing this weakens the muscles of your upper back. You’ll experience pain in your neck and lower back and may, over time, gain a not-so-attractive hunchback.
This condition is called postural kyphosis and is completely reversible if you counteract hours of sitting with some simple daily exercises. Even though these exercises may just take a few minutes to perform, it’s crucial that they’re performed daily to counteract the damage and relieve pain. These exercises beat the hunch by relieving tightness in the chest and strengthening your upper back muscles.
1. Neck retraction
Make sure to give that achy neck a little TLC. This neck retraction exercise will help lengthen your neck muscles, so you can easily hold your neck in the proper position over even the longest workdays. It will also help relieve the tension in your back that eventually leads to a humpback posture. To start, stand with your feet hip-width apart and put your hands on your hips. Tilt your chin down toward your chest while keeping your shoulders pulled back as if you’re trying to bring your shoulder blades together. Retract your neck as far back as you can, so you’re giving yourself a double chin. Hold for several seconds before releasing.
2. Chest stretch
Find the corner of a wall at home, in the gym, or at your office, and as you face the wall extend your right arm straight forward and put your palm flat on the wall. Then, turn your body left and use the wall as leverage to push your chest forward as you twist your torso away from the wall. Hold for up to 30 seconds, feeling the stretch in your chest as your shoulder blade moves in toward your spine. Repeat this exercise using your left arm to open both sides of your chest. Perform up to three full sets. This exercise will open up your chest and relive the tightness that comes from hours spent chair-bound.
3. Upper back rolling
This exercise targets your upper back and should feel so good you may be tempted to simply lay on the roller and let your chest open for a few minutes. Using a foam roller or, in a pinch, a foam noodle pool toy, lay on top of the roller so it is situated across your spine and right below your shoulder blades. Put your feet on the ground with your knees bent and put your hands behind your head. Lift your hips off the ground and roll forward so the foam roller or noodle travels up your back inch by inch. To release the pressure, drop your hips to the ground. Repeat this slow travel upward until the roller is hovering a couple inches below your neck and then roll back down to your starting position. When you feel areas of stiffness or slight discomfort, stay in that area and roll back and forth slowly for 10 to 15 seconds.
4. Surfer extension
This killer exercise stretches your chest, strengthens your lower back and upper back, and pulls your shoulder blades together to counteract the office hunch. Lie on your stomach on the floor with your legs shoulder-width apart. Float your arms up off the ground so you’re reaching forward with your palms facing down. Then, without the help of your hands, lift your chest off the ground, keeping your neck in one line with your gaze focused on the floor. Contract your abdominal muscles as you bend at the elbows and pull your arms back, squeezing your shoulder blades together. Your upper arms should become parallel with your torso and squeeze before returning forward. Keep your chest up off the floor and perform this surfer-like forward and back movement up to 30 times, fulfilling a full three sets if possible.
5. Bridge pose
Not only will you be stretching your chest and stomach, but by exercising your abdominal muscles, you will stand taller and eliminate any sign of that dreaded humpback. To start, lie on your back on the floor with your hands relaxed at your sides. Bend your knees and plant your feet on the floor hip-width apart, bringing your heels close to your butt. Lift your hips toward the ceiling, keeping the weight of your body in your feet and shoulders with your quadriceps engaged. Be careful to relax your butt cheeks to avoid any strain in your lower back. Hold for up to one minute for three full sets.