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A man holds his back because it is in pain while sitting at his work desk.

20 Stretches to Combat the Negative Effects of Sitting

While our ancestors were hunter-gatherers and got plenty of activity through their daily tasks, it’s undeniable that being a productive member of society has changed a ton since then. Many of us (myself included) sit at a desk all day, barely lifting a muscle.

Here’s the problem.

The human body hasn’t really evolved since the hunter-gatherer days. This means that our body isn’t made to sit all day long, eight hours a day, five days a week.

It also means that your body is literally craving movement and stretches to combat sitting all day long. So, how can you counteract sitting with stretches? And what are the best body stretches for sitting?

We’ve got 20 of them.

The best part is that many of these stretches can be performed periodically throughout your day, right at your desk!

20 Stretches to Combat the Negative Effects of Sitting

1. Standing Forward Fold

Sitting tightens up your whole posterior chain (the back of your body).

It also puts a ton of pressure on your spine. Luckily, back stretches - like the forward fold - can help counteract these negative effects. Here’s how to do it:

  • Stand up tall.
  • Spread your arms out to your side and up high to the sky.
  • Dive forward with your hands leading the way while bending at your hips.
  • Hang out here for a little while. You can choose to hold your opposite elbows with your opposite hands or let your arms hang down to the ground (or as close as they can get).
  • Aim to stay here for five breaths or about 20-30 seconds.

2. Seated Hamstring Stretch

Ah - the hamstrings!

When these guys get tight, you might have trouble reaching down to pick items off the floor. You might also struggle to walk properly (I’m not kidding).

Your hamstrings, like your hip flexors, become shortened and tight when you sit. If you choose any two-body stretches for sitting off this list, make it this one and the hip flexor stretch (coming up next).

The hamstrings can also pull on the pelvis and low back, causing pain to arise. Here’s how you do the hamstring stretch and prevent this:

  • Sit in your office chair on the edge, but make sure you’re not about to cause the chair to topple.
  • Extend one leg straight out and plant your heel on the ground.
  • Slowly bend forward at the hips toward your straight leg.
  • You should feel a stretch in the upper and back portion of your thigh.
  • Once you do, hold here for 20-30 seconds, then switch legs.

3. Hip Flexor Stretch

The hip flexor stretch is one of the most important body stretches for sitting. When you sit all day, your hip flexors shorten and become tight. You may notice when you stand up that you feel tightness in the front of your hips.

Yup, that’s your hip flexors!

The problem with your hip flexors becoming tight is that they can pull on your pelvis, creating imbalances in the pelvic position and your lower spine. Regular hip flexor stretches can help prevent pain from becoming a problem. Here’s how you do it:

  • Set yourself up in a low lunge with your back knee on the ground.
  • Lean into your front knee while keeping your back straight.
  • You should feel a gentle stretch in the front of your hip.
  • Hold here for 20-30 seconds, then repeat on your opposite side.

Dealing with hip pain? Make sure to read: 5 Simple Stretches to Reduce Hip Pain

4. Toe Stretch

While the toes might not necessarily become problematic from sitting, the tightness created by sitting along the backside of your body can create issues in this area of the body as well.

Remember, everything is connected! Here’s how to get those toes stretched:

  • Sit on your shins with your feet underneath your buttocks.
  • Curl your toes so that they are facing forward, but your heels are facing back. This means your toes should not be pointing toward the back of the room.
  • Sit down on top of your feet.
  • You should feel a gentle stretch through the bottom of your feet and toes.
  • Hold for 20-30 seconds. If you want a more intense stretch, aim for one minute.

5. Child’s Pose

Child’s pose is such a great stretch for general relaxation and your spine. It releases muscular tension and tightness in your back, shoulders, and chest.

It also stretches your spine, making it a fantastic back pain stretch as well. Here’s how you do it:

  • Begin on all fours.
  • Slowly bring your buttocks back to your heels.
  • Rest your head on the ground and your arms and hands beside you.
  • If this is uncomfortable, grab a pillow or support to place under your torso and slightly between your legs.
  • Hold here for 20-30 seconds or longer. You can hold this stretch up to a couple of minutes if you so choose.

6. Chest Stretch

After sitting for long durations, our posture is often one of the first things to go. We begin to hunch forward. Our shoulders become rounded. This is where the chest stretch comes in.

This stretch helps bring those shoulders back and prevents tightness in the pecs. Here’s how to do it:

  • Stand in a doorway or corner.
  • Place your arms up to shoulder height and bend your elbows at 90 degrees.
  • Place your forearms on the door frame or the walls in the corner.
  • Slowly lean in or step forward, which should create a stretch throughout your chest area.
  • Hold here for 20-30 seconds.

7. Knee-to-Chest Stretch

This is another great one that falls within the back pain stretches realm. This is often given in rehab situations where acute or chronic back pain has happened. It helps take the pressure off the back and feels oh-so-good, especially after sitting for so long.

Here’s how to do it:

  • Lay face up on a comfortable surface.
  • Pull one or both of your knees in toward your chest.
  • You should feel a gentle stretch along your back.
  • Hold here for 20-30 seconds.

Sitting for long periods of time can cause neck and shoulder pain, too! Check out: 7 Yoga Poses to Combat Neck & Shoulder Pain

8. Seated Piriformis Stretch

As far as body stretches for sitting goes, this is another stretch that you won’t even have to leave your seat to perform.

Deep within your buttocks sits the tiny piriformis muscles. While small, it can become irritated and tight from sitting. This often results in spasms and potentially pressure on your sciatic nerve (which no one wants!).

Here’s how you do this stretch:

  • Sit tall in your chair and cross one ankle over top of your opposite knee.
  • Slowly and very gently push your bent knee down toward the floor.
  • You should feel a gentle stretch deep in your buttocks (sometimes, moving toward the edge of your chair may be necessary to feel this one).
  • Hold here for 20-30 seconds, and repeat on the opposite side.

9. Standing Quad Stretch

If you’re going to stretch one side of the legs, you might as well do the other! Plus, your quads, like your other muscles, have been stuck in the same position all day long. It’s time to stretch ‘em out!

Here’s how:

  • Stand tall next to a stable object that you can grab for balance.
  • Bend your right leg pulling your foot toward your right buttocks.
  • Your thighs should be parallel. If they aren’t, adjust.
  • Hold here for 20-30 seconds, then switch sides.

10. Standing Calf Stretch

Are calf cramps getting you down? It might be from sitting in the same position for too long.

The calves are part of that posterior chain network. Here’s how you can stretch them and prevent calf cramps from becoming a regular occurrence:

  • Find a wall and place both hands on it.
  • Extend one leg back with your heel intending toward the floor.
  • Lean into the wall, bending your front knee.
  • Hold for 20-30 seconds, then switch legs.

11. Spinal Twist

Your back takes quite the beating from sitting all day. It’s put under pressure. Muscles that attach near or around it become stiff and tight, pulling it in different directions.

Thus, enter: the spinal twist. Here’s how you do it:

  • Lay face up on a comfortable surface.
  • Bend your knees and plant your feet flat on the ground.
  • Cross one leg over the top of the other.
  • Gently allow your legs to fall to the opposite side of your crossed leg.
  • Spread your arms wide on each side of you.
  • Hold here for 20-30 seconds. (Doesn’t it feel good?)

12. Trapezius Stretch

It’s time to stretch out those shoulders!

Stretching this area of the body helps prevent pain from bad posture and helps correct your posture overall. Here’s how you do it:

  • Sit up tall in your chair, and place your right hand under your buttocks.
  • Gently bring left ear to your left shoulder.
  • You should feel a stretch along the top portion of your right shoulder and neck.
  • Hold here for 20-30 seconds and repeat on your opposite side.

13. Rhomboid Stretch

If you’re sitting properly, you’ll be activating the rhomboids most of the day. These muscles keep your shoulder blades back and down, helping you maintain good posture.

Here’s how to stretch these out:

  • Bring both arms in front of you at shoulder height.
  • Intertwine your fingers.
  • Gently pull your shoulder blades apart. You should feel a gentle stretch in your mid-back.
  • Hold for 20-30 seconds.

14. Levator Scapulae Stretch

This stretch is very similar to the trapezius stretch, but also it’s different.

The levator scapulae sits more in the neck region than the shoulder when compared to the trapezius muscle. If you’re constantly protruding your head forward to look at your computer screen, you’ll want to get on this stretch!

Here’s how you do it:

  • Sit up tall in your chair, and place your right hand under your buttocks.
  • Bring your gaze and chin toward your left armpit.
  • You should feel a gentle stretch through the right side of your neck.
  • Hold again for 20-30 seconds before repeating this sequence on your opposite side.

15. Wrist Flexor Stretch

If you’re typing all day, you’ll definitely want to save some of your energy to stretch out your wrists. This can help prevent injury or the dreaded carpal tunnel syndrome. These next two exercises do just that.

Here’s how to stretch your wrist flexors:

  • Extend your right arm straight in front of you with your palm facing up.
  • Take your opposite hand and pull your fingers down toward the floor.
  • You should feel a gentle stretch in your forearm.
  • Hold here for 20-30 seconds and repeat the same thing on the other side.

Do you have persistent wrist pain? Make sure to read: 7 Essential Exercises for Stubborn Wrist Pain

16. Wrist Extensor Stretch

Like the wrist flexors, typing places stress on the wrist extensors. To counteract this, do this stretch:

  • Extend your right arm straight in front of you with your palm facing down.
  • Take your opposite hand and pull your fingers down toward the floor.
  • You should feel a gentle stretch on the top of your arm between your wrist and elbow.
  • Hold for 20-30 seconds, then repeat on your opposite side.

17. Towel Stretch Pose

This stretch helps lengthen the front of the shoulder, which is often shortened when sitting due to improper posture. There is also the option to do this stretch without the towel if you can safely grasp onto your opposite hand.

Here’s how you do it:

  • Hold a rolled-up towel in your right hand.
  • Bring your right hand behind your head with your elbow bent and pointing up to the ceiling.
  • Bring your left arm behind your low back and grab the opposite end of the towel.
  • Pull the towel with your right hand until you feel a stretch in the front of your shoulder.
  • Hold here for 20-30 seconds, then switch sides.

18. Inner Thigh Stretch

As previously mentioned, everything in the body is connected. And when you sit, your groin muscles also take a serious hit. Like other muscles, they can become tight, leading to an increased risk of injury and pain.

To stretch them out, do this:

  • Stand tall and spread your feet as wide as you can.
  • Gently lean to one side and hold for 20-30 seconds. You should feel a stretch through your inner legs.
  • Lean toward your other side and hold again.
  • You can repeat this a few times, depending on how it feels for you.

19. Backbend

A simple backbend works to help keep your spine in tip-top shape! And you don’t have to be a yogi to do them.

Here’s how you do it:

  • Stand tall.
  • Bring your hands high to the sky.
  • Gently lean back as far as you comfortably can.
  • Hold for 10-20 seconds.
  • Repeat this two to five times.

Backbends are truly amazing for your spine, but we know they can be scary! Learn more about backbends: Mastering the Backbend: Free Your Spine

20. Thoracic Extension Stretch

With many individuals not maintaining a good posture when they sit, the back becomes that much more important to take care of. Our final stretch is another great back pain stretch that helps lengthen the upper and mid-spine.

Here’s how you do it:

  • Find a wall and place both your hands on it.
  • Slowly bend forward at the hips while keeping your hands above your head on the wall.
  • You should feel a gentle stretch through your mid-back.
  • Hold for 20-30 seconds.

Stretch it Out!

Body stretches for sitting are so important to get through this life without experiencing chronic pain issues or the dreaded back pain. Take care of your body, and it will take care of you, guiding you throughout life without pain holding you back!

Related article: What Kind of Exercise is Essential for a Healthy Body?

Krista Bugden

Krista Bugden

"Believing in yourself is really half the battle," says Krista. Anything is possible and you really can achieve anything you set your mind to, is her motto. Physiotherapist, Piano player, skydiver, yogi, adventure traveler and energetic force of positivity, Krista is herself a (delightful) force to be reckoned with! As... Read More

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