Now all you’ll have to feel bad about is the job itself!
By Emma Cunningham
I don’t have any clients who work an office job who don’t complain of lower back pain, stiffness in the neck and shoulders, and inflexible hamstrings. In fact, I don’t think I even know another instructor who has a client with a desk job who doesn’t show these symptoms.
We’re all familiar with it. We spend hours sitting in a chair we don’t exactly fit in, typing at a desk in a cramped position where our hands are higher than our elbows, using fingers to click a mouse that leaves our hand semi-permanently curled into a ball. Rounded shoulders start to develop from leaning forward to read everything from our computer monitors to memos from the boss.
There is a solution, though. Pilates. Everyone knows that exercise keeps your blood flowing, brain working, and body functioning. Pilates is especially good because its whole purpose is to realign the body for optimal working condition. Don’t have the money for a private instructor? Take a group class. The results come slower, but they still come. Don’t have time to get to a class? Shame on you, but here are a few exercises you can do at your desk in 5 – 10 minutes.
BREAST STROKE PREP.
For this exercise, you’ll need a wall. As you can see, we shot this workout in a standard cubicle, so if I can do it, you can do it. Press your whole body against the wall. Breathe in nice and slow, feeling your lungs expand into your chest, sides, and back. As you exhale through your mouth, start looking towards the ceiling. Keep your stomach touching the wall, but allow the shoulder blades and upper back to curve away from the wall into a nice, even extension. Repeat 8 times. This strengthens your upper back to pull those shoulders back and take the pressure off your lower back.
You don’t even have to get up for this one. Push your chair back from your desk and cross your arms genie-style in front of you. Breathe in to prepare, and as you exhale twist your upper body to one side. Make sure your lower body stays planted facing forwards to allow for maximum rotation. Breathe in, and as you exhale try and twist a little farther, still using only your upper body. Breathe in again, and exhale to turn back to the centre. Repeat on the other side, and do the whole set 5 times in each direction. You’ll increase mobility in your spine.
Sit right at the edge of the seat with your arms pressing down on your armrests. Think about making your neck as long as possible so that your shoulders aren’t up around your ears. Straighten one leg out in front of you as far as you can go with your heel still on the floor. Breathe in, and then exhale to lift the leg up. Make sure that your back doesn’t start pushing against the back of the seat by gently squeezing your abs. Feeling confident? Try drawing a circle in the air with your raised leg (and then circle back the other way). Repeat 10 times on each leg. Strengthening the hip flexors helps maintain the natural curves of your spine as well as building muscle in your legs.
Sitting straight up, take a breath in and lift one arm over your head, being careful to keep your neck long and your shoulders down. Breathe out, and curve your body over to one side, making sure that the raised arm is directly over your ear. Feel the side stretch out as you breathe in, and then exhale to sit back up and bring the arm down. Repeat 3 – 5 times on each side. This is a nice way to stretch out those sides, but by taking the added weight of your arm overhead, you are also doing some light strength training for your obliques.
Nobody likes wrist pain, and nobody wants surgery. This exercise will strengthen up your forearms and finger extensors to help prevent — and sometimes cure — the symptoms of mild carpal tunnel. Press your hands down into your desk as hard as you can, and then lift one finger at a time up without letting the other fingers come away from the desk. Looking for a bit more of a challenge? Do this one standing up to have even more weight coming down on your hands, providing extra resistence for your fingers.
You have to stand up again for this one. Place your hands underneath your shoulders on your desk. Make sure your back is in a straight line without your bum sticking up or your lower back dropping down. Leaving a little curve in the lower back is fine, as that is the normal position for your spine, but air on the side of caution and flatten it out as much as you can. Trust me, it’ll be more curved than you think it is. Have your hands in an open diamond so that the wrist stays in a nice straight line. Breathe in three times, each time lowering yourself a little closer to the desk. As you exhale, slowly press back up. Start with 3 – 5 push-ups, then take a break, and then do another set with the thumbs and index fingers touching in a closed diamond. It’s important to keep a balanced frame by toning the upper body; as well, shoulder stability and maintaining the plank position, which strengthens your core, help contribute to a healthy body.
SPINE STRETCH FORWARD
Back into your chair. Sit up as tall as you can and breathe in. As you exhale, let your head start rolling forward off your neck, and slowly allow your body to roll forward. Try to feel each vertebrae move individually, and focus really hard on those “stuck” patches. Breathe in at the bottom, and exhale to roll back up. Repeat 3 times. This will stretch the back muscles and increase circulation.
Now, get back to work, but think about checking out any Pilates facilities near your home or office to really get that body where it needs to be.
Emma Cunningham is a STOTT PILATES Certified Instructor in Mat, Reformer, Cadillac, Chair, Barrels, and Injuries and Special Populations. She specialises in post-rehabilitation and athletic performance improvement and works out of The Performance Health Centre in Toronto, Ontario. She is also the creator of Jump Rope Pilates circuit training.