Great Exercises To Stretch ‘Stress Muscles’


‘I’m a Physical Therapist, and Here’s How I Release My ‘Stress Muscles’ While Sitting at a Desk’

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After an hour (or several) of pounding out emails, you might find your shoulders hiked up to your ears, your nose moving closer and closer to the screen, and your chest caving in on itself. This knot of tension can have you feeling like a desk goblin instead of the strong and dynamic human being that you are.

Desk goblin mode also results in tightness and pain in what physical therapist Winnie Yu, DPT, describes as your “stress muscles.” These are the muscles of your neck and upper back, including your trapezius and the muscles surrounding your scapula.

There are some easy ways to release these stress muscles (and keep computer work from affecting your whole body). The first is to get up or change positions every 30 minutes or so. But you can also take a body vacation while sitting right at your desk by doing a series of stretches that Dr. Yu has put together in a new nine-minute video for the most recent episode of Well+Good’s Trainer of the Month Club.

“Every day I get patients that complain of neck pain or back pain, and these exercises are a really good way to combat some of those issues,” Dr. Yu says.

You’ll work in quadrants: Your upper back and shoulders, your mid-back and core, and your lower body. While your stress muscles are located in that first quadrant, tight or disengaged muscles in your trunk and base can affect your posture and contribute to that overall goblin feeling.

Dr. Yu starts with a series of static neck stretches. You’ll really want to hold these for the full 30 seconds to see their benefit and feel a delicious loosening up.

“These muscles typically get tight when we’re working at a desk and leaning forward to a computer,” Dr. Yu says. The stretches she takes you through “are a really great way to loosen up those muscles, bring more blood flow, and improve that extensibility.”

You’ll move into side stretches and shoulder and chest openers, before hinging forward at your hips to stretch your glutes, hips, and hamstrings. In less than 10 minutes, the series can take you from a ball of stress to a lengthened and strengthened body.

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