Most likely you’ve heard how sitting too much is bad for you. There’s little debate about that. Ironically, while running can help counteract some of the overall ill effects of “long-term” sitting, some runners are more prone to pain, or even injury due to long hours at their desk. More on why below. But, the good news: runners can minimize the negative impact with simple desk stretches.
Why Should Runners do Desk Stretches?
Exactly how much do we sit? Short answer: too much.
Long answer: According to a 2019 study, the average American adult spends about 6.5 hours a day sitting — about an hour increase since 2007. Keep in mind this is for ALL adults, so those with a “desk job” likely sit even longer.
Why is this a problem? 1) Running is a highly repetitive sport where the hip flexor muscles are heavily relied upon, and are often tight and inflexible 2) Sitting for 6.5+ hours each day keeps those hip flexors in a shortened position (90˚), while the glute muscles are lengthened.
(Yes, muscles are supposed to shorten and lengthen, the issue is when they’re in that state too long. In either scenario, the muscle becomes weaker, with less range of motion.)
Translation: a muscle imbalance can develop between two important muscle groups around our hips: our anterior (ie: hip flexors) and posterior (ie: glutes) chain muscles. This imbalance makes it difficult for our glutes to fully engage and extend our hips while running.
Weak muscles that fire insufficiently eventually lead to postural deficits, and a breakdown in running form. Plus, muscle groups in your back and lower body take on extra work to compensate, setting you up for issues potentially with your lower back, hip, or knee pain – and yes, injury.
I know what you might be thinking. “I always warm up before my run. And, stretch after. I should be good!”
Sure, a smart runner does a dynamic warm-up before a run, and static stretches post run. But, consider that the whole process takes about 10 minutes. 10 minutes to counteract 45+ hours of sitting, and a few hours of running each week is undoubtedly insufficient to overcome this issue.
To help avoid or remedy this imbalance that leads to pain, and injury, I previously wrote an article on glute strengthening exercises for home/gym. This particular article provides movements more suitable for your work environment that focus on primarily hip mobility, or desk stretches for runners.
Desk Stretches for Runners
Seated Chair Twist
Sit tall in a chair. Place left hand on either seat back or arm of chair, with the right hand at the outer left thigh. Keeping the spine long, twist to the left. Hold, return to center and repeat on other side.
Remember to pull navel in and contract both sides of the torso to deepen twist. Feet firmly/evenly on ground with head aligned over shoulders.
Chair Hip Stretch (Seated Half Pigeon)
Sit with your right leg crossed over the left, trying to stack your ankle over the left thigh (keep foot in flexed position). Open your right knee out to the side (modify as needed for sensitive knees). Inhale, lifting taller through the spine as both arms extend overhead.
As you exhale, hinge forward from the hips until you feel the stretch in the right hip. Fold forward over the right leg and use your arms to help gently weight the right leg, and assist further into the stretch.
Go only to the degree that feels comfortable for you. Hold for 30-60 seconds; repeat on the opposite side.
Chair Thoracic Extension
Sit all the way back in your chair and place your hands behind your head to support the neck. Inhale then exhale as you lean back to allow your spine to wrap over the back of the chair as you gaze up toward the ceiling. Return to the starting position. Repeat 15 to 20 reps.
Even More Desk Stretches for Runners
Seated Hamstring Stretch
While at your desk, place your right heel on the floor, or on a slightly elevated box or shelf. Pull your navel in towards your spine, and then fold forward hinging at your hips. You can reach over towards the right toes and then over towards the left to stretch each leg on its own respectively. Hold for 30 seconds on each side while breathing slowly.
Standing Hip Flexor Warrior 1 Stretch
Great for stretching hip flexors and calves.
Stand up from your chair and step your right foot forward and your left foot back. Open the feet wider than the hips, and bend the front knee while keeping the back leg straight. Turn the left toes so they face forward on a 45-degree angle. Place your hand on your desk for balance or reach them towards the sky. Pull the abs in and relax the shoulders. Hold for 30 seconds, and then switch to perform on the other side.
(Note you can also do a quad stretch while standing. With your left foot on the ground, bend the right leg, and hold your right foot behind you. Hold for 30” and do on opposite leg.)
Standing Supported Triangle
Stretches the hamstrings and the calves.
Standing behind a chair with your feet together, take a big step back with your left foot so that the legs are open about three feet apart. Hinge forward from the hips and, keeping your spine neutral and heels pressed into the floor, bend your elbows to place the forearms gently on the back of the chair for support. Feel free to bend your knees as much as needed to avoid rounding the spine, and keep hips square to the chair. Hold for 30-60 seconds; repeat on the opposite side.
In addition to these desk stretches for runners, strive to do the following during your workday.
- Get up and walk around occasionally – at least once per hour!
- Complete some standing and sitting “glute squeezes.” This effective isometric exercise is also very subtle, helpful for an office environment.
- In standing, stand tall, tuck your tailbone and flex your glutes as much as you can for five seconds. Release, repeat 10 times. (When seated, make sure you sit tall with good posture.)
(Last thing – cross training with a regular practice of yoga can be a game changer for any runner. I practice it about five days a week, and it’s been hugely beneficial. Highly recommend!)