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A 5-Minute Stretch Break You Can Do Anywhere

By Kristen Mascia | October 29, 2020 | Rally Health

Hey, you, the person reading this. When was the last time you got up from your chair for a stretch or a walk?

If you’ve got a stiff neck, a sore back, or hamstrings so tight you can barely touch your toes, you’re not the only one. Since the COVID era began — and forced millions of Americans to shift to remote work and virtual learning — chiropractors have reported a spike in complaints. In April, the American Chiropractic Association conducted a poll on Facebook to find out how people were feeling while sheltering in place. Just weeks into the pandemic, 90% of the poll’s 213 respondents were already dealing with musculoskeletal pain.  

Working in a way that isn’t ergonomically supportive — think perching on a barstool at your kitchen counter, or click-clacking away on your computer while seated on your mushy couch — doesn’t do your body any favors. If you’ve been exercising less on top of spending more hours bent over a laptop, you may be setting yourself up for discomfort. 

“Sitting at an office or a dining room table all day can fatigue and weaken muscles,” says Abbe Hoffman, MS, an ergonomist with Rally’s parent company Optum Health. “Our glutes get deactivated by being sedentary, and weak glutes can make you more prone to lower back discomfort.” 

Think about incorporating stretching into your daily routine. Stretching can help keep muscles flexible and strong, and protect you from injury. Once or twice a day, set aside 5 minutes to tackle the moves below. Aim to hold each stretch for 10 to 30 seconds. Repeat each movement three times before moving on to the next. (If anything hurts — or if you’re already dealing with a chronic injury or muscle strain — hold off on these. Once you heal and have your doctor’s approval, you can go ahead and give them a try.)

Neck Soother

What it relieves

The term “Tech Neck” (also called “Text Neck”) refers to overuse injuries of the head, neck, and shoulders caused by craning over technology (aka looking at your phone all day). Peering down at a screen involves a forward head motion that strains the cervical spine (the top part in your neck) and the muscles that support it. Do this stretch a couple of times a day to soothe tension and reset your posture.

How to do it


1. Sit or stand with your feet hip-width apart, toes pointing forward (if you’re seated, make sure they’re planted on the ground). Contract your core, and pull your shoulders down and back.

2. Slowly bring your right ear toward your right shoulder, stopping when you feel the stretch. Maintain your posture. Hold for 15 seconds (or fewer, if you feel discomfort), and slowly return to starting position. 

3. Repeat on your left side. Do three reps on each side, for a total of a minute and a half.

Pro tip

“Go slowly,” Hoffman says, “and breathe.” If this stretch (or one of the others) feels really good, feel free to hold it for longer. “You can go up to 45 to 60 seconds.” If it feels bad, stop what you’re doing and take a breather.

Hamstring Lengthener

What it relieves

“The hamstrings tend to be tight on everybody,” says Hoffman, a former yoga instructor and devoted yogi. Hamstring tightness is another thing that can contribute to back discomfort. Stretching these muscles –– which you’ve probably done before –– can help you stay flexible and avoid injury. 

How to do it

1. Take a comfortable seat on the floor, or position yourself on the edge of your chair with your knees bent, and stabilize your core. 

2. Straighten one leg before you, then lean forward till you feel the stretch. Hold for 20 seconds.

3. Repeat on the other side. Do three reps on each side, for a total of 2 minutes.  

Mix it up

There are lots of ways to stretch your hamstrings. If you’re working from home, you can try a variation of this on the floor. Lie down on your back near the corner of a wall. With your left knee bent, raise your right leg in the air. Rest your heel against the wall, gently straightening your raised leg. Hold for 20 seconds and repeat on the other side. Same deal here –– do this stretch on both sides three times, for a total of 2 minutes. 

Seated Cat-Cow 

What it relieves

Tightness in the back and chest can lead you to hunch, Hoffman says. But “when your body is open, it helps keep you in proper ergonomic alignment.” This back and chest opener encourages better posture, she says.  

How to do it

1. Take a comfortable seat on the floor, or sit on the edge of your chair with your feet planted hip-width apart, and place your hands on your knees.   

2. Lift your chin and gaze up at the ceiling, broadening your chest and allowing a slight arch in your lower back. Hold for 15 seconds. For a deeper stretch, clasp your hands behind your back. 

3. Next, round through your spine, as an angry cat would, tucking your chin. Feel the gentle stretch in your neck. Hold for 15 seconds.

4. Repeat on each side three times, for a total of a minute and a half. 

Take it to the floor

In yoga, this pose is done on all fours, Hoffman says. If you’d like to try it that way, start in a tabletop position with knees hip-width apart and toes flexed. Exhale, contracting your abs and rounding your spine, again as a cat would. Hold 15 seconds. For the cow part, reverse the motion, letting your stomach drop and gently arching your lower back. Hold again for 15 seconds. Repeat three rounds, until you’ve stretched for a minute and a half.


Kristen Mascia
Rally Health