Chained to your desk? If you’re someone who spends a lot of time in front of the computer (hello breakfast, lunch and dinner in front of a screen), you’re probably no stranger to neck and shoulder pain. While an occasional massage might temporarily relieve the symptoms of being hunched over the keyboard, there are some daily exercises you can do to increase muscle strength and improve your posture over time so you don’t clock out with pain every night.
1. Lie with your knees bent and raise both arms straight up toward the ceiling. Alternating sides, reach one arm at a time as high up as you can, engaging and stretching it straight out as if you’re reaching for something hovering above you. As you do this, turn your head to look at the opposite arm. Though this seems easy, it’s a great beginning way to work the muscles in your shoulders. Additionally you’re creating a slight twist which is “super important for strong shoulders,” according to Andrea Palen, a Pilates instructor and biomechanics specialist who is co-founder of Pilates for the People. Alternate and repeat about ten times per arm.
2. From here, inhale your arms out to a T, then bring them to meet in front of you on an exhale. You should feel your shoulder blades moving against your mat in a natural progression. Repeat this 10-15 times.
3. Moving to your hands and knees, go through a few rounds of a modified cat-cow pose — but instead of dropping your stomach, focus purely on your shoulders and alternate between bringing your shoulder blades together and resting them with a flat back. Match your gaze with this movement, dropping your head down and then bringing it up to look straight forward.
4. From here, rest on your knees with your back straight. Imagine you’re reaching your arm into the opposite back pocket of your jeans, moving the palm across your back so it’s facing out. Alternate this with stretching your arm straight out extending your arm as if it’s being pulled by a string. “This exercise works your rotator cuff muscles, and those muscles are really important for helping support and strengthen the shoulders,” Palen says.
While Pilates for the People suggests doing these exercises daily to improve shoulder strength and reduce neck and back pain, even incorporating them into your routine a few times a week is enough to start seeing some of the benefits. As your shoulder muscles strengthen, you’ll become less reliant on straining other muscles as you work at your computer.