Back Strengthening Exercises for Desk-Based Workers

At Physio Effect we routinely treat the general population for injuries and pain which can be attributed to a sedentary lifestyle. We have previously discussed the risks posed by excessive hours of sitting and how this is reaching almost epidemic levels in the Western world. Today's article provides some general exercise recommendations that can go some way to reducing this risk and counteracting the negative effects of sitting.

In an ideal world, those of us who have sedentary or sitting based occupations should aim to move, stretch, and be active for at least 1-2 minutes of every hour. While some of the exercises shown here may not be suitable for your particular work environment, any effort to perform a routine of this nature for 5-10 minutes before or after work or during a lunch break would go a long way to reducing the risk of pain and injury. General exercise and safe varied movement of any kind is also highly recommended.

Exercise 1 - Thoracic Rotation

 Thoracic Rotation Start

Thoracic Rotation Start

  • Start on all fours with one hand placed behind your head.

  • Slowly turn the elbow towards the ceiling allowing your trunk to rotate and stretch

  • Hold at top position for 3-5 seconds. Repeat x 10 with each arm

 Thoracic Rotation Finish

Thoracic Rotation Finish

Exercise 2 - Dart

 Dart - Start Position

Dart - Start Position

  • Lay face down with thin pillow or folded towel for head support

  • Arms by your side, gently stretch your fingertips away from your shoulders allowing your shoulder blades to glide downward and slightly inward

  • Palms facing your hips, have your arms floating just off your side and not touching the floor

  • Keeping the back of your neck long and eyes looking to the floor, gently lift your head and upper body just off the floor - imagine lifting from your breast bone

  • Hold the finish position 3-5 seconds. Repeat 10 times 1-2 sets

 Dart - Finish Position

Dart - Finish Position

 Dart - Finish - Detail

Dart - Finish - Detail

Exercise 3 - Hip Flexor Stretch

  Hip Flexor Stretch Start Position

Hip Flexor Stretch Start Position

  • Take a kneeling / lunge position as shown - use support of wall or furniture for balance if required

  • On the kneeling side gently engage your buttock and lower abdominal muscles - imagine you are tucking your tailbone in between your legs

  • You should feel a stretch at the front of your hip/ thigh. If balance allows gently raise the arm on the same side as the kneeling knee.

  • Hold the stretch for 30 seconds minimum and repeat 2-3 times each side.

  Hip Flexor Stretch Finish Position

Hip Flexor Stretch Finish Position

Exercise 4 - Cobra

  Cobra Start Position

Cobra Start Position

  • Lay face down with hands palms down about shoulder height

  • Using your arms slowly press out peeling your upper body slowly off the floor

  • Remain heavy in your hips trying to keep them in contact with the floor - relax your buttock muscles

  • Hold the finish position for 5-10 seconds, return to the start and repeat 5-10 times

  Cobra Finish Position

Cobra Finish Position

Exercise 5 - Shoulder Bridge

  Shoulder Bridge Start Position

Shoulder Bridge Start Position

  • Lay flat on your back with feet shoulder width apart and knees bent

  • Using your lower abdominals gently tilt your pelvis to press your lower back flat to the floor

  • Pressing through your heels, using your buttock and abdominal muscles gently peel your spine up from the floor starting with your tail bone.

  • Finish with your weight resting across your shoulder blades and your shoulders, hips and knees in a diagonal line

  • Hold finish position for 3-5 seconds, return to start and repeat 10 times for 2-3 sets.

  Shoulder Bridge Finish Position

Shoulder Bridge Finish Position

Exercise 6 - Superman

  Superman Start Position

Superman Start Position

  • Start in all fours position with knees under hips, hands under shoulders and spine relaxed

  • Slowly extend out opposite arm and leg pointing the toes behind and the fingertips to the front

  • Keep gentle tension in your lower abdominals - think about drawing your bellybutton in towards your spine

  • Try to maintain spinal position throughout the movement, return slowly to start position

  • Repeat with opposite arm and leg, try 10-12 repetitions for 2-3 sets.

 Superman Finish Position

Superman Finish Position

Exercise 7 - Thoracic Extension with Foam Roller

  Thoracic Extension with Foam Roller Start Position

Thoracic Extension with Foam Roller Start Position

  • Lying on your back with knees bent and feet flat, place a foam roller under your mid-upper back as shown

  • Take a deep breath in and then, as you exhale, slowly extend back over the roller to stretch your back. Try to keep your lower abdominals engaged to avoid over-arching your lower back

  • Support your head with your hands and be careful to stay relaxed in your neck. If you find this too intense or uncomfortable, try using a pillow or pillows to rest back onto

  • Hold the finish position for 2-3 breath cycles, return to start position and repeat 5 times

  • Move the roller to another position in your mid-upper back and repeat the process, aim to work on 3-5 positions along your spine

  Thoracic Extension with Foam Roller Finish Position

Thoracic Extension with Foam Roller Finish Position

  Thoracic Extension with Foam Roller Alternate Finish Position

Thoracic Extension with Foam Roller Alternate Finish Position

Exercise 8 - Pec Stretch

  Pec Stretch Start Position

Pec Stretch Start Position

  • Stand as shown with arm at approximately shoulder height and palm to forearm placed against the doorframe

  • Slowly turn your body away by stepping your feet around to open and stretch the front of your chest and shoulder

  • Lean gently into the stretch, keeping your neck relaxed, hold for 30 seconds+, repeat x 2 on each side

  • Alternatively, use a doorway to position both arms in the stretch position, step forward to feel the chest and shoulder open and stretch. Hold 30 seconds+, repeat x 2.

  Double Pec Stretch Position

Double Pec Stretch Position

While these are general exercise recommendations suitable for the majority of the population they are not prescriptive for any specific pain or injury. These exercises should be performed slowly and gently in a range of movement suited to your own level of ability and flexibility. The exercises should not cause any pain and we recommend that if you are in any doubt or if you are suffering from spinal or joint pain issues you should consult a healthcare professional for advice.

At Physio Effect we provide a wide range of services allowing us to not only treat your pain or injury but ensure that you are given the best advice specific to your individual needs to prevent your problem from recurring.