Making a living from your laptop is a beautiful thing…
But it takes a hefty toll on your body.
It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to understand that hunching over your keyboard for 8+ hours a day is basically posture suicide.
Crappy posture is not only unattractive, but it also leads to a whole slew of health issues.
The good news is, by the following some quick-and-easy writer’s stretches, you can reverse the ravaging effects that the laptop lifestyle wreaks on your body.
In order to get the most out of these stretches, we first need to take a look at what’s actually happening to your body when you spend your life tapping away at the computer all day.
Inside your body, you have a tissue called fascia that connects and covers all of your muscles. To put it simply, think of it like a saran wrap covering that connects all your muscles together. This saran wrap plays a huge role in your posture.
Your biceps, abs, quads, calves—they’re all connected. And to keep your body balanced and functioning smoothly, the length and tension of this fascia connection needs to be maintained in proper proportions throughout your body. If the tension gets out of wack in one area, it affects the entire chain.
What’s more, your fascia is constantly restructuring itself according to the stress and forces you apply to it every day.
Whenever you have poor posture, your fascia is being compressed in some areas and stretched in others. If you do this day after day, it will create a memory of this position, start to think it’s the new normal, and “reset” it’s default length accordingly.
This is BAD.
And it’s where a laundry list of health problems start.
Remember, everything has an optimal length and everything is connected. So when one area gets jacked up, everything gets jacked up.
Here’s what the saran wrap of most writers looks like.
By looking at the angles of different joints, we can see how…
- Neck – Fascia in the back of the neck is shortened, while the front of the neck is lengthened
- Shoulders – Shoulders are rounded forward, shortening fascia in the chest and lengthening in the upper back. They’re also hiked up, tightening the traps
- Hips – Fascia between the front of the torso and legs is short (i.e. “tight hips”), while the backside is long.
- Wrists – Wrists are not in a neutral position, causing imbalanced fascia in hands and forearms.
If your fascia resets itself to these lengths, it’ll result in some butt ugly posture. But worst of all, it’ll lead to body aches and the potential for serious injuries…
- Poor positioning and repeated motion in your wrists causes inflammation that leads to carpal tunnel syndrome.
- Poor shoulder positioning causes upper back and neck pain.
- Shortened muscles in the front of your hips causes low back pain.
Your body will then start to compensate for this pain, leading to more problems and dysfunction up and down the chain.
Before getting into stretches to FIX writer’s posture (and associated pain), I want to talk about PREVENTION.
Posture can be hard to correct, so if you’re smart, you’ll nip it in the bud and prevent it from getting bad in the first place.
It’s simple, really.
Don’t let your fascia saran wrap reset to a bad default position.
This means spending as little time as possible in sub-optimal positions as possible.
There are three keys to doing this successfully…
It’s impossible to work with proper posture if you’re workspace isn’t set up ergonomically.
If you have a dedicated office, this should be easy.
But if you work while traveling and are constantly moving to new workspaces, it can be a challenge. Sometimes you just have to do the best you can with what you have. I recommend a laptop stand with a bluetooth keyboard and mouse.
This setup in my current Airbnb is far from perfect, so I try to take as many stretch breaks as possible. Without a laptop stand, it’d be 10x worse.
One of the biggest challenges to fixing your posture is awareness. When working, it’s easy to slip into your bad default position without even realizing it.
To combat this, try using different posture cues…
- Pillows that help you stay in position
- Setting posture alarm to go off every 20 minutes
- Kinesiotape that stretches and gives you feedback when you slouch
After using cues for a week, you’ll automatically start becoming more aware.
Training Your Posture Muscles
Even with perfect posture, sitting for long periods of time will cause problems. This is because when your legs are bent in a sitting position, the muscles connecting your torso to the front of your leg are shortened. If your saran wrap gets tight here, it will affect the rest of the chain (this is a SUPER common cause of low back pain).
To help prevent this, set a timer for 30 minutes to remind you to stand up, walk around, and stretch.
Speaking of stretches, here’s exactly what you should do.
Pro tip: By mixing up your sitting positions every once in a while (indian style, cross-legged, wide-legged, etc), you can help prevent your fascia from resetting to a bad default position. (But don’t stay too long in any one of these positions. None of them are great.)
If you sit all day at the computer, try to take 5-10 minute breaks every couple hours to run through this list. These shouldn’t hurt, so if you feel any pain, lighten up the stretch.
FYI: I am not a doctor. But I do have a degree in athletic training and know a thing or two about how the body works.
This hip stretch helps counteract the tight front hips (and low back pain) you get from sitting too much.
The key to this stretch is maintaining a neutral pelvis. Start with your knees at 90 degree angles. Then tip your pelvis backward to feel the stretch in the front of your hips.
Here I have a neutral pelvis, lower ribs are tucked, and natural arch in my back.
Here my pelvis is tilted forward, low ribs are flaring out, and low back is over-arched. This is WRONG.
This is my favorite posture exercise. It looks easy, but is actually pretty challenging. Here’s how to do it:
- Touch your heels, butt, head, outside part of your shoulder, and wrists against the wall.
- Rotate your pelvis to a neutral position, tuck your low ribs in, tuck your chin, and keep the outside tip of your shoulder pressing against the wall (your shoulders will want to rotate inward; don’t let them).
- Keep your shoulder blades down and back, and press your wrists backwards into the wall with pressure.
- Maintain this position for 30-60 seconds, rest, and repeat.
- If you’re doing it right, you’ll probably feel a stretch in the back of your neck, and your back muscles might feel a little tired and uncomfortable.
- After you finish, you’ll immediately feel like your standing up straighter.
For this stretch to work, every joint has to be in the right position. As you’re doing the exercise, keep mentally checking that each body part is still in the correct position.
Wrist stretches are easy, but important. If you already have wrist problems, be very gentle with these and don’t do anything that is painful.
Flex wrist down as far as possible for 5 seconds, then extend fingers to the ceiling and separate them as far as possible for 5 seconds. Repeat 5 times on each hand.
Hold each stretch for 5 seconds and repeat 5 times.
If these stretches get boring, try Neville’s magic handstand cure for wrist pain.
Your neck and shoulders are more complex and require a few different stretches to hit all the hot spots.
Neck Stretch #1
Tuck your chin in like your trying to make a double chin, then protrude it back out. Repeat 20 times. Do this as often as you can throughout the day (you can even do it while you’re working).
Neck Stretch #2
Slowly look as far as you can to the left and hold for 2 seconds, then look as far as you can to the right and hold for 2 seconds. Repeat 20 times.
Neck Stretch #3
Tilt your head to the side and slightly backward. Use your hand to push down the flesh of your upper chest to stretch the neck even more.
We have a tendency to keep tension in our shoulders when working. For this exercise, shrug your shoulders up as far as you can, hold for 3 seconds, then depress them down and back as far as you can. Repeat 10 times, then continue working with them in the depressed position.
#5.) Wall Pec Stretch
Pretty much everyone has tight pecs that cause our shoulders to roll forward. These two pec stretches help reverse it.
Find a corner (or doorway), put your hands on the wall, and lean forward. Be careful not to over-arch your lower back.
If you don’t have a good corner, this variations works as well. Interlace your fingers together behind your back. Roll your shoulders down and back. Keep your pelvis neutral (don’t overextend your lower back). Press your arms back and away from your back and expand your chest.
#6.) Upper Back Mobility Stretch
This stretch helps you avoid developing a hunchback and keeps the spine in your upper back from getting too stiff. (Be prepared for some cracks!)
Grab a foam roller or rolled up towel (I used a water bottle rolled up in a towel). Position it below your upper back, and keep a neutral pelvis (don’t let your lower back over-arch). Support your neck with your hands while simultaneously expanding your chest. Roll around a bit on the foam roller/towel and take deep breaths. After exhaling all your air, push down into the roller and see if you can get a nice crack.
Doing these stretches on a regular basis might seem like a hassle at first. But if you make it into a habit, your fragile writer’s body will thank you for it!
Hope this helps you avoid writing injuries!