Two surprising stretches to undo the damage of sitting

These two stretches can help relieve back pain and tight hips caused by too much sitting down

deep squat
(Image credit: Getty Images)

Even though COVID’s on the back foot, the changes in lifestyle brought on by the pandemic means we’re sitting more than ever. Whether that be in front of a computer for eight hours a day, followed by eating at a kitchen table and then evenings relaxing on the sofa in front of the TV, this sort of combo can lead to metabolic syndrome, wasted muscle, and especially bad hips.

You might not be a stranger to lifting weights at the gym, or enjoy lacing up the best running shoes for men or best running shoes for women for regular jogs, but prolonged periods of sitting is still causing back pain and bad hips for many of us, according to research published in the European Spine Journal (opens in new tab) and The Better Health Channel (opens in new tab). Sitting is even referred to as “the new smoking” due to the fact that sitting for long periods increases your risk of chronic health problems and plays havoc with your mental health.

Even if you have a healthy balanced diet, some may skip past stretching due to lack of time or not knowing how to properly but investing time in stretching your back and hips is increasingly important – thankfully, these two powerful stretches might be just what you need for reversing the signs of sitting.

Nathalie Hayward (opens in new tab), a celebrity fitness trainer and nutrition coach, says: “Sitting for prolonged periods and looking at a computer can cause the muscles in the anterior (front) of the body to become shortened and tight, while the muscles at the posterior (back) of the body to become lengthened and weak. This has a knock-on effect on our joints, causing compression in unwanted places such as the lower back and hips.”

Stretching improves back pain

(Image credit: Getty Images)

But stretching exercises can help relieve back pain. Hayward also adds “you can easily combat the effects of sitting for too long by stretching out the hip flexors (muscles at the front of the hip that shortens when sitting) and gluteus medius/piriformis stretch (the hip stabilizing muscles surrounding the hips that can cause compression in the lower back when tight). 

"Please note that it's also extremely important to activate these muscles as well as stretch them. Strong yet supple muscles are the dream combination.”

This has also been proven by other research to be effective in putting the kibosh on back pain, as a study by The National Institutes of Health (opens in new tab) explains that stretching classes are effective at reducing lower back pain, improving back movement, and keeping hip flexors supple day-to-day.

Check out our two favorite stretches to target your back and hips. These moves will not only improve overall joint health but will aid with flexibility too: 

Hip flexor stretch

Nathalie Hayward

(Image credit: Nathalie Hayward)

Muscles love movement, and this dynamic standing stretch provides a little glute activation as well as a stretch for the hips. 

  • Start by standing with your feet hip distance and parallel.
  • Take a step back with your right foot into a narrow lunge stance. Ensure both knees are slightly bent - tuck the hips, squeezing your right gluteus maximus (your butt cheek).
  • Reach your arms up to the sky and lean to the left (the opposite side to which you're stretching), then step forwards back to the starting position with your right foot.
  • Switch leg and follow the same move on the opposite side.
  • Repeat 8-10 times all together (4-5 times each side).

Sitting Gluteus Medius/Piriformis Stretch

Nathalie Hayward

(Image credit: Nathalie Hayward)

Another juicy stretch to really loosen up tight hips, glutes and back.

  • Start by sitting comfortably on a chair with your feet hip distance and parallel.
  • Cross one ankle over your knee to create a figure 4 shape, lean forwards bringing your chest towards your foot that is crossed over.
  • Be sure to keep your back as straight as possible and both buttocks firmly on your chair. 
  • Hold the stretch for a minimum of 30 seconds to increase your flexibility. Repeat on the opposite side. 
  • The aim is to try and perform this stretch 1-2 times per day.

Need more mobility solutions? Opt for a foam roller to put pressure on tight muscles and loosen up the surrounding tissues. If you've never used one before, our best foam roller guide can help. 

Kirsty is an accomplished journalist specialising in the wellness industry. She has previously written for titles including Grazia, Popsugar, Metro.co.uk, Elle UK and the Sunday Telegraph. You’ll find her running around Windsor Great Park at 6am most mornings (before her toddler, Clementine Lilac, wakes up), followed by a virtual barre class with the team at Psycle London – where that barre burn is just so addictive. Kirsty loves to stock up on new activewear; because, let’s face it, you can never have too many pairs of sculpting leggings. She's always keen to try/endure the latest workouts to come to London. Kirsty also enjoys rustling up nutritious family meals and indulging in her newfound hobby: flower pressing.