If you’re like us, morning runs are an integral part of your routine: You wake up, sip a cup of coffee while you get dressed, lace up your shoes, and head out for some miles before work. Then it’s off to the office—where again, like most of us—you spend the day at your desk. While we all know sitting for eight hours a day isn’t healthy, it can be even more detrimental for runners.
“In terms of the movements and positions involved, running is very extension dominant, while sitting is purely flexion, especially if you really hunch forward while you’re at your desk,” explains Cameron Yuen, D.P.T., senior physical therapist at BeSpoke Treatments in New York City and certified strength and conditioning specialist. “Theoretically, going from running to sitting for hours can cause the calves, hamstrings, and hip flexors to tighten up.”
If you’re an evening runner, and you’re thinking this doesn’t apply to you—think again. After a full day of work, your body is generally stiffer, and you’re probably tired, so you need to shift your focus toward preparing for the run even more so than usual, Yuen says. “This means increasing your body temperature, loosening up muscles, and redirecting blood flow away from the center of the body and into the muscles,” he says.
Luckily, there’s an easy fix for both scenarios: desk exercises. No, we don’t expect you to bust out jumping jacks in the middle of a conference call. These are discreet, non-disruptive stretches and exercises you can do at your desk that can reverse the negative effects of sitting. Below, Yuen shares the best moves for you.
How to use this list: If you run in the morning, Yuen recommends performing one set of the following exercises, several times per day to maintain range of motion, flush metabolic byproducts from your earlier run, and keep the muscles active.
If you run after work, Yuen says to perform at least 3 sets of the following exercises back-to-back. “After a full day of work, your body is generally stiffer, and so your goal is to prepare for the run,” he says.
Stand with your back to chair, about two feet in front of it. Place top of right foot on the edge of the chair. Bend both knees until right knee nearly touches the ground. You should feel a stretch along the right hip flexor. Hold for 1 to 2 minutes. Then switch legs and repeat.
Make it easier: If this is too intense, do the same stretch with your foot on ground instead of on the chair.
“The hip needs to extend past the body when running,” explains Yuen. “If you sit most of the day, your hip flexors tend to prevent you from reaching full hip extension, so you end up extending more from your lumbar spine when running.”
Sitting on your chair, cross right ankle over left knee. Try to keep your right shin parallel to floor. Lean forward from hips until you feel the stretch along outer right hip. Hold for 1 to 2 minutes. Switch legs and repeat.
“The hips require internal and external rotation during both the stance and swing phase of running,” Yuen says. “If you are missing some rotation in the hips, the body will have to rotate through the knees or lumbar spine, which decreases efficiency and could lead to pain.”
Sit all the way back in your chair and place hands behind head to support neck. Inhale then exhale as you lean back to allow spine to wrap over the back of the chair as you gaze up toward ceiling. Return to the starting position. Repeat 15 to 20 reps.
“During the day, we tend to hunch forward and collapse towards our chest,” explains Yuen. “This posture places an extra workload on our muscles of inspiration. To maximize lung expansion during your run, work on your thoracic extension.”
Start standing and shift weight onto your right leg. Bend left knee so foot comes off the floor and place fingertips on desk for balance. In an even tempo, press through right forefoot to rise all the way up onto toes, then slowly lower back down. Repeat for 15 to 20 reps, then switch legs. Perform three sets.
Make it harder: Bend the knee of your standing leg about 20 to 30 degrees. Then perform the calf raise.
“The calf muscle is essential for running, but is often under worked,” says Yuen. “Calf raises with the knee bent shifts the stress towards the soleus muscle.”
Stand about two feet in front of chair. Rest top of right foot on chair, with left foot flat on the floor, toes pointing forward. Bend right knee to lower left knee to floor. Letting the right knee drift forward, but minimize side-to-side knee movement. Push through right heel to stand back up to starting position. Repeat for 15 to 20 reps, then switch legs. Perform 3 sets.
“This is a great exercise to strengthen both the quadriceps and hips while also focusing on single-leg balance,” explains Yuen.
Stand on left leg with a slight bend at hip and knee. Keeping the left leg sturdy and still, bend right knee and rest toes on floor. Tap right toes out to right, then return to starting position. Then, tap right toes back, then return to starting position. That’s one rep. Repeat for 20 reps, then switch legs. Perform 3 sets.
“This is a good exercise that emphasizes the motor control of single-leg stance required during running,” Yuen says.