Upper Body Mobility for Desk Workers

Find yourself stuck at the desk for hours each day? Do you feel tight and immobile?

You’re not the only one. The average working professional sits down for 10 hours a day. When I worked in banking, it was more like 12 hours. Every day.

Add to that sitting on the train home, sitting to watch tv, sitting to eat dinner. It’s no wonder 99% of the population is bent over like a folding chair.

death by desk

Being able to move through full ranges of motion is a better indicator of your overall health than almost any other activity you can do.

Yet most of us have lost the ability to move through these ranges of motion. And it’s ruining our lives.

I ask my clients the following question.

“How long do you want to live” Then often answer, 85+. My response is,
‘If you can’t touch your toes or scratch your back at your current age, in another 40/50 years how well do you think you’re likely to move around then?’

One of the biggest culprits, is our inability to stay standing. The chair has become worse than the cigarette.

When sitting, the muscles of the anterior chain (front of the body) tighten due to prolonged periods of slouching in front of a computer.

Some muscles get tight, while others get weak. And it’s this combination of tight and weak muscles that creates the problem.


Often the tight muscles are your pectorals, traps, biceps and forearms. Other muscles are in a stretched position all day which makes them weak, such as the muscles of the upper back and neck. Often this has the unfortunate consequence of rounding one’s spine into what is called kyphosis.

In order to correct these problems before you become permanently in Quasimodo mode, try the following exercises.

Table Top Stretch

Reece Mander Table Top Stretch
From a seated position, reach your arms back behind you with a shoulder-width grip on the ground. Place your feet flat on the floor near your hips. Begin the movement by pinching your shoulder blades together (retraction) and squeezing your glutes (butt) up toward the ceiling. Press both your hands and feet into the ground. Aim to reach a top shape where your shoulders are extended to 90 degrees behind your torso, and your hips are open to a perfectly flat “table top” position. Pause at the top. keep your elbows straight, shoulders retracted, and glutes tight.

Goal: Hold for 30 seconds, 5 rounds

If this is too difficult, try not to bring your hips so high. You’re going to feel pain just above your elbow joint, either at the front or the back. Don’t force the movement. It should be uncomfortable but not agonising pain.

Remember with mobility and flexibility work, you cannot force it like you can with weight training. This will just lead to injury. Muscles must be ‘coaxed’ into changing. Not forced.

If this is too easy, then you can use a ‘rocking’ motion, where you raise your hips up and down while keeping your arms straight and your feet planted into the ground.

Eventually you will be able to to a ‘crab walk’ where you walk your body forwards in the table top position. This is an advanced variation, as you will find out very quickly if you haven’t mastered the prerequisites.

Straight Arm Shoulder Extension

Reece Mander Shoulder Extension

From a seated position with your legs straight out in front, reach your arms behind you with your palms down. Walk your hands back as far as you can while pulling your shoulders back and pushing your chest to the ceiling.

Then try to get your hands as close together as possible (ideally pinky fingers touching). The goal here is to get your shoulders closer to the ground, thus demonstrating full shoulder extension range of motion. This will be an intense stretch on your biceps (which you will feel in your elbows), so be sure to only push to a slight discomfort.

Pain when stretching is not a good thing, as that can be a sign that the body is not quite ready to use that range of motion yet. So I reiterate, do not push these stretches. As ex US Mens Olympic gymnastics coach, Christopher Sommer once told me, ‘Do too much today you can’t do anything tomorrow. Do a little less today, you can do it again tomorrow’.
If you find this too difficult, then keep your hands closer to the body and further apart.

If you find this too easy (congratulations), get your hands further away from your body.
NOTE: I often see hyper-mobility of the elbow joint in ladies who try this. If your elbows look similar to this when straight, please take extra caution when attempting this or any other exercise where the arms are straight.


Mobility Summary

If you’re not actively working on increasing your mobility, then you are getting tighter each and every single day. 14 plus hours sitting vs 0 hours reversing that posture.

Try the table top stretch.

Have a go at the shoulder extension stretch.

Do these stretches on a daily basis for the best results.

Don’t push it. You didn’t become tight in 5 minutes. It will take time to undo the ‘work’ you did to become tight.

And finally remember this. If you are tight and immobile now, then imagine how bad it’s going to be in 40 years.

Find out more about Reece Mander Fitness