Unlike, say, wrangling rattlesnakes or teaching tigers to tap-dance, writing isn’t considered a hazardous profession. After all, we’re basically sitting still for way longer than we really should, tapping away at a keyboard. The only real risk is spraining our creativity.
All that typing, particularly if you don’t have an ergonomically designed work setup, can cause some serious repetitive strain injuries. In fact, according to U.S. government statistics, repetitive strain injuries are the most common occupational health problem in the country.
And writers certainly aren’t exempt from this health crisis. We can develop muscle strain, lower back injuries, carpal tunnel syndrome, tendonitis, and more from sitting at our computers too long and having bad posture while working. Heck, even our smartphones are slowly killing us—because we’re all hunched over looking at screens all the time, we’re causing damage to our spines.
Carpal tunnel and other strain injuries can really put a damper on your writing career. While dictation software has come a long way, it still isn’t the same as writing by hand or typing and can change the tone or feeling of your writing. Besides, who wants to be in pain? Art may be suffering, as the cliché goes, but that’s no reason to accept sore wrists, tight hamstrings, and an aching neck as the price for living your dream.
Luckily, there are some easy stretches that can help you avoid injury while staying productive—and you don’t need to be a super-flexible yoga master to do them. Let’s go through six of them!
Safety Note: Always discuss adding any exercises with your doctor, particularly if you have an existing strain, pain, or other injury. Be careful, go slow, and listen to your body!
Tip your head to the side as though you’re trying to touch your right ear to your right shoulder. Put your right hand on the left side of your head (which is now angled toward the ceiling) and very gently put downward pressure on your head. You should feel the left side of your neck stretch.
Hold for 10 seconds.
Repeat on the other side, leaning your left ear toward your left shoulder and pressing down slightly on the right side of your head with your left hand to help deepen the stretch.
Pull your shoulders up toward your ears, like you’re a turtle pulling into its shell (or like you’re making a really exaggerated shrug). Roll your shoulders backward, squeezing your shoulder blades together. Continue the roll downwards, working to feel a stretch as you push down. Roll forward, then continue back up into a shrug.
Take your time doing this—a full roll should take you about 5 seconds.
Do this five times, then reverse direction and do five more reps, rolling forward, then down, then backwards, then up.
Hold your left arm out straight in front of you, with your palm facing out and fingers pointing up, like you’re telling someone to stop. Push gently out with the base of your palm while straightening your fingers. You should feel a stretch through your fingers, the back of your hand, and the base of your wrist.
For a deeper stretch, use your right hand to gently pull backward on your left fingers.
Hold the stretch for 10 seconds, then switch sides to stretch your right arm and wrist.
Make a fist with each of your hands, squeezing tightly. Hold for 5 seconds.
Then stretch your hands out, palms facing the floor, and spread your fingers as wide as they can go. Hold for another 5 seconds.
Now wiggle your fingers, flexing every joint of every finger. Continue for 5 seconds.
Repeat the whole sequence three times.
Get up out of that desk chair! Bend over to the right, keeping your stomach tucked in tight and your belly button facing forward (don’t twist at the waist). Bring your left arm up and over your head, bending your elbow and curling your left fingers toward the floor over your head. Push with your left arm so that you feel a stretch through the arm and in the right side of your waist.
Hold for 10 seconds, then switch sides, leaning to your left and bringing your right arm over your head.
Repeat three times on each side.
For an extra stretch, spread your legs a little past shoulder-width apart and bend deeper into the stretch, sliding your right hand along your right leg when you’re bending to the right and your left hand down your left leg when you’re bending left, as illustrated above.
You might want to skip this one if you work in an office with other people—but consider doing it at home in the morning and at night to help loosen up your lower back, legs, hamstrings, and glutes.
Lie on your back on the floor (I like to lie on soft carpet or a yoga mat). Put your feet flat on the floor so that your knees are bent at about a 45-degree angle. Push down through your feet and shoulders, using the pressure to help lift your butt off the ground while keeping your feet and shoulders pressed firmly to the floor. Keep your stomach tight, but make sure you keep breathing steadily.
Hold your core off the ground for 10 seconds, then lower to the floor and rest for 5 seconds. Repeat five times.
Together, these stretches don’t take much time out of your day—10 minutes here and there—but they can make a world of difference in keeping your body happy, healthy, and comfortable.
If you don’t have time to do a full repetition of all the stretches together, that’s okay! Just make sure that you stop and take a break from writing every hour or so and do at least a few small stretches or walk around for 5 minutes. It’ll refresh your body, your mind, and your creativity.
Remember to take breaks and stretch while you’re writing. Your body will thank you!
Read on for more ways to build good writing habits:
- 15 Success Habits of Professional Writers and Authors
- The Best Writing Tip Ever: How I Doubled My Daily Word Count With One Simple Change
Kate Sullivan is an editor with experience in every aspect of the publishing industry, from editorial to marketing to cover and interior design.
In her career, Kate has edited millions of words and helped dozens of bestselling, award-winning authors grow their careers and do what they love!