We all know by now how bad sitting is for our health. And we know what it feels like to sit for a long time and then feel stiff and sore when we get up. The fact is, lack of movement is often at the root of our bodies’ sore spots. When we’re sedentary, we lose flexibility—and we have to work to get it back. Luckily, there is an easy way to do that—and that is to stretch. But to really get results, you need to stretch the right way.

So many people try to make stretching part of their workouts—but do it the wrong way and end up injuring themselves. Because it’s so important to do it right, we turned to stretching expert Karl Knopf, EdD, coordinator of the adaptive fitness therapy program at Foothill College in Los Altos Hills, California, and program director for the International Sports Sciences Association. He explains how stretching can loosen up tight hamstring and gluteal muscles that contribute to the low back discomfort that occurs after long periods of sitting. Here is his advice…

Stretching should be part of everyone’s physical fitness activity. No matter whether you sit for hours a day or are very active, you help your body greatly when you stretch it once a day (at least!) You can stretch after a workout when your muscles are warmed up or simply when you wake up in the morning. You will stretch more effectively when you do the following…

Generate some heat first. Think of your muscles as saltwater taffy—the warmer, the more pliant. The best time to stretch is after physical activity, when you are warm and limber—but you can also stretch very effectively after a warm shower or bath.

Mind your pace and pressure. Go slowly. Don’t bounce.

Breathe slowly in through the nose and out through the mouth while stretching. It makes the stretch easier to do.

Feel the sensation of the stretch. Back off at any feeling of mild discomfort.

Monitor yourself. If you feel tender or sore a few hours after stretching, do less next time. Don’t stretch as far or as long.


Stretching for about 10 minutes a day can help your low back. The exercises below may seem easy, but they will help you ease stiffness in your back. Using a strap (or a belt or rope) enhances the stretch by allowing you to comfortably reach the end of a stretch. You’ll notice that, with the strap, you can stretch just a little further than without it.


Aim to hold each stretch for 30 seconds to one minute. Repeat the stretch two to three times. You can do these stretches after sitting for too long or after an exercise session. You might find that the first repetition of the stretch feels uncomfortable while the second and third feel much better.

Double-Leg Stretch (targets hamstrings and low back).

Sit on a mat or rug with both of your legs straight in front of you, toes pointing up. Take a strap and loop it around your feet, holding an end of the strap in each hand. Gently pull your torso forward, keeping your back straight. Lean as far as you can and hold for 30 seconds to a minute, feeling the stretch in your low back and the backs of your legs.

Double Knee to Chest (targets low back and gluteus maximus).

Lie on a mat or rug with knees bent and both feet flat on the floor. Loop the strap behind the backs of both legs and hold an end of the strap in each hand. Gently pull the ends of the strap, which will encourage your feet to rise off the floor and your knees to move toward your chest. Hold for 30 seconds to a minute, feeling the stretch in your bottom and low back.

Piriformis Stretch (targets piriformis and low back).

The piriformis is a muscle deep in the gluteal region. A tight piriformis is sometimes a cause of sciatica, pain caused by injury or pressure on the sciatic nerve.

To do the stretch: Lie on a mat or rug with knees bent and feet on the floor. Cross your right knee over your left thigh. Loop the strap behind both of your legs, and pull your knees in toward your chest. Stop when you feel tension, and hold for 30 seconds to a minute. Switch legs and repeat.