EH&S HomeEH&S Home
About UsResearch Laboratory SafetyMaintentance, Renocation & Construction SafetyEnvironmental ProgramsStanford EH&S Home Page

To see more program choices look here :

To search EH&S web site:
PC Keyboard Shortcuts
Mac Keyboard Shortcuts
Safe Lifting at Stanford

Safety & Compliance Assistance Program

Work Breaks, Exercises and Stretches



Below are some helpful hints for breaks and workstation exercises.

Breaks and Microbreaks

Why are breaks important?

Rest is a key component in ensuring the performance of the musculoskeletal system. Frequent breaks can decrease the duration of a task and help lower the exposure to ergonomic injury risk.

The human body is always active while performing tasks at work. Even while seated, postural muscles are exerting tension to hold the mass of our upper body and head upright. Prolonged exertion can fatigue the muscles, which may lead to injury.
Improper workstation setup, along with certain processes, force people to maintain awkward postures and/or be exposed to compressive forces for long periods of time. Awkward postures and compression can impede the flow of blood, impinge nerves, and injure soft tissue.

Break and Microbreak Suggestions

  • Avoid extended periods of continuous tasks (such as typing or pipetting) by taking short breaks (~2 min) or performing other tasks (maximum of 30 minutes continuous computer use/repetitive lab task at any time).
  • Take microbreaks (approximately 30 seconds to 1 minute) every 10 minutes to rest the upper and lower extremities, back, neck, and eyes.

Ideas for taking breaks:

  • Move your printer to an area that requires you to stand up and walk to get your printout.
  • Stand up for phone calls.
  • Go to the restroom or get a cup of coffee/water.
  • Alter your tasks (break up continuous computer time with checking phone messages, reading reports, etc.).

Exercises and Stretches

CAUTION: If you have an injury or any type of reoccurring discomforts, you should immediately report your injury/ symptoms and obtain a medical evaluation.

These stretching exercises are not provided to cure any existing problems but may help in preventing any future ones. Individuals with previous injury should consult with personal physician before performing these exercises on a routine basis. Always obtain medical consent prior to starting an exercise program.

Exercises and stretches can help decrease exposure to the risk of developing an ergonomic injury. Physical fitness is an important aspect in overall health, so exercise should be integrated into your workday and daily life. Some basic workstation exercises and stretches are described below.



  • Eyes around the Clock- Look straight ahead. Without moving your head or straining your eyes, focus on the one o’clock position of an imaginary clock in front of you. Focus on the two o’clock, three o’clock – all of hours until you reach the twelve o’clock position. Perform the same exercise in a counterclockwise direction.

Neck and Shoulders:

  • Shoulder Circles – Lift your shoulders toward your head. Pinch the shoulder blades to roll the shoulders back, and let the shoulders drop down to the starting position. Try to move the shoulders in a circular fashion. Repeat as desired.
  • Shoulder Shrugs – Lift your shoulders toward your head. Hold for a 1-3 seconds and relax. Repeat as desired.
  • Shouder Pinches – Pinch your shoulder blades together. Hold for a 1-3 seconds and relax. Repeat as desired.


  • Catch and Release – Clench your fists slowly. Hold for a few seconds. Slowly open your hand and spread your fingers. Hold this position for a few seconds. Repeat as desired.
  • Flex and Extend – Raise your arms out in front of you with your palms facing down and your fingers flat. Slowly extend your wrists and fingers so they are pointing up. Hold this position for a few seconds. Slowly lower wrists and fingers so that they are pointed toward the ground. Hold for a few seconds. Repeat as desired.

Stretches (and other ways to relax)


  • Close eyes tightly for a second, and then open them widely (repeat several times).
  • Refocus eyes momentarily on an object at least 20 feet away.


  • Place hands together with fingers spread apart and fingertips at chin level. Slowly lower hands, peel them apart, and reverse the process. Repeat several times


  • Slowly turn head to side and hold for 10 seconds. Alternate sides and repeat several times.
  • Slowly tilt head to side and hold for 5-10 seconds. Alternate sides and repeat several times.

Low Back

  • Stand from chair. With hands on hips and feet about shoulder width apart, slowly lean hips forward and shoulders slightly back. Hold the stretch for 5-10 seconds.

Breaks, Stretches and Exercise Links

For help with ergonomics the Stanford University community may contact EH&S at 723-0448 or email.


Back to the Ergonomics Home Page