Desk Jockey

Desk Jockey Ninja Tactics: Shoulder Exercises For Neck Relief

Written by John Belkewitch

My neck pain “came out of nowhere” fifteen years ago.

Like some silent ninja warrior, it shadow-stepped its way past my defenses.

But unlike a supreme master of stealth, it never seemed to vanish — like I’d hoped it would — in a hazy puff of smoke.

While it would throw an irritating monkey wrench into my sleeping habits, collegiate studies, and martial arts training, it wasn’t until I became a professional Desk Jockey that my neck issues became downright obnoxious.

Eight years of first-level service support for an IT department brought with it a suite of mental frustration, emotional turmoil and physical degeneration.

Some days were bearable, some days were worse, and some found me unable to lift my head off the pillow without excruciating pain snapping me back down to my sad bed-ridden reality.


Myself and the other folks on my service team fondly began referring to ourselves as Chair Bears on account of our slumped over postures, and the rather grizzly outlooks that eight hours of mind-boggling phone support and organizational politics bestowed upon us.

Tension headaches, shoulder pain, back pain, neck pain, carpal tunnel syndrome and eye strain were not only daily complaints, but reasons for frequent use of sick time. Unfortunately, we found ourselves unable to shed the Chair Bear moniker even after leaving the cubicle for the evening, and the patience and understanding required of the job was on low reserve for our loved ones back at home.

Not cool.

Neck Pain Isn’t Always A Neck Problem

I would constantly stretch, crack and exercise my neck in hopes of finding some relief.

I went for massages, imaging and therapy.

Sometimes I’d get relief, but more often than not it was fleeting — a momentary glimpse of salvation. And often times, the work on my neck caused more pain and discomfort than I felt prior to the treatment.


It seemed all that work on my neck never really got to the root of the problem.

To say that I was frustrated would be an understatement.

Looking back on it now though, it makes a little more sense…

My neck issues weren’t a result of direct trauma or an auto-immune disease, but instead were more functional in nature. My past experiences and lifestyle choices had created the present situation, and my daily habits were evolving it along its painful path.

It was evident that the stress inherent in Desk Jockeying played a large role in the manifestation (and exacerbation) of my physical pain. But I had to pay the bills, so leaving the job at that time was not a conceivable reality.

I needed to find a positive means of managing the incoming stress and mitigating the already existing discomfort.

And I soon learned that a good deal of my neck pain could be alleviated by working on areas outside of the neck — specifically the region surrounding the shoulder girdle.

You see, the body is an intricate, interwoven mass of connections, and a change in the state of one localized area has consequences system-wide. This goes for all of the processes of the mind as well as the body.

This made a lot of sense to me.

The fact that much of the work done directly on my neck resulted in a negative feedback reaction didn’t mean all hope was lost, even though I felt that way for a very long time.

It seemed as though my shoulders were going to be the shadows through which I’d sneak up on my neck pain.

Working Under The Radar Of Neck Pain

In the following video installment we’re going to look at a movement sequence I like to explore with my martial arts and combatives group as part of scenario-specific training.

All this talk about ninjas, it seemed only fitting 😉

While we typically explore these movements standing up during class, they became a seated staple of my stress management program at work, helping to alleviate neck, shoulder and back tension while improving my breathing and overall sense of well-being.

  • Perform each variation for 15 seconds before moving onto the next one.
  • Pause to reflect as needed.
  • You can progress with your movement explorations in a number of ways: exploring for longer times, working at a smoother pace, working at a greater depth, and working with less effort/greater control are just a few examples.


In my mind, I was killing two birds with one stone. I was managing work-related stress (and my neck pain) while getting some martial arts training in at the same time.

This made a previously mundane task a lot more fun. From a cognitive and visualization standpoint this was huge. Metaphorically, I was a ninja combatting the Chair Bear and his claw of job-related stress through my seated movements.

At first, the guys on my support team thought I was nuts, and it was good for a few laughs. But their razzing eventually changed to curiosity, and we “shadow boxed” job stress every hour on the hour.

A Few Things To Keep In Mind

  1. Breath. Don’t hold your breath. Focus on syncing your breath with the movement in a smooth and controlled manner.
  2. Effort. Don’t force anything. Start slow and shallow, and work up casually to more speed and depth. This isn’t strength training.
  3. Framing. Work only at the frames in which you can comfortably manage. Begin where you stand and respect your limits.
  4. Notice. Bring awareness to the differences between the movements — the frames, the symmetry and the sticking points. They’re all built on the same driving action. Each repetition presents an opportunity to become more and more aware of the differences between the movement variations.

Neck Pain Up In Smoke

Well, it isn’t quite gone. But it’s getting there with the help of some stealth ninja tactics 😉

The stress of the job didn’t totally go away either, but how I handled it emotionally, mentally and physically changed.

I’m still excavating. Still digging and turning up old relics that inform and advise my current state of affairs. I’m reminded every day that my neck issues didn’t just come out of nowhere, but instead were (and still are) a work in progress.

So go on and explore the movement sequence, play ninja for a bit, combat the Chair Bear, and let us know how you make out.

John Belkewitch is a Somatic Fitness Coach and Martial Artist from New Jersey. He’s the owner of Day 1 Fitness Solutions, and helps folks who are tired of beating their bodies into shape find more creative and mindful movement practices.

John is also the newest Staff Coach here in Shapeshifter Land. So you’ll be seeing lots of him. Give him a warm welcome in the comments below. 🙂

About the author

John Belkewitch



    • Lisa, thanks for checking it out! Glad you enjoyed it. Let us know how you make out with the movements 🙂

  • Nice to see you here at Bodyweight, John. I woke up with a stiff neck, got all ninja following your exercises, and it’s gone. Thanks for the simple and effective exercise progressions. I’ll keep them in my tool box.

    • Jolie! Nice to see you wandering these parts 🙂 Glad the movements could help your neck stiffness – I’ve used them every morning for quite some time to relieve my own neck stiffness.

  • Hi John,

    Theses neck exercises were completely new to me, but exactly what I needed this morning. I’ve done plenty of physical therapy and body work in the past. In 8 minutes your exercises have far surpassed the effectiveness of those. I look forward to using them daily and will update you in a few weeks! Thanks!

    • Awesome to hear, Jay! I can certainly empathize with your journey. I spent many years of having work done on my neck before I set out and started to work on myself from the inside out. I highly value the medical professionals that make up my health care team, but it wasn’t until I started to take ownership of my own plan of care that I was able to get some lasting relief. Definitely update us with your progress 🙂

  • John,

    Congrats on the new position. I pray you prosper as you add value to the lives of others! Hope things are well in NJ. Seattle is warming up pretty nicely!

    Great article – I’ll give the YouTube a go when I get back from work – er, desk jockeying!

    Best, amigo!


    • Thanks, Paul. Glad to hear from you. Things are well out here in Jersey… still waiting on that warm weather 😉 Let me know how you make out with the vid when you give it a go.

  • I love it, John – great drills. The deeper I go into this joint mobility stuff, the more I feel like I’ve only scratched the surface of it all. So much changes when you adjust one variable like body positioning. Looking forward to seeing more of your work, buddy. You’re a valuable asset to our community.

    • Positioning makes a significant difference for sure. Presents a nice way to take a familiar drill and spruce it up with a new exploration. Interesting things tend to pop up. Thanks for checking out the post, brother 🙂

  • Hey John,

    Thanks for this great article. I have been a fan of your work at Day1 Fitness Solutions for many years now and I look forward to the great work your going to do with Shape Shifter.
    I especially like this article because neck problems are some thing I struggle with constantly and your simple movements are a great help in relieving much of my neck stress. Thanks for a great article!

    • Thanks for checking out the post, Jeffrey. The majority of the folks I work with have some form of neck and/or shoulder related discomfort; many of them do some form of desk jockeying for a living, so it’s great to have some simple drills that can be done anywhere to fashion a bit of relief.

  • Fantastic start to the day, thanks john. Felt so free through the shoulder and neck areas, also felt some recruitment through the back which is always an on – going concern for me. Loved the presentation style, cool as the fonz man. 😉

    • Billy, glad to hear the routine was able to help get the day started off on a supple foot. Thanks for giving it a go, and, yeah, the Fonz is one cool cat 😉

  • Hey John!

    Thank you so much for the video and information for neck relief. I have been having a lot of upper back and trapezius muscle issues, which came from bad posture while sitting in from a computer all day. i have improved my posture in time but still have some neck problems. Traditional neck stretches didnt work, and never considered tight shoulders as the cause to my neck tightness. Seeing noticeable relief with high frame technique!

    Thank you!

  • Hey, Tats! Thanks for the comment 🙂 High Frame is my go-to position to free up my neck. Love it. I’ve also found more traditional stretches to be of little help – they actually have made things worse for me on many occasion. Glad to hear you’re getting some relief with these movements!

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