Whether you go into the office or work from home, the majority of white-collar jobs require long periods of sitting in front of a computer in an office chair. Many people naturally slouch forward during long periods of time spent working on a computer, which quickly leads to back pain and other negative health effects. It’s an unfortunate reality and one that the majority of people can do little to change – after all, we have to put food on the table.
Luckily, there are plenty of desk exercises that can easily be done between (or even during) conference calls or on your lunch break. They aren’t going to get you huge muscle gains or help achieve weight loss goals, but they can keep your heart rate varied throughout the day and stretch key muscles such as the hamstrings, glutes, quads, calves, and triceps to prevent injury.
Don’t expect any miracles from these stretches. They’re more for relieving stress and soreness than for burning a huge amount of calories. However, we’re willing to bet just about anyone with a desk job will see great improvement with the following exercises you can do at work. If you do have other weight loss or fitness goals, pairing these desk exercises with a proper nutrition plan and regular exercise routine can help you attain your health goals without having long periods of downtime while you work your desk job. Read on for some of the most effective exercises you can do at your desk.
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Health Benefits of Desk Exercises
One of the most important things you can do in a work exercise routine is to open up your chest. It will improve your lung function and improve your ability to take deep breaths. This should, in turn, help your brain get more oxygen and work better. In addition to opening up the chest, exercises you can do at work also help reduce the negative health effects of a sedentary lifestyle.
Heart rate variation is one of the measurements that researchers look at when they try to determine how sedentary people with a desk job are. Cardio will cause the heart rate to increase and so will some of these simple exercises. If you’re lucky enough to have an office or a dedicated space where you can get a bit more active on your lunch break, then adding some plyometric exercises or other more intense exercises from your regular workout routine can also help add some cardio to your day.
Helpful Hint: Try our Ultimate Gym Guide Fitplan to learn some exercises to practice after working hours!
Exercises You Can Do At Work With Coworkers
Since many people are understandably averse to be seen jumping around and working up a sweat by their coworkers, we thought it would be helpful to highlight some of the best simple exercises that a small group can perform together. If you can also get some cardio in with a quick walk on a shared lunch break, so much the better.
One of the most fun ways to get coworkers exercising together is to make a low-stakes competition out of it. Rather than needing to have everyone sharing a lunch break to get moving, a weekly or monthly contest allows coworkers to exercise on their own schedules, measure their workouts with a tracker, and compare results at the end.
Walking competitions with a pedometer are a great example. Coworkers can walk whenever they want, use the elevator or the stairs at their discretion, and take walk on their lunch break if they want. Whoever is most strategic will win the prize.
Push-up contests or plank-offs are also popular, although you’d have to have some free time with coworkers to do so. See who can stay in a wall sit the longest and wager something fairly low-stakes like a lunch or something from the vending machine.
You probably won’t want to be running around while you need to discuss meetings, but you can still get some cardio in by walking and talking rather than booking a conference room or chatting on the phone. For some, this seems unrealistic because time is already restricted between conference calls and answering emails. But there are plenty of benefits of walking meetings that make them worthwhile.
For one thing, you have an icebreaker if you need it. Your coworkers will probably mention how happy they are to be away from their desk even for a few minutes. Secondly, since everyone will be in motion, it’s less likely that they’re going to zone out. Walking gets the brain working so they might even have more to say during a walking meeting than they otherwise would.
Step Away from the Desk
If your company has standing desks, this will be even easier. Most of the exercises to come are fairly discreet, but stepping back from the desk to spend five minutes doing some sort of stretch allows you to do some slightly more intense desk exercises. If you can get the coworkers who sit immediately around you to join in a quick stretch, it won’t feel as strange.
Of course, you should probably make an effort to know and befriend these coworkers before you go asking them to do a stretch with you. But if you’ve been working in close proximity with them for a long time, it’s likely you’ve already been acquainted.
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20 Exercises You Can Do At Your Desk
The majority of workers involved in one study published in the International Journal of Workplace Health Management reported that exercising at work helped improve their overall mood and work performance. Here are some of the best exercises you can do at work to get the same results:
1. Neck Rolls
Long periods spent looking at a computer screen tend to make us crane our neck, which can cause pain and soreness. Perform this exercise to quickly stretch the muscles in the neck.
All you need to do is let your head hang down with your chin on your chest. Make sure it’s completely slack. Slowly roll it in an arc from one shoulder to the other. You should feel some stretching in your trapezius muscles and scalenes. This is one of the best exercises to do at work whenever you have a spare minute or two.
2. Neck Rotations
Pair these neck exercises with neck rolls to exercise all the muscles in your neck that are mostly likely to have soreness after long periods at a desk job. Keep your posture straight all the way through your neck. Slowly turn your head from shoulder to shoulder. You should feel some muscles on the back of your shoulder moving that weren’t engaged by the neck roll.
3. One-Arm Lookaway
This simple isometric exercise can also be done at any time when you have a few spare moments. Make sure you’re sitting with a straight back and look forward. Cross right arm over your chest and use your left arm to hold it against your chest at the right elbow. Your left arm should be at a 90-degree angle.
Don’t stretch the arm more than you can tolerate. You should feel stretching in your shoulder and tricep. To add some neck stretching, turn your head toward the right elbow. Hold this position for 15 – 30 seconds and then repeat the same exercise with the left arm.
4. Shoulder Shrugs
You’ve probably done this simple exercise on accident from time to time. With a straight back while looking forward, slowly lift your shoulders. You should feel some tension in the shoulder muscles. Let them drop and feel the tension release. This simple exercise targets the shoulders and the nearby muscles in the neck.
5. Shoulder Extensions
Stand up from your desk chair and straighten out your back. Put the right arm behind you and bring the left arm to meet it. With both hands together, slowly raise your arms to stretch your shoulders and chest.
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6. Overhead Shoulder Extension
In this simple exercise, rather than putting your hands behind you, raise them up above your head until your elbows are straight. With your hands together, turn your palms toward the sky. You should feel muscles stretching all the way from your wrists to your shoulders.
7. Wall Sits
Engage your core and help improve your posture with this simple exercise. Get up from your desk chair and find a wall. Place your back flat against it and sink down until you are in a position similar to how you would sit in a chair. Your knees should be at a 90-degree angle.
8. Seated Calf Raises
Here’s one of the best exercises to do at your desk without drawing attention to yourself. Sit with a straight back and make sure your knees are at a 90-degree angle. Place your hands on your knees and put pressure to keep your feet flat on the floor. Raise both heels as much as you can to stretch out your hamstrings and calf muscles.
If you have any open space at the office at all, squats are a great simple exercise that can also be turned into an explosive plyometric variant if you’re daring enough. Stand up from your desk chair and stand with your feet shoulder-width apart. Lower yourself until your knees are bent at a 90-degree angle.
Your rear should go out behind you as if you were about to sit down. If you need to, put your arms out for balance. To make it plyometric, explode from the lowest point into a jump and land softly back on the ground.
10. Knee Presses
This can be done underneath any desk. As you’re typing away or staring at the ceiling while you’re muted on a conference call, place both feet flat on the ground so that the knees are bent at a 90-degree angle. Bring your knees together as closely as possible. Pretend you’re trying to hold a book or a cup between your knees. If you have one handy, you can place a cup between your knees. This should stretch your inner thigh muscles.
11. Water Bottle Bicep Curls
Just like a regular bicep curls, this simple exercise relies on some slight weight resistance to work the biceps. It’s unlikely to give you any significant gains. Just hold a water bottle in the left hand or the right hand and curl it like a weightlifter would with a sungle dumbbell.
To work the tricep, you can move your arm straight out behind you. Make sure to work both sides of the body to prevent uneven results.
Helpful Hint: Discover a few new exercises you can do with a dumbbell in our Strong & Lean Fitplan!
12. Office Desk Palm Lift
While sitting at your desk, place your palms together in the center of your body. Lift them all the way up until your upper body looks like a diver’s. Then, move them backward over your head until your elbows are bent at a 90-degree angle. This is a great simple exercise for your arm and wrist muscles.
13. Wrist Tilts
Get into the same starting position as the plam lift. With your hands in a prayer position, slowly push with one hand at a time to make the opposite wrist tilt. This is a great exercise to get better wrist posture and reduce the effects of carpal tunnel syndrome.
14. Sliding Wrist Tilts
In this version of a wrist tilt, you move your hands before the tilt. In the same prayer-like starting position, move your hands to one side of your body without letting them tilt or move apart. Once you’re as far to once side as you can go, tilt them by pressing with one hand and then the other. Repeat on the other side of your body.
15. Wrist Rotations
This is one of the most basic exercises you can do at work. Simply extend your arms out straight in front of you and make your hands into fists. Slowly rotate both wrists clockwise a few times and then reverse the motion to make them go counterclockwise. You might hear some cracking, but as long as there’s no pain it should be no problem.
16. Twist & Dip
A simple exercise to relieve pain in the lower back, the twist and dip can be done in a minute or two. Place the palms of both hands on the back of your head and twist counterclockwise. Then, lower your right elbow to meet your right leg at the knee. Remember to switch sides afterward.
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17. Chair Dips
Chair dips are one of the more challenging exercises you can do at work. Make sure your desk chair isn’t the kind with wheels before you attempt chair dips with it. If you don’t have a stationary desk chair, you can use a couch or even the edge of your desk depending on how high up it is.
To get in the starting position, move to the edge of your chair or desk and place your hands behind you. Move off the chair and sink down as if you were going to sit, but support your bodyweight with your legs and arms. Sink down into the lowest position to stretch your arm and core muscles.
18. Desk Push-Ups
These desk push-ups start vertically rather than on the floor. Put your hands on the edge of your desk and push yourself up and down just like you would in a floor push-up.
19. One-Sided Standing Calf Raise
Stand up from your desk chair and put your feet shoulder-width apart. Slowly lift the ankle of your left leg a few times then do the same for the right leg. If you aren’t able to do one side and then switch legs, you can raise both ankles at once.
20. Pretend Jump Rope
Since most offices don’t have enough room to jump rope for real, doing this simple pretend jump rope exercise can give you the same benefit. It’s as easy as it sounds: stand with your feet shoulder-width apart and your arms out to each side as if you had a jump rope in your hands. Rotate each hand as you jump up and down like you would when jumping rope.
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Desk exercises can help reduce the risk of heart disease and break up the monotony of long hours working a desk job. Wrist stretches can help avoid carpal tunnel and similar injuries that result from lots of typing. If you can manage to include coworkers, there’s a greater chance you’ll stick with a work exercise routine.
These exercises can break up a long workday at a desk job and studies have shown that higher physical activity at work leads to less physiological stress. Many of the exercises in this guide don’t require any additional equipment at all, although they can be made more challenging by adding a resistance band or using dumbbells.
One of the biggest areas of concern for people who want to exercise on their lunch break is that coworkers will see them and be judgmental. Granted, if you started doing explosive plyometric exercises in the middle of the office, people would probably stare. But these toned-down desk exercises are inconspicuous enough to do without attracting attention. Plus, if you get a few coworkers together to participate, you might find you’re building camaraderie that might not otherwise exist.
Exercises you can do at work should focus on preventing the most common injuries that result from long periods of time spent in front of a computer, such as carpal tunnel syndrome. If you can blend them with a 10,000-step daily goal, you’ll find your mood improves and you’ll be able to concentrate better. For the boss, that means you’ll be more productive, but for the rest of us, it just means we can get through the day more comfortably.
Physical activity is a great way to relieve stress and pull yourself out of the seemingly endless well of emails, conference calls, and reports. Some of them can be done without rising from your office chair while others might require you to stand up or use the edge of your desk or edge of your chair. Coming up with an exercise routine you can do at your desk job will depend on what parts of your body you tend to find sore, stiff, or hurting. For most people, wrist stretches and exercises that open up the chest and shoulder blades will target the places where the most pain exists and injuries are the most common.
Hopefully, some of these exercises you can do at work will help reduce the amount of time you spend sedentary at the office. Pair them with one of our Fitplans once the workday is over for the best fitness results!
(Note: Want our elite trainers to get you in tip top shape? Start your Fitplan free trial today!)