How to Exercise at Work

Today I want to share with you some very simple tips on how to exercise at work. In this post you’ll find a number of exercises which can be carried out whilst sitting at your desk. I’ve split them into 6 sections – for the feet, legs, buttocks, core, arms and neck – with 2 or 3 easy to follow movements within each section. However, there will often be an overlap. For example, exercises for the feet are also good for the legs, and leg exercises can get the abs working too.

At this point, allow me to inform you that I’m not a fitness instructor. I’m just a regular girl who spends a lot of time sitting in front of the laptop. In an effort to reduce the health risks associated with sedentary behaviour, I alternate between sitting and standing. I also look for ways to be a little more active whilst working.

The Benefits of Exercise at Work

What you will find below are different stretches and activities which work for me. These are not demanding aerobic or cardio routines. Instead, they are made up of slow and gentle movements which are also very good for the body. They help to strengthen the muscles through repetition as well as improving flexibility by lengthening the muscles.

When you regularly sit for a long time in the same position, your core muscles – in particular the abs – can become weak and neglected. This leads to all sorts of problems. Having a strong core greatly contributes to a healthy back. When you have a healthy back, you’re less likely to suffer from back and neck pain, you have a naturally curved spine in the lumbar region and a good posture. (Poor posture is really bad news for the spine.)

When your posture is correct, it also means you can breathe deeper so you get more oxygen in the blood which reaches every cell in your body. When you get more oxygen to the brain, it can improve mood, creativity and productivity.

So many movements start from the core, so the stronger your core, the more powerful and controlled your movements will be. You’ll notice the difference in all number of daily tasks that you probably don’t usually think about. They’ll become easier, and you’re less likely to suffer with sprains and injuries. Also good for improving your performance in sport and general fitness.

Most of the exercises below can be carried out whilst you’re working. The others can be done during your break – as well as having a stroll around the office, or outside if time and weather permits. You can throw in a few star jumps or jogging on the spot for good measure too. So to fight the aches, pains, cramps, lethargy and general discomfort caused by sitting for long periods, why not build some exercise into your work day!

A couple of points before we go any further. If you have health issues, check with your doctor before starting a new exercise regime. If you find any of the exercises are too much or put a strain on any part of your body, then either reduce the intensity or stop completely. The key here is to listen to your body and do what feels right for you. This also applies to the number of repetitions you do for each exercise. Start small and work up.

Let’s begin!

Sitting Exercises at Work

To start each of these exercises, sit tall with your back straight, shoulders down and looking straight ahead. Keep your chin level with the ground, apart from the neck stretches which require you to move the position of your head. Remember to breathe.

For the Feet

You’ll need to take your shoes off for these exercises, although the first one can be done with shoes on if they’re not too restrictive.

  • Extend your left leg and gently rotate your ankle full circle in a clockwise then anti-clockwise direction. Next slowly point your toes, hold for 5-10 seconds then move your foot into the flex position and hold for 5-10 seconds. Rotate, point and flex 5 – 10 times for each foot.
  • This next exercise is like a mini massage and can work wonders for tired and aching feet. You will need a tennis ball or something similar. Place the ball on the floor and put your left foot on the ball. Roll the ball back and forth under the sole of your foot. You can also rotate as well as stretching and flexing. Experiment and do what feels good. Add a little pressure here and there. Repeat with your right foot.

You can also make the most of being shoe-free by stretching and flexing the feet and toes on a foot rest / foot bar or something similar if you have it.

For the Legs

You may want to hold onto the seat part of your chair on each side for these leg exercises. As well as being good for your legs, you should definitely feel your abs working as well.

  • Remembering to keep your back straight, extend your left leg in front of you so that it’s level with the floor. Then bend and bring your knee towards you. Depending on your flexibility, this may be a very gentle bend and lift, or you might bring your knee up further and towards your chest. Repeat 5 – 10 times then do the same with your right leg.
  • If your legs and abs can handle it, repeat the above exercise but with both legs together.

(Personally, I find that a little too intense. If you’re with me on that, try the next exercise which is less intense, but still does the job.)

  • Sit upright with knees bent at right angles and both feet on the floor. Your thighs should be level with the ground. Lift both feet about 2 inches from the floor and slowly extend outwards as far as possible – ideally until the legs are straight. Then slowly return the legs, with your feet still elevated a couple of inches from the ground. Repeat 5 – 10 times then return the feet to the floor. To add a little extra to this exercise, hold for 5 seconds each time when the legs are extended.

For the Buttocks

You’re kind of limited whilst seated, but here are a couple of exercises for the buns.

  • This is extremely easy to do and nobody needs to know you’re doing it! Simply squeeze the buttocks and hold for 10 – 20 seconds. Release and repeat 5 to 10 times.
  • To work the muscles slightly differently, open your legs then perform the squeeze and repeat. (This version isn’t quite so discrete.)

You can do either / or with these squeezes, or mix it up a little with a combo of the 2.

For the Core

Never underestimate the importance of a strong core! Remember to breathe and maintain an upright posture for these exercises.

  • Sit with your back straight and stomach pulled in. Gently twist the upper part of your body to your left until you feel a gentle stretch. As you do so, allow your left arm to reach behind you and your right arm to curve around your body towards your back. Alternatively, clasp your hands together if this is more comfortable. Hold for 5 – 10 seconds and then return to face forward. Repeat, twisting your upper body to the right.

If you have a high backed chair, you’ll need to do this slightly differently; place your left hand on your left thigh and your right hand on your left shoulder as you rotate to the left, and vice versa for the opposite side.

  • Sitting nice and straight, clasp your hands behind your head and slowly lean forward as far as is comfortable. Next, return to the upright position. Repeat 5 – 10 times. You may find this easy to start, but after a few reps you should begin to feel a little work going on in your core. The stretching movements are great for a tired and aching back. (Do this exercise with knees together or apart – whichever is more comfortable for you.)

For the Arms

These exercises will also get the shoulders moving.

  • Stretch both the arms outwards so that they are level with the floor and palms facing upwards. Slowly bring the elbows in towards the waist and extend back out again into a full stretch on either side. Repeat this 10-20 times.
  • To add a little variation to this exercise, repeat as above, but as you extend your arms outwards, rotate them so that your palms are facing the floor when you reach the full stretch position, then rotate them back so the palms face upwards again when you bring your elbows into the waist. Repeat 10 – 20 times.
  • Raise your right arm up then bend at the elbow and bring your hand behind your back, just by your left shoulder. Use your left hand to gently bring the right elbow a hand a little lower. As you do so stretch your right side over a little and feel the gentle stretch. Hold for 5 – 10 seconds then return to the centre. Repeat for the other side, stretching and bending your left arm, whilst using your right hand to gently encourage a little extra movement. Repeat for both sides 5 times.

For the Neck

Your neck has a lot of weight to carry. Show it some love with these moves and stretches.

  • Looking forward, with your head straight and your chin level with the floor, gently turn your head to the left until you feel a very slight stretch. Hold for 5-10 seconds then slowly turn to the right until you feel that gentle stretch and hold for 5-10 seconds. Repeat 10 – 20 times each side.
  • Bend your head to the left with your ear reaching towards your shoulder. Stop when you feel a slight stretch and hold for 10-20 seconds. Gently return your head to the starting position then repeat for the right side. Repeat 10 – 20 times each side.
  • Sitting upright and looking ahead, slowly drop your chin towards your chest until you feel a slight stretch. Hold for 5 then gently rotate your head to the left whilst bringing your chin up and towards your left shoulder. Hold for 5 seconds then return to centre, again holding for 5 seconds. Next rotate to the right, bringing your chin up and towards your right shoulder. Hold for 5 seconds then return to the centre. Repeat 5 – 10 times.

Now it’s Over to You!

So there you have it folks. Some simple exercises which you can do at work whilst sitting at your desk. They are a great way of adding a little extra activity to your day. Here’s a reminder of some of the benefits :

  • Strengthening the muscles
  • Improving flexibility
  • Improving posture
  • Increasing oxygen intake
  • Improving mood, creativity and productivity.

Remember to check with your doctor if necessary before starting a new regime. Remember also to start small and work up. If you find any of the exercises are a little too much, either reduce the intensity or stop completely if you need to. Listen to your body and treat it kindly!

I hope you find this post useful and are able to introduce some – if not all – of the exercises into your daily routine. For other ways to increase your activity in whilst sitting at your desk, check out our article What is Active Seating.

Leave a comment in the box below to let us know how you get on, or to share your recommendations for exercising in the office.

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