Working a desk job, 40 hours a week — or even more, when the busy season comes around — helping your kids with their homework, taking care of your dog, cooking dinner, and all that commuting leaves little to no time to get in your workout.
Sure, you could wake up at 4 or 5 in the morning to hit the gym before you shower and leave for work. But when the baby keeps you up until midnight, that’s not possible. Unless you want to sleep through your 10 a.m. meeting, that is.
If you feel like you aren’t getting the exercise that not only keeps you in shape and healthy but also boosts your endorphins and relieves stress, you are definitely not alone.
According to Fitness.gov:
- Only one in three adults gets the recommended amount of physical activity each week
- 28% of Americans aged 6 and older are physically inactive
Why not change things around, rally your co-workers, and create an in-office fitness routine?
In this article, we’ll take you through 13 simple exercises that you can try right there at your desk and without taking up too much.
Let’s dive right in.
The Benefits of Desk Exercises
Sitting for long periods at your desk can lead to some serious complications.
This lack of activity doesn’t just affect your health. It can have a direct impact on your work performance and engagement. According to studies from the American College of Sports Medicine and the Journal of Workplace Health Management:
- 60% of employees said their time managementskills, mental performance, and ability to meet deadlines improved on days they exercised
- 27% of employees reported higher levels of “dealing calmly with stress” on days they exercised
- 41% of employees reported higher rates of “feeling motivated to work” on exercise days
Besides these health aspects, the number one benefit exercise has on your work is that it improves your productivity by allowing you to take regular breaks and clear your mind.
In this light, you can encourage your employer to turn midday exercising into an office-wide habit. For instance, having a daily group exercise session at 11 a.m. so everyone can do a 15-minute workout or light stretch can not only make everyone healthier, it can also serve as a team-building opportunity.
Exercise is clearly beneficial in so many aspects of our lives, including our jobs. Don't forget that sitting for prolonged hours is actually harmful to your health.
Unfortunately, not all workplaces sponsor lunchtime yoga or have gyms onsite. Even then, it’s difficult to find the time and energy for a complete workout routine.
13 Effective Exercises You Can Do At Your Desk
To save you the hassle of searching the web for solutions, we’ve chosen 10 exercises you can do right at your desk—some even while you’re sitting down. Check with your doctor before starting any of these desk exercise routines.
1. Relieving Neck Tension
Before you get started with any exercise, make sure you get rid of some of the tension that’s accumulated from hours of sitting at your desk.
These yoga moves for your neck and shoulders will allow you to avoid any headaches or neck pain later in the evening by taking the strain off your muscles.
Despite how simple these moves seem, they are very effective and involve no pain.
Just drop your chin, roll your head around, roll your shoulders both ways, and stretch your arms as in the video explainer above. Stop immediately if you feel any pain.
2. Wrist Stretches
Particularly useful for people who use the computer a lot, these wrist stretches help you relieve and avoid wrist pain and other more serious conditions in the future.
For some quick ideas: Lift your palms, stretch your arms, press your palms into each other, shake your hands to get rid of any tension, or try some wrist curls using water bottles as weights.
3. High Knees
Need some cardio? Stand up from your desk and try to get your knees as high as you possibly can.
This exercise is similar to running in place but you’re focusing on bringing your knees high. You can use your hands and tap the palms with your knees to make sure you’re doing the exercise correctly.
Try going for three sets of 20 repetitions first. You can also use this quick exercise as a way to warm up before another workout too.
4. Seated Leg Raises
With this exercise, you won’t ever have to worry about skipping leg day.
You can do these leg and abdominal exercises even when you’re in a meeting or on a conference call without people noticing.
And the best part? They target your quadriceps (the front of your thighs), hamstrings (the back of your thighs), and glutes (the butt) — so you get a killer compound exercise without ever getting up.
Sit upright in your office chair. Straighten your left leg so that it is parallel to the floor and hold it in place for 10 seconds. Now, do the same thing with your right leg.
Repeat both legs for 15 repetitions. Once you build up strength, try adding weight to the exercise by looping your purse or briefcase on your legs while you do the raises.
5. Chair Dips
For this exercise, you need an office chair that won’t roll away from you.
Scoot up to the very front edge of your chair, place your legs out in front of you, and place your hands on either side of your hips, fingers pointing towards your desk. Grasp the edges of the chair with both hands, and use your core and arms to raise your body up off the chair and then down so that your rear goes down toward the floor.
Push yourself back up, and repeat this 15 times. Do three cycles of 15.
6. Calf Raises
Use water bottles for extra weight or lean on a chair or wall for more stability.
Have your hands by your side, lift up to the balls of your feet, go down, lift up again, and repeat this process while keeping your core tight. Stay nice and tall without rounding. Maintain all positions for two or three seconds.
Go for two to three sets of to 12 to 15 reps or until you start feeling the burn.
7. Shadow Boxing
Not only will this exercise raise your heart rate and bring in some cardio, it will also be a good stress release if you had a particularly frustrating day at the office.
Raise your fists up in front of your face in a boxing position — while you’re sitting a safe distance away from your computer, of course. Punch your fists forward in the air as if you are using a punching bag, switching back and forth from right arm to left.
Do this for 30 seconds. Pause. Repeat for 30 seconds.
Again, like other cardio exercises, work this repetition into scheduled intervals in your workday.
8. Water Bottle Free Weights
For a simple, effective variant on your favorite free weight exercises, take two filled water bottles and do lateral raises, boxer drills, bicep curls — you name it. Using these as weights, do overhead presses, arm curls, and other simple gym-style workouts right at your desk.
For each exercise, try three sets of 10 to 30 repetitions, according to the weight of your water bottles and your current strength. You can even turn these into a full arm day workout.
9. The Leaning Plank
This exercise requires you to get up from your desk chair. But it can be great while you’re waiting in line for the coffee machine or the microwave — or in those few minutes when everyone has left the conference room after a meeting.
This is a variant on a plank exercise, using a very similar form. Step back so that you are at least a foot away from a wall and then lean forward against it using only your forearms for support. Hold this position as long as you can.
For a variant, get into the leaning position and lower yourself until your shoulders almost touch the wall, too, and push yourself back up. Repeat 15 times.
10. The Chest Opener
This is a quick and effective stretch for anyone who experiences (or wants to avoid) frequent shoulder pain.
Sit on the edge of your chair, place both hands behind the lower part of the neck, round this position with your elbows slowly coming in, and hold the chin down. Then, open up your chest and arms while holding your head high and squeezing your shoulder blades, and repeat.
Five to 10 repetitions as part of a regular complete workout will do. You can also try doing this stretch several times a day. Make sure you don’t hold your breath so you don’t get tired easily.
If you want a killer workout for your quads, there aren’t many exercises that beat lunges.
Stand with your feet halfway apart at shoulder-width length. Bring one leg to the front, and extend the other towards the back, standing on your toes.
This is your starting position.
Slowly bend the knee of your front leg, forming a 90-degree angle (the knee shouldn’t extend past the toes), and slowly lunge, while also bending the other leg. Bring your whole body down, until your back knee touches the ground.
Do 5 to 15 reps, and then switch legs.
You can make this even more challenging by adding some weight. Just get two bottles of water and pretend like you’re holding dumbbells.
12. Desk Push-Ups
This is a great upper body exercise.
Place your palms at the edge of your desk (about shoulder-width apart), and move your feet away from the desk until you are inclined towards it.
Then, slowly lower your chest down towards the desk while breathing in, and then push yourself back up (as you would during a regular push-up).
Repeat as many times as you can.
Make sure that you’re wearing the right shoes, or not wearing any at all.
13. Pretend Jump Rope
This is another quick cardio workout that you can sneak into your routine.
Stand with your feet close together, extend your forearms in the opposite directions at a low angle, and pretend that you’re holding a jump rope.
Make circular motions with your forearms and jump every time they point to the floor.
You don’t necessarily have to do the circular motions, but pretending that you’re holding a jump rope and that you’ll “trip” will help you time your jumps properly, resulting in a smooth workout.
Desk Exercise Equipment
While you can do all of the above exercises with no or limited equipment, if you want to take it one step further and keep your body’s condition in top form, you can invest in minimal desk equipment.
Here’s the basic equipment you’ll need.
Yoga Ball or Ergonomic Stool
Back pain is ruining your mood every day? Replace your office chair with an ergonomic stool or try sitting on a yoga ball for a couple of minutes one day each week.
Be cautious with this. Make sure the size of the ball is the right one for you so that your knees aren’t above your hips and your spine position is off. Otherwise, you simply won’t be able to use it, and it’s not safe, either.
An Adjustable Desk
Since you’re spending almost eight hours of your day sitting, the desk is critically important for your health (and can even be detrimental to it). Adjustable and standing desks have become a huge trend these days as more and more people are starting to notice the side effects of sitting for prolonged periods of time.
Aim to use an adjustable desk that allows you to sit up instead of down for at least two hours every day. Pair this with regular walks and all of the above stretches and exercises and you’re on your way to radically improving your overall health.
Small Weights, Resistance Bands, and Other Small Equipment
You won’t be able to bring all the equipment you need to work but you can keep a few essential helpers on your desk. Small weights or resistance bands are a great way to start.
Consider your top issues and needs. If you want to work your arms and core more often, go for light weights. For full-body exercises, resistance bands are a lifesaver.
Here’s a great workout for using solely resistance bands at work:
Special Equipment to Never Stop Moving
Yes, you can work and run at the same time.
Under desk treadmills, bikes, and ellipticals are available for anyone who dislikes sitting for long hours but still has work to do. Also, these are unique ways to relieve stress while staying active.
Create Your Own Workout Plan
Whichever exercise you opt for, make sure to create a complete routine. If you’re a beginner, start with five or six exercises and gradually add more. Two or three exercises is better than none, but you won’t see any consistent results.
At work, you won’t be able to put in one or two hours of physical activity. So aim for 15 to 30 minutes or just kill the excuses and go to the gym during lunch break.
What are you going to do next to stay in shape?