Experts agree, sitting in a chair all day is one of the worst things you can do for your body. Yet, many of us are glued to our desks 8-10 hours a day. By the time you get home, your metabolism has slowed and you’re low on energy, so you sit some more.
Over time, that type of sedentary lifestyle takes a toll that extends far beyond a slow metabolism. Muscles weaken, joints stiffen and poor posture inevitably follows. You may experience pain and tightness in the neck, hips and low back. And if you consistently lean forward at your desk, you might place undue pressure on the nerves in the spinal cord, which can lead to numbness, tingling and, over time, herniated discs.So what’s a desk-job worker to do? Work out at your desk! While these in-office workouts won’t give you a faster mile or rock-hard abs, they will help you squeeze in much needed activity and counteract the negative effects of sitting all day. A few extra calories burned is a bonus, too.
Here are a few desk exercises — targeting each of the muscle groups — that you can do right in your cubicle or office.
- Arms and shoulders. Use your desk to do triceps dips. Perch on the edge of your desk, with your hands gripping the desk on either side of your body. Plant your feet a step or two away from the desk, shift your butt off the desk, straighten your arms, then bend to a 90-degree angle so your body dips down. Hold the position for 10 seconds or so, then straighten while keeping your body raised above the desk. For best results, do 10-12 reps.Other options for a quick arm workout: Use heavy books or jugs for bicep curls. Or, do sets of incline push-ups against a counter or wall. Start in a plank position, with your arms slightly wider apart than shoulder width. Then, keeping the spine in a straight line and elbows close to your sides, lower your chest to the counter or towards the wall. Do as many reps as you like without losing proper form.
- Calves and feet. Channel your inner Ginger Rogers by tapping your toes at a steady pace under your desk, which stretches calf muscles. Or, get on your feet and do calf raises. Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart, press up on your tip-toes, pause and then lower back down. Do three sets of 12-15 reps, or as many as you can complete before you have to run to your next meeting.
- Legs and thighs. Squats and lunges work just as well as a leg workout in your office as they do at the gym. So, every time you return to your desk, whether from the restroom, a meeting or lunch, do 5-10 squats before taking your seat. Stand with feet slightly wider than shoulder width, sit down and back, tapping your bottom to your chair before standing back up again. Want to work your quads? Try a set of 10-12 lunges on each side. Step forward and bend your knee to 90 degrees then return to standing and repeat with the other leg.
- Back and chest. Hold your arms out to your sides and make a T shape for as long as you can. Better yet, make it a competition and see who among your office make can be the last person holding position.
- Core. Sit-ups and crunches are no longer the ab-workout du jour with some experts saying they cause more problems than they solve. And they’re certainly not appropriate in a work environment. But there are exercises you can do at your desk to strengthen your core and improve posture. Work in a swivel chair? Use it to your advantage. Sit with your back straight and feet hovering over the floor. Then place just your fingertips on the edge of your desk, contract your core and use your abs to twist slowly back and forth. No swivel? Take a deep breath, tighten your abdominal muscles and bring them in towards the spine as you exhale. Hold for 10 seconds, release and repeat for 10-12 reps.
Whether you do lunges during conference calls or run the stairs on your lunch break, don’t trust yourself to remember to move every hour. Set an alarm on your phone or computer as a reminder. Even as a physical trainer, I set an alarm for every 45 minutes to remind me that movement is a requirement. Otherwise, hours go by before I realize I’m feeling a little stiff.
Even if you’re not keen on the idea of interrupting your work flow, there are countless ways to incorporate more movement into your workday. Take the stairs (two at a time!), not the elevator. Get up from your desk and talk to your co-workers face-to-face instead of sending an email or text. Make a habit of standing while making phone calls (or get a headset for use in conference calls so you can pace around the office while you talk). Park in the farthest part of the lot, or walk or bike to work. Once you start looking for ways to fit fitness into your workday, you’ll see the options are limitless.
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