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March 26, 2023
You might have heard that sitting is equivalent to smoking. We won't go that far, but sitting all day and living sedentary is certainly not great for our health. Unfortunately, that is the reality for many Americans working desk jobs.
We spend a large part of our day at work, eight or more hours five days per week. If our job requires us to sit while performing our daily tasks, that is a lot of sitting. But what are we supposed to do? Only some people can or want to work a labor-intensive job. For everyone else, there are desk exercises and workouts.
Yes, you read that correctly. Incorporating simple exercises, you can do at your desk can help mitigate the damage of sitting all day. If you are wondering how this is possible, read on.
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Desk exercises are variations of movements you can perform using a desk or chair. Most desk exercises are basic bodyweight movements you can easily incorporate throughout the day to provide more exercise. For people with relatively sedentary jobs, getting a little extra exercise during the day can make a big difference.
As fitness folks, we often think an hour in the gym a few days per week is enough activity to cancel out any other bad habits we may have. However, sitting all day can't be fixed with exercise alone.
A 2015 meta-analysis examined the association between sedentary time and disease and found "prolonged sedentary time was independently associated with deleterious health outcomes regardless of physical activity"1.
Based on this, the adverse effects of sitting all day can at least cut into the benefits of spending time in the gym. The good news is, adding some activity to your day can significantly benefit your health if you work a sedentary desk job.
Desk exercises are one convenient way to help get those with desk jobs up and moving periodically throughout the day. It doesn't have to be anything that takes up much time, either. A few minutes a couple of times per day can be enough.
Another way to mitigate the damage of having a desk job is to switch to a standing desk. In recent years, many companies have allowed employees to use standing desks. However, if you can't get new furniture for your office, you can put a box on your desk to raise the height and allow you to create a standing workstation.
Research shows standing burns roughly 0.15 calories more per minute compared to sitting2. This equates to an extra 60-80 calories burned daily for the average person. Of course, this is not huge, but it can add up over time.
In addition to burning more calories, a standing desk promotes more movement. When standing, you can shift from side to side, taking turns balancing on both legs and one leg at a time. Taking short movement breaks is also easier since you are already on your feet.
If you are not ready for a standing desk, don't worry. Performing the desk exercises in this article will get you moving in the right direction.
Sedentary behavior can cause a wide range of adverse health outcomes. Obesity, diabetes, chronic pain, and the list goes on.
Prolonged sitting can even affect how well we perform in the gym. It's common for our muscles to become tight and immobile when sitting for long periods—being stuck in a compromised position, as sitting does, causes tight hips, low back pain, and shoulder mobility issues. It's hard to exercise effectively with a poorly functioning body.
And, the problem is, we don't just sit while at work. We sit in the car to and from work while eating meals, scrolling on our phones, and watching TV at night. When you add this up, it's easy to comprehend how most Americans spend twelve or more hours per day seated.
Anything we can do to break up how long we sit during the day will be beneficial.
NEAT stands for non-exercise activity thermogenesis, the calories used for everything that is not sleeping, eating, or exercising. Occupation plays a significant factor in NEAT. People who work active jobs can burn over 1,000 more calories per day than a desk job employee simply from NEAT3.
If you have a desk job, you must compensate for the lack of activity. Start by exercising in the gym at least three times per week. However, more is needed to make up for sitting all day.
At the minimum, break up your day, and walk around the office every 60 minutes. It doesn't have to be a lot, but walking around for a few minutes every hour will go a long way.
In addition, do one to two mini-workouts and one longer desk workout each day. The goal is to avoid getting sore or doing anything that would take much recovery time because these are extra workouts. We don't want to impact our regular gym training negatively.
Here are nine exercises you can do right at your desk.
The pushup is one of the most fundamental bodyweight exercises and can be a valuable tool for getting in extra activity at your desk. Drop down and push out a few reps anytime you have a few spare minutes throughout the day. If you struggle to do a standard pushup, give hand-elevated pushups a try. These are pushups with your upper body elevated by placing your hands on a desk or office chair. As the desk push ups become easier, progressively lower the hand elevation until you can start from the floor.
The body weight squat is the most basic fundamental movement. It’s an exercise that reinforces the squat movement pattern and can also be a great workout. You can bang out reps right at your desk. A good habit to get into is performing five to ten reps anytime you get up from your office chair. If you struggle to reach depth when air squatting, try sitting on your chair. Perform chair squats until you feel comfortable squatting without the chair. The key is not to relax while sitting on the chair. Make sure you maintain tension in the core and lower body.
The chair dip is a great triceps exercise you can do right at your desk. It's also a great transition into eventually doing regular parallel bar dips. Instead of using a chair, you can put your hands on something higher, like your desk, which will allow you to support less of your body weight.
Out of all of the muscle groups in the body, the calves get ignored more than any other. Neglecting the calves is a mistake. Not only do muscular calves look great, but they are also crucial for athleticism and are highly functional. Anyone who has walked up a big hill or carried a heavy box up a few flights of stairs will agree. The best part of the single-leg calf raise is that you can do it anywhere, even at your desk.
The mountain climber is a very underrated calisthenic that activates many muscles and increases the heart rate. Instead of starting in a pushup position on the floor, you can elevate your hands on your chair (or desk). Raising your hands allows you to perform the movement without supporting as much of your body weight. Other than the different hand placement, perform the exercise the same way.
Bicycle crunches are one of the most common abdominal exercises, and for a good reason. Although the movement is known for being a fantastic oblique exercise, they target your entire core. Plus, you can do them while seated in a chair.
The plank is an isometric exercise, meaning it doesn't require movement. However, don't let the simplicity of this exercise confuse you. This exercise is very effective. The plank is an excellent exercise to improve core stability and prevent low back pain. Since it doesn't require any movement, it's one of the safest core exercises you can do if done correctly.
There are few cardio options while working at a desk chair all day. However, one option is a small exercise bike made to go under your desk. A desk exercise bike is a great way to increase activity while still being productive. Most models are quiet, so you can pedal while on a business call or answering emails.
Hand grippers are one of the most effective exercises you can do at your desk. A quality set of hand grippers can help you improve your grip strength and build massive forearms. However, not all grippers are made equal. Look for a heavy-duty set made with all metal and no plastic.
In addition to a lack of activity, working at a desk all day can cause tight muscles. Here are four stretches you can do at your desk to stay loose.
Arm circles may offer the most significant benefit-to-effort ratio of any exercise. Doing a few arm circles throughout the day won't turn you into a bodybuilder, but they can help prevent injuries and prepare your shoulders for heavy pressing.
The couch stretch is excellent for addressing tight quads and hip flexors. As the name implies, you usually use a couch, but it can also be performed with a chair.
The pigeon pose is a staple yoga position you can do right in your chair. If you have tight hips, this should be your go-to stretch.
The seated cat-cow pose directly targets the poor rounded position most of us are in all day while working on a computer.
Before getting into the workouts, it's essential to mention these are designed to get you moving throughout the day but shouldn't take the place of a regular training program. These workouts should supplement your typical gym workouts. Think of the following workouts as extra credit or bonus work.
*20 minutes as many rounds as possible
Getting in some exercise at your desk is easier than you think. Anytime you have a free minute, bang out a few reps of desk pushups or chair squats. Over the entire day, the repetitions will add up.
You can perform the desk exercise bike and the hand grippers while sitting at your desk without anyone knowing.
The best cardio exercise while sitting is a desk exercise bike. The best strength exercise while sitting is using hand grippers.
As with most exercises, desk exercises can work as long as they are challenging enough and done consistently.
Exercising at your desk should not take the place of standard workouts. However, if you have a desk job, try to get 2-3 mini-exercise breaks throughout the day. Depending on your available time, they can be as short as a minute or as long as thirty minutes.
The easiest way to improve your physical activity with a desk job is to get up, walk around every thirty minutes, and perform a couple of mini-workouts throughout the day.
The best way to exercise at your desk in secret is to get a desk exercise bike and use it throughout the day. It goes under your desk and is very quiet, so no one should be able to see or hear it while you use it.
Pro tip: A balance board is a great way to exercise at work too. Check out our favorite balance boards that you can bring to work.
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