Active At Work: 15 Simple Desk Exercises
We all know that sitting at a desk for eight hours a day isn’t ideal for our health and that it’s important to regularly get up and move around, but beyond getting up to make another cup of coffee or investing in a standing desk and treadmill pad, what can you actually do to keep moving during a working day? As much as we love short workouts, we get it. Sometimes you need something even shorter when you’re busy at work and just need a few exercises to do at your desk.
These 15 desk exercises are easy enough that you can incorporate them into your day to break up long periods of sitting, or even do them while you work if you have a standing desk! Get ready to improve your circulation and posture, challenge your strength and flexibility, refresh your focus, release any built-up tension in your muscles, or reduce pain in common areas such as your hips and back.
Think of these desk exercises like short exercise snacks to show your body some love during the workday. If hours often pass by without you moving from your chair, it can be helpful to set hourly reminders on your phone to stand up and move!
Reasons to keep moving
If you work a desk job, a twinge of back pain, tightness in your legs or a tension headache can all act as timely reminders that you need to move your body ASAP, but staying active throughout the day is also about taking care of your health in the long run.
According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), approximately two million deaths each year are attributed to physical inactivity, with sedentary lifestyles increasing all causes of mortality. Beyond back and joint pain, Mayo Clinic and the WHO have linked long periods of sitting with a number of negative health outcomes, including obesity, increased blood pressure, high blood sugar, unhealthy cholesterol levels, and increased risk of death from cancer and cardiovascular disease.
Sure, these exercises can help you to feel immediately more relaxed and rejuvenated, but the long-term benefits that come with finding time for movement each day? Your future self will definitely thank you.
Try these 15 desk exercises
Standing with your feet shoulder-width apart, slowly push through the balls of your feet to rise onto your toes, pause for a moment at the top, then slowly lower yourself back down to flat feet and repeat. If your balance is wobbly, you can hold onto the desk or chair for support. You should feel this in your calf muscles and lower backs of your legs.
For a calf raise inspired by Britany Williams’ barre workouts to work a few different muscles, you could perform the same movement but with your feet in a wide stance and your toes turned out - sort of like a ballet plié!
Many of us with desk jobs hold a lot of tension in the neck and shoulders. Shoulder shrugs are a quick way to release some of that tension, by squeezing your shoulders up by your ears and then relaxing them down. Repeat this movement a few times until you’re feeling more open and relaxed in your shoulder area.
Standing with your feet shoulder-width apart, lift your right foot behind you and hold it with your right hand, pulling it towards your right glute. You should feel a stretch in your quad, down the front of your thigh. If you need more of a stretch, squeeze your glutes and push your hips slightly forward. Don’t forget to repeat this stretch on the other side.
This one has the potential to be hilarious if you’re in a shared office and someone notices what you’re doing, but it really is such an effective way to wake up your glutes after you’ve been inactive for a while. Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart, squeeze your glutes, hold for a moment, then release and repeat.
Shoulder and chest stretch
Standing straight, bring your hands together behind your back and interlace your fingers. Holding your hands together, slowly push your chest out as if you were trying to get your shoulder blades to squeeze each other. This should feel great across the front of your chest, through your shoulders and your back. Another great one for releasing all that neck and shoulder tension!
During a work day, it’s common for your torso to stay facing forward most of the time, even if you are walking around. Trunk rotations are easy to perform anywhere and are a great way to increase your flexibility, strength and range of motion around your core and spine.
Stand with your feet hip-width apart and your arms raised to shoulder height, with your elbows bent and your fingertips pointing towards each other. With control, twist your torso to the left as if you were trying to see behind you. You should feel a nice stretch in your core area and back. Slowly unwind until you’re facing forward and then repeat on the other side.
Time to flip it and reverse it. Raise your right arm up by your ear, then bend your elbow and reach your fingers behind your back towards your spine. You should feel this in your tricep, up the back of your arm. If you need more of a stretch, place your left hand on top of your right elbow and gently apply pressure. Repeat on the other side.
Balance skills are important for every stage of life, yet many of us neglect to include balance exercises in our routines. Tree pose is a great place to start, and offers a clear path to progression. It’s also an amazing movement to open up your hips and groin after sitting or standing for a long period of time and can help to build strength in those smaller stabiliser muscles as you balance.
Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart, then lift your right foot from the floor and place it on the inside of your left calf, with your knee pointing out to the right. You can rest your hands on your hips or press your palms together for balance, or raise your arms above your head for more of a challenge.
When you feel confident, you can start to move your foot higher up your leg. Hold this position for 20-30 seconds (or as long as your balance allows!) before repeating on the other side.
We know you want to be sitting less, but a wall sit is such a good way to wake up your legs, glutes and core, test your muscular endurance and reset your posture.
Stand with your back against a wall, then walk your feet about a foot away from the wall. Slowly slide your back down the wall until you’re in a seated position with your knees and hips at 90-degree angles. If this depth feels too challenging, simply push yourself up the wall a little bit to take some of the pressure off your quads. Hold it for 30, 60 or 90 seconds, or as long as you can!
Get your blood pumping and strengthen your lower body with some bodyweight squats! Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart and bend at both the hips and knees, ensuring your knees remain in line with your toes and your gaze stays forward. Continue bending your knees until your upper legs are parallel to the floor. Ensure that your torso remains as upright as possible while maintaining a neutral spine. Push through your heels and extend your legs to return to the starting position. Repeat.
Single knee to chest stretch
Standing with your feet shoulder-width apart, slowly hug your right knee in towards your chest, holding your shin with your hands if it feels comfortable. Hold for 5-20 seconds before releasing your leg to the ground and repeating on the other side. Go for 5-10 stretches on each leg. This stretch can help with lower back pain, improve the stability of your pelvis and increase your balance and range of motion.
Boxer’s shuffle or jog on the spot
Jogging or shuffling from side to side might attract a few looks in a busy office environment, but if you’re working from home, this is an easy and effective way to boost your circulation and heart rate during your work day. Don’t want the impact on your joints? Try a march in place instead!
Standing bicycle crunches
For a full-body exercise that also challenges your core, balance, mobility and flexibility, try standing bicycle crunches. With your feet hip-width apart and your fingertips by your ears, lift your right foot off the floor as you bring your right knee and left elbow towards each other in a cross-body crunch. Place your foot back on the floor, then repeat, alternating sides.
Focusing on a screen for hours at a time or regularly looking down at your phone can create a lot of tension in your neck and shoulders. Not only is this a recipe for headaches, but it can affect your form and engage incorrect muscles during your workouts.
During your work day, ease any tension by slowly lowering your head forward and back for 30-60 seconds, before tilting left and right. If it feels comfortable, you can also do a gentle circular rotation - clockwise and then anticlockwise.
Arm pulses or circles
Unless you find yourself typing very aggressively (in which case it’s probably an even better time for a break), unfortunately typing doesn’t do a whole lot for your arm strength. A quick arm exercise you can do is raise both your arms straight out in front of you or out to your sides and perform small pulses up and down. You’ll quickly feel the burn! For a change of movement, you can also try performing small circles with your arms, moving your hands in one direction and then the other.
Take care of your to-do list and your body with these easy exercises you can do at your desk. Because leading an active lifestyle doesn’t just refer to your workouts, it’s about keeping your body moving as much as you can.
* Disclaimer: This blog post is not intended to replace the advice of a medical professional. The above information should not be used to diagnose, treat, or prevent any disease or medical condition. Please consult your doctor before making any changes to your diet, sleep methods, daily activity, or fitness routine. Sweat assumes no responsibility for any personal injury or damage sustained by any recommendations, opinions, or advice given in this article.