This motto is for fitness enthusiasts as much as it is for non-quitters. In the midst of your busy schedule, you strive to be both. You want to keep moving even if you’re stuck at your desk for long stretches.
If you don’t have the time to hit the gym, there are quick and easy exercises you can try in between tasks. Consider it a break. You can do aerobics, stretching, or just walking. Here are 10 exercises you can try at your desk (and near or away from it) right now.
Table of Contents
10 Smart Ways to Exercise at Your Desk
1. Football Foot Drill
This simple exercise can speed up your heart rate. Start small with some foot taps. You can try this “invisible” footwork if you want to move without ending up sweaty.
- While sitting in your desk chair, put your feet flat on the ground.
- Tap your feet alternately for 30 seconds.
- Repeat every 30 minutes or so, choosing an interval that fits your work routine.
To engage your knees, you can also raise them a little higher while you tap your feet. This drill is similar to when you’re running in place. You can also check out some video clips of soccer players doing toe taps. These modifications are more visible than the subtle foot tap. But they can bring about the same benefit to your body.
Get inspired by this kid doing the football foot drill in this video:
2. Magic Carpet Ride
Before you perform this workout, make sure your chair is steady. If it has wheels, check if they are securely locked in position. You don’t want to suffer an injury while trying to sit actively.
- That said, start by sitting cross-legged in your chair. But place your feet on the padded seat, so your crossed legs are slightly vertical instead of fully horizontal.
- When you feel that it’s safe to proceed, put your hands on the armrests, suck your stomach, and then lift your lower body a few inches off the seat.
- Let 10 to 20 seconds elapse before returning to your resting pose.
- Allow a 30-second interval before lifting yourself again.
- Alternate between the two positions for five times, more if you can do it.
3. Little Mermaid At Work
This exercise does not include dipping into the water and giving up your voice in exchange for having feet. Instead, the name is based on the stretching done by students and practitioners of Pilates. How does it work?
- First, you sit upright in your chair.
- Then, hold your left wrist with your right hand while pulling to the right side for 10 seconds.
- Work on the right wrist next by holding it with your left hand and pulling it to your left.
- Do each side five times.
Also, remember to keep your shoulders down throughout the routine. This one should improve your flexibility while also strengthening your core. It sounds simple, right?
4. Sitting Spinal Stretch
Like the precautionary step for the Magic Carpet Ride, you should check if the caster wheels of your chair are safe and steady for this short workout. It may offer more control over rolls and movements, but remember that you can execute the twist perfectly if your chair is static.
- While you sit upright, raise your arms fully and carefully.
- Then, place your left hand on the top of the desk.
- Hold the back of the chair, close to the seat, with your right hand.
- And then, slowly twist your upper body to the right side.
- Remain in the position for 10 seconds before starting over.
- Apply the same steps to the other side.
Your muscles can benefit mainly from this mini-exercise, improving their strength and flexibility.
5. Wooden Leg
Adding to your arsenal of simple leg exercises, this one can be performed easily in your workstation or study. If you work in an office, someone may notice you doing it. But they probably will think nothing of it since you are working out.
It is pretty simple.
- As you sit, you can stretch one leg out, so it is about 45 degrees to the floor.
- Then, lift that leg so now it is parallel to the floor. You can extend it higher if the position does not hurt.
- Hold that pose for two seconds.
- Switch to the other leg, alternating until you have done it 15 times on each side.
This one targets your lower body, strengthening it as you repeat the steps regularly.
6. Carpal Tunnel Reliever
Have you ever felt any tingling in your palms after long hours of typing on your laptop keyboard? This sensation may include weakness, especially that of your stronger arm. You may be experiencing carpal tunnel. The good news is, you can find immediate relief for your condition with the help of this activity.
- Facing your desk, stand up, and put your palms on your desk with your fingers pointing to your body.
- Lower your body afterward, ensuring that you’re feeling the stretch even without going all the way near the floor.
- Maintain this position for 15 seconds.
You can then repeat the movement or do it later in the day. You can go about it as frequently as you can, depending on your need for carpal tunnel relief.
7. Feet-Up Hamstring Stretch
Secure your wheels once again before proceeding with this stretch. You can also refer to the Wooden Leg as there is a similarity in leg positioning. You will need enough space in front of you, so pull away from your desk for a start.
- Then raise your leg until it’s propped on the edge of your desk.
- Flex your foot and raise both arms so they are parallel to the floor. Further, you can lean forward if that will help you achieve the pose more easily.
- Hold for 10 seconds.
- Don’t forget to switch and repeat as needed.
This quick exercise can provide relief to your hamstrings. But it may seem awkward to do it in front of your boss or officemates. You don’t have to explain or defend yourself, but it would help to give them context. Also, don’t try this if you are wearing a skirt, ladies.
8. Shoulder Spin
This ranks as one of the easiest and least weird workouts you can do. You do not need to leave your seat or additional objects to complete the steps.
Like the other examples here, the starting position is sitting tall in your chair.
- Place your left hand with the palm out at your back, in between your shoulder blades.
- Now, raise your right hand as if stretching and then bend it toward your side.
- Inch it slowly toward your left hand, touching it if possible.
- Hold this pose for 10 seconds before switching to the reversed version.
If letting the hands touch is not possible, try grabbing your shirt instead. Practice until you improve your reach. Over time, you may improve your flexibility with this pose alone.
This pose is known as a yoga asana, the Sanskrit word for posture or seat (literal meaning). In yoga, you will perform this pose while you’re on your fours. You can go this route if you have space and privacy in your office. However, the seated cat-cow may be ideal for most people in the workplace.
- As you inhale, open your heart by pushing your chest forward, rolling back your shoulders, and raising your chin.
- Then, tuck your chin and arch your back.
- Your shoulders should also seem slumped. Yet, that is the right position for you to feel relaxed.
- Repeat it three times to establish your baseline performance.
Some of the benefits of this pose include muscle strength, spinal alignment, and relaxed knees and wrists, among others.
10. Kardashian Clench
Tone your butt a la Kim Kardashian while also practicing active sitting. You don’t have to leave your desk to do this simple exercise.
- All you need to do is clench or squeeze your buttcheeks as if you’re about to do #2.
- But of course, you will act as if you’re holding it in.
- Repeat it around five times.
Does that feel good but not enough?
It’s time to turn to another Kardashian for more challenging movements. This next option is from Khloe and still involves clenching your booty. You can spice things up by deadlifting a kettlebell using one leg and doing a clean squat with a sandbag. Either way, you’re giving your bum all the love that it needs at the moment.
You can follow the entire sequence through this video:
11. Abs Tensor
One of the parts that people like to tone is the abs or the core. And the dominant picture in our head involves images of gym rats going through a grueling sit-up routine. While that is one way to strengthen the core, it’s a bit odd to perform at your desk. So, why don’t you try doing some of the tricks that are collectively called the chair abs?
- Let’s start with the easiest: tense your core and then exhale.
- Allow your belly button to cave in as you reach out to your spine.
- Hold this position for a few seconds.
- Repeat this until you have enough rounds to call it a day.
You can also try some crunch kicks, knee-to-elbows, or side-to-side sweeps, which you may tend to do before a marathon.
12. Chair Swivels
It’s kind of fun to spin on your swivel chair while reaching out to a teammate at work. You may also remember the delight you had while you did it as a child. Turn this experience into a workout that targets the abs.
- Sit upright in your chair.
- Raise your feet so they are not touching the floor.
- Then place your fingers on the desk while allowing the hands and arms to relax.
- Don’t put pressure on them. You should be activating your core here.
- From that position, start to swivel to your left and right.
- You can perform this in three cycles, with 15 repetitions each.
13. Seated Bicycle Crunches
You don’t need a cycle to start this exercise, but you can enjoy similar benefits as if you are on one.
- First, you should sit on the edge of the chair, with feet flat on the floor, and put your hands behind your ears.
- Lift your chin as you twist your torso and reach your elbow, at a downward angle, to the other side.
- Come back to the center.
- Then repeat the same step with the other side.
Alternatively, you can bring your elbow to the knee on the opposite side. If your flexibility is limited, you can just draw the elbow halfway while raising the opposite knee, so the two points can touch each other.
Do this often to practice active sitting and enhance core stability.
14. Swiss Ball
The Swiss ball may be a familiar feature in various practices, such as Pilates, yoga, and warm-up stretches. If you have a home office or a personal space in the workplace you can curate, throwing in this piece will not only liven up the space but also improve your balance, posture, flexibility, stability, and strength.
Replace your regular office chair with this one to stay active while you sit. Spending time on the Swiss ball activates your core, working out those abs outside the gym. It is also said to improve your alertness and concentration while finishing a task.
15. Standing Leg Curl
You may be familiar with standing leg curls if you frequent the gym. You may be wondering, though, if this routine is possible to perform without a machine. The good news is, you can!
- Stand with your legs pulled together but without coming in contact with each other.
- Then, bend your leg at the knee, aiming to touch the back of your thigh.
- Do this for 10 to 12 times.
- Alternate with your other leg, completing three sets on each leg.
The trick here is to do it slowly, allowing to power your glutes and hamstrings optimally.
Yoga poses will continue to be a part of my list of recommendations. This time, I am putting the spotlight on the namaste pose, one of the most popular gestures you can observe among yogis. The posture that brings the “palms together as if in prayer” is also recognized as a Hindu greeting that means “I bow to the divine in you.”
With that background information, you may be ready to execute this straightforward exercise.
- First off, sit up straight and plant your feet flat on the floor.
- Press your palms together at the center of your chest.
- Push your hands together to activate your arm muscles and stretch your wrists.
- Hold the pose and release it after 20 seconds.
There may be little visible movements, but this isometric drill can make a difference.
When you’re taking a break, step away from your desk for a while. You can go out for a walk around the office block. You can squeeze in an errand instead of doing it after work. If you’re up for it, you can entertain yourself while making your way down the sidewalk, Monty Python style. Remember the “Ministry of Silly Walks” sketch? I’m glad WebMD reminded me about this gem.
If you don’t have the luxury to muck about, you can choose to walk to your teammate’s desk instead of chatting with them on Slack or sending an email. You can even walk around the room if your work environment allows it. Take every opportunity to walk. This commonplace exercise can break the monotony of burying your head in your laptop.
This act alone can help improve your balance, coordination, and mood. It can make your bones and muscles strong. And do not forget how it can lower your risk of cardiovascular diseases and type-2 diabetes.
18. Take the Stairs
Provided that your office is not on the 41st floor, why not take the stairs when you’re headed downstairs? This moderate workout can disrupt your sedentary lifestyle – and reasonably so. If you’ve been sitting for hours on end, you need to stop hunching over your computer.
Among the different ways to pull yourself away from your desk, going for the stairs is one of the more challenging ones. It takes commitment to take flights of steps. It will stretch your legs. It will even make you sweat. But there’s no turning back. Once you’re there, going back up can still get you pretty warmed up.
If you can’t take on a weekly gym appointment, you can just up the ante and try two steps at a time. But make sure you’re safe to make this daily trip of the stairs. You can skip this if you’re suffering from dizziness, vertigo, or any related condition.
19. Low Lunge
You’re familiar with lunges, right? This pose can make it look like you’re poised to attack someone. Here’s an example:
Now, here is a low lunge:
This posture may look familiar to you if you are a yoga practitioner.
- Basically, you start with a lunge and then stretch one leg toward the back of the room.
- You can alternate your left leg and your right leg here.
It may not be too hidden if you do this beside your desk, though. So if you have a conference room, you can strike a pose there. You also want to have adequate space for stretching your legs.
If your workplace has limited space, then you can attempt this at your desk. You can inform your boss and teammates about what you’re about to do. This way, you can at least warn those who are planning to work across the room to avoid you. This workout can strengthen your knee muscles.
20. Glute Squeeze
Now we’re moving up and including more body parts as we progress. Aside from your legs, your glutes will gain some toning and strengthening with the glute squeeze.
The most straightforward technique is as follows:
- Tense up your bum muscles at 10 counts.
- Pause and relax your muscles.
- Then, let them contract again for another 10 counts.
- Repeat the drill for 15 minutes.
Of course, there are several other ways to accomplish this. You can also do this standing up for as long as you won’t feel awkward. If you can lie down, push your hips and glutes up and ensure you’re carrying your weight in your heels.
Do any of these variations to avoid feeling pain in your gluteal area as well. You may be wondering if you’re doing it right. So for reference, liken it to squeezing your butt cheeks.
21. Water Bottle Weights
Bottled water is not only for staying hydrated while you beat deadlines. It can also substitute as weights when you’re in the confines of your desk. Keep two bottles at room temperature for easier handling. Start with the heaviest you can lift. You can then do bicep curls, front raises, and overhead presses with your makeshift weights.
You can increase the weight of the water bottles if you want some challenge to your routine. You can also invite your work pals to join you. It should be fun doing it with them. It can also be a form of socialization and bonding.
Some people may suggest you try lifting a gallon size. But this may be embarrassing to do at the pantry, the conference room, or the common area. You don’t want to get injured or be too sweaty before a meeting.
22. Desk Push-Up
Do you have a sturdy desk in the office? Then it’s time to strengthen your upper body with this simple yet smart workout.
- Stand facing your desk and put your hands near the edge.
- Make sure to hide your wrists.
- Then, create a distance between your lower body and the desk.
- Squeeze your glutes tight and keep your body straight.
- Once you achieve the correct form, begin pushing up against your desk.
- Repeat 15 times, and you’re done.
Quick and easy. You don’t even have to leave the perimeter of your workstation. Of course, proceed only if you have enough space to extend your body. You can also establish this routine, so other employees get used to it over time.
You can even set an example to the entire office because the desk push-up is perfect for taking breaks on a busy workday.
23. Chair Dips
Now comes my favorite. I like this exercise because it involves my topic of expertise: the desk chair. When performing this routine, you should pick a chair that will stay in place. Either it has wheels that can be locked, or it does not have wheels at all.
- To get into proper form, place your hands on either side right beside the hips.
- Then, extend your legs in front of you. Your fingers should be gripping the edge of your stool.
- When you’re ready, raise your body with your arms and core.
- Then lower your body until your buttocks touch the floor.
- Lift again, then dip.
- Repeat the same steps 15 times.
If you’re feeling energized, you can increase the 15-dip cycle from one to three. Notice how this is the opposite of doing push-ups. Chair dips can help strengthen your arms and core while also working your lower body.
24. Bharadvajasana II
You may have observed that we have now reached full-body routines. So I think it is safe to introduce to you a yoga pose or asana, which can boost your awareness and help you practice mindfulness. The twist can also benefit your physical health as it can improve flexibility, strengthen spinal muscles, and tone your core.
Instead of laying down to you the steps one-by-one, I will ask you to watch this video. Take note of how to enter and exit the pose. Do not think about the looming deadline or what your boss told you earlier.
As you will be sitting on the floor, find a clean area to do this. A word of warning: this can put a strain on your body, especially if not done right. Skip it if you are tired or in a hurry. This is also not recommended for those who have a spine, hip, or knee issues.
25. Low-Impact Jumping Jacks
Nothing wakes up and energizes your body like good old jumping jacks. Teachers asked this of us all the time when they felt we were about to doze off. So, why isn’t this exercise practiced in the workplace? Maybe because it would look weird, and you might feel embarrassed?
Well, here’s a low-impact version to tone things down. Instead of jumping on both sides, activating your whole body in one go, just focus on one side first. But remember that jumping jacks are about engaging the opposite side of the upper limb and the lower limb.
- Raise your right arm while tapping your left foot simultaneously.
- Then, switch to lifting your left arm while tapping your right foot.
- Keep alternating for one minute.
It’s super fun and fast. Again, if you don’t want to be awkward alone, then let your teammates join you.
You might be thinking about how it is possible to perform this in the office. Yet, this exercise is a good stress-buster that you can do while sitting in your chair. Just make sure to stay away from your computer. Then, raise your fists in front of your face.
- Start throwing a punch forward with one hand as if you are hitting a punching bag.
- After that, switch to the other hand.
- Keep the back and forth going for 30 seconds and then take a break.
- And then, repeat this cardio routine for another 30 seconds.
You can schedule this intermission throughout the day, so you’ll feel alert and active at your desk.
27. Seated Dancing
But what about this? Can you dance while you are stuck in the office chair? If you can dance around the room, good for you. If not, here’s a no-fuss workout you can try. You can stay where you are while playing music, such as Pharrell William’s “Happy.” You can create your own choreography or copy the moves in this video, inspired by a dance fitness class and adapted for the chair:
Pick a song of any length you want as long as it can get your heart pumping. You are free to do whatever floats your boat. The more important thing is that you enjoy it.
28. Bent-Knee Stretch
We’re almost down to the last few choices. This one is pretty easy to do.
- Leaning back on your chair’s backrest, begin to pull one knee toward your chest.
- You should lift it until it looks like you are hugging it.
- Breathe deeply for two to three times. And then switch to the other leg.
You can do this several times until you feel that nice burn of your strength. You can also opt to do this standing up. Do the same steps while keeping your feet grounded on the floor. The best way to keep it steady is to place your weight on your feet and distribute it evenly between the two.
29. Eagle Arms
If you want a nice stretch for your shoulders, neck, and upper back, this yoga asana is a good place to start.
- You can start by spreading your arms on the side, like an eagle’s wings.
- Then, bring together your arms at the center, with one arm under the other in a winding position and your hands clasping each other.
- If the winding seems a bit difficult, you can loosen it a bit.
Alternatively, you can also just lay your hands on your shoulders for a more comfortable execution. Hold this position for two to three breaths before coming back to the center. Repeat the steps on the other side.
30. Wall Sits
Last but not least, wall sits are one of the quickest ways to exercise while you take a break. These are squats that you can do in the far corner of the room. Or, if you are bold enough, you can do this at a wall near your workstation.
- Lean on the wall and then slide your back down until your hips and knees are aligned.
- Your knees should form a 90-degree angle from the floor.
- Stay in this position for 30 seconds to a minute.
- Release and repeat.
You can do this for 15 reps to achieve optimal benefits. This may cause you to sweat, so prepare a towel and a bottle of water.
5 Benefits of Simple Exercises
Something as a pose you hold for 10 seconds, other than sitting, can count as moving. The exercises shared above require you to hold a pose for more than 10 seconds. They get you activated from the feet up. With this amount of workout, what do you stand to gain? Here are a few things:
Strengthening Bones and Muscles
As you age, you can experience muscle loss. With proper exercise and nutrition, you can reduce the rate of this phenomenon. Working out has been known to enhance your body’s muscle-building capabilities, after all.
Other exercises can also help improve bone health. They can counter the weakening effects of aging, so you can remain strong even after reaching your golden years. Imagine if you can still walk like a dog at 60, 70, or even 80!
Boosting Brain Health and Memory
Next time you try working out at work, think about how it is helping you improve your brain’s performance. You can stay sharp and focused, without missing a beat, as a result of your regular exercise at desk routine.
You can also be protected from some of the neurodegenerative diseases that come with old age. So, boost your chances by maintaining a regular workout, even without hitting the gym.
Increasing Your Energy Levels
Are you feeling lethargic? One way to get out of the rut is to move your feet, arms, or even just one leg at a time while sitting. This is referred to by experts as active sitting. By doing some of the exercises in this article, you can raise your energy levels and reduce feelings of fatigue.
If you are suffering from chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS) and other serious diseases, working out regularly can also boost your energy. Why don’t you find this out for yourself?
Aiding Weight Loss
Exercise can contribute to the success of people who want to lose weight. This is because moving can increase your metabolic rate, which in turn can help burn more calories. This calorie-burning sequence is how you can lose weight fast. Of course, there are other factors to consider, like diet and lifestyle choices.
Another way exercise can help is by combining aerobic exercises with resistance training. This tandem is said to optimize fat loss and maintain muscle mass.
Improving Your Mood
Exercise has been recommended for those who are experiencing bouts of depression, anxiety, and stress. This is because it has a mood-enhancing effect by way of endorphin production. When we exercise, our body can release more endorphins, leading to those calm and happy feelings that we enjoy afterward.
If you regularly exercise and stop for a significant amount of time, you may notice an increase in feeling negative emotions.
There you have it. If you want to say goodbye to a sedentary life, take the small steps with these exercises. They’re smart yet simple. You can do them while you’re sitting in your office chair. You can even use your desk as a prop! Who would’ve thought tapping your foot can increase heart rate and would count as exercise?
While they last only for seconds, minutes, or cycles, these types of exercises have effects that can build up over time. It’s like investing in a top-class asset and then getting a return on investment over time. That said, you have to be consistent and committed to staying active when you’re in the workplace. If you can’t go to the gym, you might as well do it where you spend most of your time – sitting in your office desk chair.
The quick bursts and repetition can also be more sustainable than, say, promising to work out in a fitness venue thrice a week. It’s a good starting point for those who want to cultivate the habit. It can get addicting. But it’s the healthy kind, so why not try the suggestions above in the office? Note: You can also try these at home.
Enjoy the exercises, and keep moving.