Six Simple Desk Exercises

Article posted in: Fitness

We should all get up from our desks and move around more—and more often—during the workday. But sometimes you can’t: conference calls, deadlines and a never-ending cascade of e-mails can keep you glued to your chair for far too long, storing extra calories. But you don’t have to de-stress with a bite of candy, and you can get some of your daily movement without leaving your desk. In fact, exercise can provide some of the same chemical effects—like the release of dopamine, a chemical your body associates with pleasure—that you get from a square of chocolate. The next time you’re on a conference call and have a craving or just need a two-minute breather, get an in-office movement session started with one or more of these at-your-desk exercises.

If you can’t close the door, either because you work in a cubicle or you’ve got windows that will prevent you from making a scene, start by trying the vacuum exercise. This movement, the gold standard of desk exercises, will help train your transverse abdominus (TVA), a muscle that wraps around the inside of your entire core. The TVA helps hold your spine in place when you use your arms or legs, protecting your back from injury. It also makes you look good—the TVA is sometimes called the “corset muscle” because it helps hold in a protruding gut.

To perform the vacuum, sit tall in the middle of your seat so that your back does not touch the seatback. Maintaining this position, breathe in, and then slowly push all the air out of your lungs as you exhale, expanding your chest and pulling your belly button in—imagine that you’re trying to touch it to your spine. Maintain this contraction of the navel towards the spine as you continue to breathe, trying to bring it closer to the backbone with each exhale. Do this for 20 seconds to complete one set; try to do three sets. Over time, try to lengthen your sets up to 60 seconds each.

Another in-your-seat core move mimics yoga’s boat pose. To get the sitting-still contraction and train your core, sit tall in the center of your chair’s seat so that your back is not resting against the seatback. Put your feet flat on the floor, knees together. Maintaining an upright torso, lift your feet about six inches off the floor while keeping your knees together. Brace your core and feel a plank-like tension. If this isn’t difficult enough, try pulsing your knees up and down about two inches in each direction while maintaining an upright torso. Go for 20-second bouts of holding or pulsing, performing three sets.

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If you’re looking to relieve tension rather than create it, try a seated stretch. Sit up tall near your desk and place your hands on the desk a little wider than shoulder-width, close to the edge where you’re sitting. Keep your hands planted on the desk and push your chair backwards so your head goes between your shoulders and your arms extend until your upper body forms a Y-shape. Don’t reach down with your head, but keep it in line with your shoulders as you feel a stretch through your upper back, shoulders, and biceps.

If you can close the door and move around a little, you still won’t want to drop and give yourself 20, but if you can make a bit more of a scene, try passing some on-hold time in tree pose, or vrkasana. To do it, stand tall with your feet together, big toes touching. With your arms at your side or held in a prayer position in front of your heart, lift one foot off the ground, placing the sole of the foot just above the ankle on the inside of your other leg. Hold this position and maintain an upright torso and even hips as you breathe for several breaths. Repeat on the other side. As this becomes less challenging, move the sole of your foot below the knee on the inside of the leg, and then eventually above the knee. Never press the sole directly into the side of the knee.

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Or give yourself an in-office barre class with a plie squat. To do one, assume a wide stance with your toes pointing out so that your heels face each other. Your knees should be in line with your hips. Keep your knees in line with your toes and your torso upright as your bend your knees to lower your butt between your feet. Keep your heels on the floor throughout the movement. Go as deep as is comfortable, then press through your heels to return to the start position. Repeat for ten reps. Perform three sets if you have time.

Then try a curtsy lunge to train your glutes and legs together. Stand with your feet about hip-width apart, hands on your hips or at your sides. Take a big step backwards and to the left with your right leg so that your right foot crosses over your left foot as if you were going to curtsy. Descend as you step until both of your knees are bent 90 degrees, or as deep as you can go. Keep your left knee tracking over your second toe, and don’t let your knee protrude in front of your toes. Press through the heel of your left foot back to start, and repeat the move on the other side, this time stepping back with your left foot. Go for five reps on each leg, working up to three sets.

These exercises won’t provide you with a full day’s worth of movement, but they could help beat a craving and remind you how great a workout will feel at the end of a long day. What exercises have you tried in your office? Share your favorites in the comments below or at facebook.com/nutrisystem.