Finding the motivation to stay active each day can be tough — especially in the mental and physical aftermath of answering hundreds of work emails and sitting at a desk from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m every day. As tempting as it is to let fatigue get the best of you during the workday, getting a healthy dose of exercise in during the work week is actually a lot easier than you think.
Staying active at work doesn’t always require lugging around a gym bag with intentions of getting a quick workout in during your lunch break. Sometimes it means rethinking small lifestyle choices that gradually help you get at least 30 to 45 minutes a day of light physical activity right from the office — or even from your desk! These actions not only help strengthen your body, but they’ll also help strengthen your mind and aid in helping you focus on projects and responsibilities as the workday progresses — especially if you find yourself plagued by mid-morning brain fogs or post-lunch slumps.
How to get physical at work
If you’re one for a more discreet method of getting in some light exercise without leaving your desk, there are quite a few covert deskersise options that you can opt for. From under the table leg lifts to intermittent muscle flexing, below are some easy deskercise activities for you to try.
Under the radar deskercise.
1. Engaging your abdominals.
Engaging or flexing your abdominal muscles throughout the day may not help you achieve a rock solid six pack, but it can help supplement the development of one if that’s what you’re working towards in your usual fitness routine. In this case, intermittently engaging your core and releasing it for 10-15 reps while sitting at your desk or walking around the office can aid in strengthening your core and correcting your posture.
2. Flexing your glutes.
Similar to the concept of flexing your core muscles throughout the day, flexing and relaxing your glutes intermittently throughout the day helps to strengthen that area of your body in the same way flexing your abdominals can help strengthen your core. This particular exercise is best recommended for when you’re seated due to how awkward flexing your glutes can look while standing. When you feel like the hours you've spent seated at your desk are starting to take a toll on you, try this exercise for a few sets of 10-15 reps.
3. Seated leg raises.
Achieving toned legs while sitting down? Yes please! Seated leg raises are a great way to get your calves looking and feeling good while you prepare yourself for your next meeting. With your back firmly pressed against the back of your chair, place your forearms on your desk parallel to your shoulders. If the space under your desk is too small for you to fully extend your legs out in front of you, you can move your chair back to give yourself more space and place your forearms firmly on your armrests instead. Lift your feet from the ground and extend your calves out in front of you with toes pointed towards the ceiling. Aim for two sets of 15 reps. For an added challenge, loop your feet through the straps of your gym bag or purse and use for them for some added weight and resistance.
4. Swivel chair oblique exercise.
Swivel chairs have always been nostalgic of childhood fun. Seriously, who can resist the urge to spin at least a couple of times while sitting in one? As it turns out, these chairs are useful for a plethora of different activities other than spinning in childhood nostalgia. You can actually use your swivel chair to target your obliques. Sitting up straight in your chair, lift your feet a few inches off the ground. Place the tips of your fingers on the edge of your desk to stabilize yourself. Next, with core muscles engaged, use your torso to control the chair to swivel from side to side. Make sure you don’t use your fingers to aid in moving the chair. Try to keep this going for two sets of 10 reps.
5. The seated cat/cow.
Sitting at a desk all day can definitely do some damage to your back muscles, causing tension mainly in the shoulders and the lower back. The next time you feel these muscles start to ache try doing the seated cat/cow exercise. Keeping your core engaged, sit up straight in your chair. Roll your shoulders back and bring your torso forward, creating a visible arch in your back, and hold for five seconds. Then do the inverse, rolling your shoulders forward as you hunch forward to curve your back. Hold five more seconds. Aim for two sets of 10-15 reps.
6. The chest opener.
Sometimes a few deep breaths and a good stretch are all you need to finish out the work day strong. The chest opener move is meant to help release some of that built up tension in your chest, upper back, and shoulder muscles from hunching over your keyboard all day. To achieve this move, sit up straight and bring your arms behind your back pressing your palms together between your shoulder blades with fingers pointed towards the ceiling. Hold this pose for 10-15 seconds and remember to breathe deeply during the process.
Get on your feet.
Not all attempts to stay active have to involve an intense workout. Low impact activities like walking or climbing stairs can be just as helpful in achieving health and wellness — considering how easy access these activities are for many people. If you're someone who wants to work up a bit more of a sweat and burn a few more calories during your workday, then the next few exercise ideas just might be what you need. Below are a few easy ways to get your heart racing and your blood pumping in between meetings.
1. Take advantage of the stairs.
If you work in an office that has a surplus of stairs, use them to your advantage! Climbing stairs not only allows you to get in a little cardio throughout the day, but it can also help tone your legs and build endurance if you make a habit of it — not to mention, but it'll also save you from a lot of awkward elevator small talk. If you want a bit more of a challenge when climbing the stairs you can try lunging up the stairs two at a time at a safe pace. Assuming deep lunge positions while climbing the stairs can stretch out your hamstrings and strengthen your thighs and glutes.
2. Walk around the office.
Has it ever crossed your mind that the setup of the cubicles in your office kind of resemble a maze? This might be the ideal setting for you to get a power walk going and get your blood flowing when you’ve been seated and staring at a screen for hours on end. Walking is essential to our health and wellness although it doesn't always receive the credit it deserves.
According to the American Heart Association, 150 minutes a week of brisk walking can significantly reduce risk of conditions like heart disease, stroke, and diabetes. For some people, two hours can be added to their life expectancy for every hour of brisk walking they do! That’s two more hours to spend taking advantage of those vacation days you’ve been saving up. Plus, you don't have to walk at a continuous pace for it to count. The more you're able to get up and walk around the office to complete tasks, the more it adds up! So, if you can fight the urge to send out that email blast to your co-workers and instead take a stroll or power walk over to their desk to tell them in person — not only will you strengthen your legs, hasten your metabolism, and add to your life expectancy, but you’ll also be building better personal and professional relationships in the process. It’s a win-win.
3. Incline push-ups.
Need something that’ll get you a little more pumped to push out the rest of those mid-afternoon emails? Try doing a few incline pushups at your desk. Simply push your chair out of the way, place your hands on the edge of your desk parallel to your shoulders and assume a pushup stance with legs together or feet crossed behind you. Lower your body so that your chest is hovering just above the edge of your desk — try to make sure your elbows are at a 45-degree angle. Push-up and repeat for two sets of 10-15 reps.
4. Calf raises
Looking to sculpt some killer calf muscles? Look no further. Start by standing behind your chair and gripping the top of it for support. Lift your heels off of the ground and place your weight on the balls of your feet. Hold for five seconds, and then lower your heels back onto the floor. Repeat for three sets of 10 reps, and you're on your way toned legs.
5. Chair squats/ traditional squats
Now that you’re motivated to take some well-deserved breaks away from your desk during the workday, chair squats are the little wellness hack that you can do each time you return to your seat. Whenever you return to your desk, instead of plopping back down into your seat, try hovering over it in a squatted stance and hold for 10-15 seconds before seating yourself again. If you find yourself walking back and forth between your desk throughout the day, these simple actions can accumulate — if you can make a habit of it. If you're looking to work up more of a sweat, you can opt to remove the chair from the equation altogether and do two sets of 15 reps of traditional squats at your desk during a much-needed break.
How can I exercise at work?
Getting in your recommended amount of daily physical activity at work can vary from taking the stairs more often to dedicating your lunch break to breaking a sweat at the gym — it really depends on what kind of results you're looking for. If you're looking for something less intense and more gradual, try walking to work a few days a week or park a little farther away from the building to get a few extra steps in each day. For something a little more intentional, you can choose to do something active during your lunch break like a quick workout in an empty conference room. Looking for workout buddies to help you stay motivated? Suggest a company-wide wellness challenge or recruit a group of friendly, like-minded co-workers to do a lunchtime fitness class a few times a week! The opportunities are limitless.
Is it better to workout before or after work?
The answer to whether or not you should work out before or after work really depends on your preference. If you’re an early bird who feels energized by physical activity in the morning, then a brief workout routine before work might do the trick. Early morning exercise helps blood flow to the brain, can enhance your mood and helps motivate you to make other healthful choices throughout the day. Also, early morning workouts help you maintain your focus.
If you’re not much of a morning person, working out after work might be best for you. Do keep in mind, however, that many people find it hard to motivate themselves to workout after work because of the accumulated fatigue from the work day. On the bright side, working out post-clock out may improve digestion and enhance your quality of sleep at the end of the day. The decision to workout before or after work really just depends on your preference. Working out before work can help you stay focused and motivated throughout the day while working out after work can help you get the much-needed rest that you'll need to awaken energized and ready to take on work the next day.
How can I strengthen my core at work?
Putting in the effort to strengthen your core at work can be as simple as intermittently flexing and releasing your core muscles throughout the day while sitting at your desk or walking through the office. Exercises like the wall sit or the swivel chair oblique exercise are two examples of activities that actively engage core muscles and are quite easy to do over the course of a coffee or lunch break. Do be aware, however, that simple office core workouts work in addition to regular strength training and conditioning outside of your 9 to 5.
How can I be more active at my desk job?
Being more active at your desk job can be as simple as getting away from your desk every few hours. If you’re looking for a solution that seems a little more solid than the occasional desk workout or if you don’t want to go it alone, you can get others involved, too! Everyone has fitness goals they're trying to meet, and getting co-workers or the company as a whole involved can develop a routine that holds you and others accountable for staying active and productive while at work.
When working a desk job, it can be easy to forget that you aren’t getting in enough physical activity during the day. We’re so focused on being as productive as possible in our work responsibilities that we tend to forget that taking care of ourselves is productive, too. Think of it as 9-to-5 tunnel vision. It is important to keep in mind, however, that our desire for productivity should never interfere with our health and wellness. The health and wellness of its employees is what keeps companies running. Keep that in mind the next time you opt to take a walk during your lunch break, and hopefully, it puts a little more pep in your step.