Tag Archives: Exercise at Your Desk

Standing at your desk

On more than one occasion, the dangers of sitting has been discussed on this blog. Here’s someone who’s taking action. Blogger Corbett Barr, attempted standing at his desk for most of the week, and then posted his experience to the Zen Habits blog. He discovers, obviously, there are pluses and minuses. The best approach for most of us would be to split our time between standing and sitting throughout the day. It’s all about balance, right?

You can check out his experiment here.

…And for the record, we think the treadmill desk is just a bad idea for so many reasons.

Your 5 minute workout at work starts NOW

Let’s get straight to the point:

You sit too much. You are supposed to get up regularly. You are supposed to move around. You’ve just stumbled upon your chance. It takes 5 minutes. Considering how much time gets sucked into computer zombieland, it’s a small amount to ask. Here we go…

#1. Knee lifts while sitting

Knee lifts and holds, while sitting up straight

Sit up as tall as you can, arms by your sides. Scoop the abdominals in towards the spine to help you gain supported lift. Lift the right knee, pushing the left foot firmly into the floor. Balance and hold 10 seconds and switch. Do 3 sets. Pay particular attention to your hips and pelvis. No shifting your weight from one hip to the other. Keep them evenly weighted. If the right knee is up make sure the right hip is firmly planted and vice versa. No slumping or rounding the back. Sit up tall! Trying this on a balance ball later gives you more feedback.

DON'T DO THIS! No slumping or rounding of the upper or lower back.

#2. Chair dips

Chair dips, option 1. Bend and straighten the arms, keeping shoulders broad and away from your ears. Draw belly into spine.

2 options: hands on your chair handles (easier) or hand on the seat (harder). 10 dips, bending the elbows as far as you can and then straighten the arms. Your body weight is supported by your legs and feet as you move. Keep the spine straight, belly scooped and neck stretching long. Most important, keep the shoulders down away from your ears. This provides more arm work and a chest stretch.

Chair dips, option 2. This one is more challenging. Squeeze legs together, belly in, and shoulders broad.

#3. Balance on one foot

Stand up. If you have heels on, slip them off. (What’s one minute? Your feet will thank you). Standing on one foot with abdominals scooped and posture lifted, hold for 30 seconds. Switch.

Balance on one foot while standing as tall as you can. Opposite knee is high off the ground. Try for 30 seconds to one minute.

#4. Knee bend/Arm swings

Bend the knees and swing the arms across the body, exhale.

Straighten back up, stretching the body back up towards the sky. Swing the arms out and up. Deep inhale.

This one is akin to Radio Taiso, the Japanese morning workout. It should be invigorating and full of movement. Separate the feet shoulder width apart. Bend the knees and swing the arms across the body. Straighten the legs, lifting up through the spine and swing the arms up and out to the sides in a big stretch. This exercises needs a swinging rhythm and momentum. Take deep breaths as you move. 10 times.

#5. Elbow circles

Elbow circles

Sit back down. Gently touch fingertips to shoulders. Reach outward to opposite walls through your elbows. Draw large smooth circles in space with the elbows. Take Deep Breaths. Keep you head floating up towards the ceiling. Keep your head lifted and smile.

A clearer visual of elbow circles

That’s it!  5 minutes (maybe less). Now back to work. …Or, maybe it’s time for lunch.

Psst! Sneak in Some Fitness Today

Just like with saving money, or cutting calories, the little things count. I believe people receive more benefits doing small things for themselves throughout the day than dedicating an hour to the treadmill. Little breaks and movements create appreciation and respect for our bodies, helping both the body and the mind. I encourage you to find your own creative ways to keep things moving. Here are a few simple starters.

Idea  #1.

Walk when you can. Park far away from the entrance and enjoy a mini-leisurely walk to the store.  As a gift, give yourself an extra 5 minutes of walking time to get where you are going. Just a few extra steps and deep breaths calm the mind in a surprising way.

Idea #2.

Stairs. It’s the big “no-duh”. Take the stairs instead of the elevator. Draw your body weight up through the middle of the body, lifting weight away from your knees as you go up and down. Be aware of taking even breaths.

Ideas #3.

Jump or bounce around. Like Muhammad-Ali getting pumped up for the fight. Get up from your desk and just jump up and down a bit. Shake out your hands and stretch your neck. Get the blood flowing and move the computer and work stress out of you body. 30 seconds to a minute is all it takes.

Hold Your Guts Up – The Elusive Pelvic Floor

Hey. Guys have them too. Don’t think this is just a woman thing….

I’m heading into dark waters. Big Sigh. The Pelvic Floor. It almost sounds like a mythological made up place in the body. Unfortunately, it’s very real, and effects two of our most immediately important bodily functions – sex and urination – which is probably why it’s isn’t more openly discussed.

Most women have heard of these muscles, and perhaps the name of a popular method to strengthen them, kegel exercises. Although not discussed much in the gym, men need pelvic floor strength too. If you are unaware of these muscles, it often goes hand in hand with lack of proper abdominal strength and back support. A weak pelvic floor lends to a weak golf game. Your pelvic muscles are the floor of your torso. They hold your guts up, so to speak. The pelvic floor muscles contract in tandem with the deep spinal support muscles, creating a girdle of support – a diaper of strength, if you will. Down and dirty we are going to try and find these muscles. When they are contracted there is often no visual engagement seen externally.

Stop the flow

The easiest way to find the pelvic floor muscles is stopping the stream of urination.  If you can do it, then you’ve found them. Congrats. Don’t do this all the time however; constantly stopping the urinary flow when going to the bathroom, and not emptying the bladder entirely can lead to urinary tract infections. This is a good method to first find the muscles.

Simple pelvic floor exercise

We are trying to contract like the blue image on the RIGHT!

Here is a good way to work the pelvic floor muscles, sans the bathroom. Find your sit bones. These are the two bony protrusions located at the base of your pelvis. You can feel them underneath your backside as you sit down.  Imagine drawing those two bones together, towards each other, without tensing the backside or leg muscles. Picture the two sit bones becoming magnetically attracted to each other, and feel them pulling towards your center. Draw them together for a few seconds and then release. Try again. It helps to do this sitting upright on a stability ball. If the ball moves a lot or your legs and backside tense, lifting you up from the ball, know that these are the wrong muscles. When contracting the pelvic floor there is very little, if any, movement from the ball.

Another way to imagine triggering the pelvic floor and the transverse abdominals while sitting is to imagine zipping up the last bit of zipper on a pair of pants that are too tight.

Elevator Exercise (From Mayo Clinic)

Visualize an elevator. Slow down the exercises, gradually contracting and releasing your pelvic floor muscles one at a time. As you contract, visualize an elevator traveling up four floors. At each floor, contract your muscles a little more until you reach maximum contraction at the fourth floor. Hold the contraction and then slowly release the tension as you visualize the elevator returning to the ground floor. Repeat 10 times.

Crazy gizmos

uh...Kegel 8 plus 2.

There are lots of instruments and mini machines to help you find the pelvic floor. Some more invasive than others, but all will help get the job done.

Super Kegel Exerciser

An easy way to recreate the above exercise for both men and women is to take a tennis ball and hold it in the same place as above.  Squeeze just below the gluts with the back of the inner thighs. The place where you would hold the ball almost feels like it’s about to pop out. Contract and release the back of the thigh muscles and pelvic floor around the tennis ball.


In Pilates we call the above exercise “wrapping into the back of the inner thighs”. It’s an important fundamental movement that will not only strengthen the pelvic floor, but the deep abdominals and the inner thighs, creating a leaner, longer posture.

See the squeezing of the back of his inner thighs

No matter how you go about it, strengthening the pelvic floor takes time, patience and practice, but the practice can happen anywhere. No gym clothes required. Go ahead. Try a few right now. Better love life and deeper belly laughs without fear of having to cross your legs await you.

1 Minute Movement Break – Try this Now

Stop what you are doing! Take a one minute movement break, and try this simple move below.

Keeping with the recent upper body theme, here is a great movement to relieve neck and shoulder tension while promoting shoulder mobility.

Elbow Circles.

Elbow Circles:
Gently touch fingertips to shoulders. Reach outward to opposite walls through your elbows. Draw large smooth circles in space with the elbows. Take Deep Breaths. Keep you head floating up towards the ceiling.
Enjoy the stretch and movement. Take one more deep breath. Now go on about your day…

The Weight of the World off Your Shoulders

Shoulder fun fact: The shoulder blades are not connected to any other bone in the body, but fixed in the body with merely a few muscles.

The human shoulder is crazy complex. It’s built for movement and dexterity. Countless problems stem from imbalances within it’s fine inner-workings. The most prevalent shoulder problems stem from sitting all day. Go figure.

Whether standing or sitting, the human body is built to turn inward; naturally possessing more muscle mass that turns us inward than outward. Perfectly formed to slump back in a chair, or round forward over the desk. Sitting this way from kindergarten through now at your computer, it’s a safe bet you’ve experienced neck and shoulder tension.

When focusing on upper back strain, it is important to remember the body compensates as an entire unit. No muscle is an island unto itself. Pain manifesting in the neck and shoulders could be created, in part, by the tightness and tension in the hips and low back. This is why posture is so crucial.  Proper posture elongates and disperses the muscle work of holding up the body against gravity evenly.  See the below examples and its easy to get the gist:

We are so used to allowing our neck to tense and our shoulders to round forward, that they take over everything we do, down to our abdominal exercises.

TRY THIS TEST: Sit on the floor. Bend your knees together. Try curling half-way back, scoop the belly, and hold. See if you can completely relax your shoulders and hold the curled position.

If your fall backwards = Your abdominals are weak and the upper body pushes you through most core movements.

If your legs pop up = your hip flexors are tense

If you can hold the position = you should feel deeper core engagement by releasing the shoulders

Roll Down Test (notice how the front of the neck stays open and the knees do not move)

Our shoulders and hips can act like a barrier surrounding the core muscles. To strengthen the core of the body, we must learn to let go of tension. Pilates and muscle awareness helps correct this by building strength from the inside out.

Now back to the upper back! This post simplifies (perhaps overly so) the complexity of the shoulders in order to create achievable goals with a few easy exercises. Besides a tall overall posture, you need awareness of the following muscles to do the movements:

Muscle of interest #1 – The Rhomboids. They pull your shoulder blades together. Imagine cracking a walnut between your shoulder blades, those are your rhomboids.


Muscle of interest #2. – The Latissimus Dorsi. They connect the upper body to the hips. Imaging drawing you armpits towards the hips, those are your latissimus dorsi. Strengthening these muscles will help allow for a stretch in the upper back and neck.

Latissimus Dorsi

Engaging the rhomboids and the latissimus dorsi (lats) allow neck and shoulder tension to release and that energy to be channeled into shiny new postural alignment.

Try this: Imagine drawing the shoulder blades down and together creating the point of a V at the mid back. Feel the chest stretch open, while constantly allowing your head to drift up towards the sky. This simultaneous contraction and stretch allows for deeper breathing and over all better well being. One note: Don’t force or hold for too long. Gently contract, hold for a moment, then release. Keep at it.

I recommend investing in an elastic band.

Here are 3 elastic band exercises balancing upper body strength, using that tall, core-engaged posture, the above muscles, and while stretching the neck and shoulders:

Shoulder Shrugs: Stand on the band, arms by your side. Shrug shoulders up and down, allowing band to gently stretch the shoulders downward. Head is constantly drifting up towards the ceiling.

Rowing: Wrapping the band securely around a door knob or fixed point. Lead elbows back towards each other. Head is lifted. Shoulders squeeze back.Crack the walnut between shoulder blades.

Chest Expansion: Wrapping the band securely around a door knob or fixed point. Draw straight arms down and back. Aiming fists towards your heels. Squeeze shoulder blades together. Head drifts upward. Neck is long.

Another small view of chest expansion

More details on these and other exercise can be found at here and here.

A few simple, quality moves with moderate weight (or resistance) and a focus on breath is far better than a massage or a static stretch for releasing neck and shoulder tension. Building proper muscle strength gives the tension a place to live, rather than allowing it to set up camp in your neck a few hours later. Quality of movement is more important than quantity.

Find little movements all day long that create length, strength, and stretch.

The Cheapest Exercise Aid You have Right Now

That wall next to you. It does wonders.

Here are 3 quick ideas you can do right now without getting too many weird looks from co-workers…

For starters, it’s great for posture. Just go stand against it – don’t be shy – it gives incredible feedback into how slumped the back really is. Now we all have curves in our back in varying degrees. We don’t want to force the curves out of the spine, instead, the goal is to create length in the vertebral column and muscle support in this more upright posture. Slide the back of your head up the wall, keeping the front of your neck long, and slide your tailbone towards the floor, while keeping it pressed into the wall. Feel the vertebra in between these two points spacing apart – the back of the head up and the tailbone down – lengthening as your entire back gets closer to the wall. Hold for a minute or two and take deep breaths. You should feel lighter and taller as you come away from the wall.

lengthen your postureKnee bends against the wall are good for knee and hip strength, while keeping your back straight and creating core awareness. Important notes: Keep toes in front of the knees, don’t bend too far or at least past 90 degrees. Secondly, work on feeling the length of the posture and of the legs while performing this exercise. Finally, scoop the belly to the spine. It helps to imagine a band around your waist pulling you into the wall.

knee bends against wall

We all need a good upper arm and shoulder stretch throughout the day.  This is one of my favorites. Do be careful to start small with this stretch. Don’t hold it too long or force it too much, since shoulders are intricate machines. With the arm straight out to the side, press the entire palm into the wall, especially the heel of the palm. Keep the shoulder of the extended arm down and even with the other, and the arm straight. Lift your spine and take deep breaths. A deep shoulder and arm stretch should ensue which might radiate all the way to the middle finger. Hold for about 30 seconds tops.


These are just a few of the many creative exercises you too can do with a wall. No purchase necessary, just look up and find one.