10 healthy, brain-stimulating "at work"-outs you can do at your desk

May 16 | Guest post by Robin DeMarco

I'm the most productive when sitting at a computer — that does NOTHING for my health. I went to my friend and trainer Robin and asked for easy "at work"-outs that will get me off my butt AND help stimulate my brain when I get writer's block! -Megan

Smiling through the pain, doing tricep dips in my home office.
Smiling through the pain in my home office.
I know, I know, you're too busy to exercise. You've got obligations, family to attend to, and not to mention that full-time job (that you may be at right now!). You're stuck behind a desk most of the day, so suiting up to go to the gym just ain't happening. Okay then, why not get a little exercise right there at work?

I'm not talking about sweating your butt off trying to burn mega calories. This is about being stronger, healthy, less stressed-out and feeling good in your skin.

Besides… even just 10 minutes of exercise can give you a mood boost. And did you know that getting in some physical activity can actually make you a more productive employee? You'll return to your work recharged, with a clear mind, and with a burst of new energy!

Here are seven exercises and three stretches that you can do right now at your desk:

Marching in place: Just simply bring your knees up and down for one minute. To get your heart rate up a little more, pump your arms up and down over your head ("raising the roof" if you will). Anytime your arms are over your head, your heart rate goes up.

Push-ups against your desk: You don't have to drop and give me 20, but you can get a little chest workout if you do push-ups against your desk or a wall. Place your hands shoulder-width apart and place your feet about three feet away from the desk or wall. Go as far down as you can. Aim for 10-20.

Leg lifts: Hold the back of your chair and raise your right leg up as far as you can (straight behind you) while pointing your toe. Each time you do, your glutes will contract. Repeat 30 times. Then hold your leg up as high as you can and do 30 little micro lifts or "pulses" for an extra butt burn. Repeat both exercises on the left leg.

Tricep dips: Sit with the heels of your hands on the edge of a sturdy chair seat. Slide your butt off the seat, and support your weight with your hands. Bend your elbows back, and slowly lower your butt toward the floor, keeping your elbows tucked in. (You might only be able to go down a small amount in the beginning until you get stronger. But the goal is to lower your body so that the elbows are bent at 90 degree angle.) Then push back up until your elbows are straight.

You can also modify this exercise even more if it's too challenging. Simply do the same thing but on the floor instead of off a chair. Aim for 1-20 dips

Chair squats: Step about a foot away from your chair with your legs shoulder-width apart. Bend your knees as if you were about to sit down in the chair. But just before your butt hits the seat, stand back up. Aim for 10-15.

Over-head side reaches: Stand with your feet shoulder width apart and arms at your sides. Now reach your right arm over your head and to the side as far as it will go (you'll know you're reaching far enough when it feels like there's a vice grip on your obliques). Then return back to the resting position. Repeat 15-20 times on the right side and then do the left side.

Modified jumping jacks: Feel free to do regular old jumping jacks, but if you want a less-intense version to do at work, try the modified kind. Stand with feet shoulder-width apart, arms up and out at your sides. Step your left foot in so that it meets the right while bringing both arms down. Then step that left foot back out and bring your arms back up to your side. Next bring your right foot in so that it meets the left foot while bringing your arms down again. Repeat back and forth as quickly as you can for one minute.

Hamstring stretch: Tight hamstrings not only affect your range of motion but also can cause lower back pain. A great hamstring stretch is to place your heel on something elevated (your desk or chair will do) and then straighten that leg. Lean in as much as possible so you feel the stretch in the back of your leg. Hold for at least 30 seconds per side.

Reach for your toes: Slightly bend your knees and let your body just hang over with your arms hanging loose. You'll feel a nice stretch in your upper back and behind your legs as well. Hold for 30 seconds. To stretch your shoulders, gently pull your wrist with the other hand for 15 seconds and then repeat on the other side. Make sure you come back up slowly to avoid getting dizzy.

Chest stretch: Clasp your hands behind your back and stick your chest out. If you lean back slightly, you'll also get a nice little lower back stretch in too. Hold for 30 seconds.

The whole series should take about 10 minutes to complete. Try building up to two times per day. You'll feel better, get your brain stimulated, and make your work day slightly less boring.

  1. Hell yes! I can't wait until I am no longer in a job where I'm chained to a desk, but until then, these are brillz :)

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  2. This is great! When I was in grad school, I found that it helped my writing and focus a lot if I occasionally took mini-workout breaks like this (I used to call them my "half-assed workouts")–revved up my energy and helped me to feel more motivated to work!

    I see that you make "a mean almond milk"–please post here all about it!

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    • I got her to commit to an almond milk recipe!

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  3. I love these and only wish my employer wasn't so keen on lumping us all into one open floor plan. No privacy for work related tasks much less some exercise!

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    • Maybe ask your employer for a stretching area or maybe suggest group employee stretching every day? (Stretching seems like intimidating than exercise to most people.)

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  4. Love it! Coffee makes me anxious, so these will be great to restart the old brain.

    Also if you work in a tall building you can skip the elevator for the stairs. You get less winded if you take 3-4 big breaths before you start. People who know something about exercise (OP?) might be able to tell you why?

    Disclaimer: I don't always take the stairs, I just said that you CAN. :-)

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    • your muscles need oxygen to function- the reason our breathing quickens when we exercise is because our lungs are trying to get a greater volume of oxygen to our bodies faster since our muscles are using more oxygen when they are moving quicker– if you take a few deep breaths ahead of time you have given your body a bit of a "head" start on getting more oxygen in

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  5. Good idea but sweating in my work clothes and make-up is not

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    • You know, I totally just did all these right, and although I "feel the burn" I'm sweating not one bit. And my apartment is even stuffy right now!

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  6. tight hamstrings cause back pain? MY BODY MAKES SENSE NOW.

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  7. If you go to a few Iyengar-style yoga classes, you'll find a number of poses that work for this kind of thing. Iyengar yoga is all about careful alignment, so there are plenty of things to do that aren't pretzely or vigorous. A lot of things you can do at your desk don't look like yoga poses or even exercise or stretching at all… For example, you can just be standing straight up, or holding your arms out in front of you, or standing with one foot up on your chair – but it's all about HOW you do those things. When you go to a few Iyengar classes and learn how to work on tensing specific muscles and working on specific ways of aligning your body, some of this stuff really becomes difficult. When I've taken a break from work to do some of these things, sometimes I end up breaking a sweat just by standing still – but carefully tensing a bunch of muscles while relaxing a bunch of other ones.

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