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  • Writer's pictureKaren O'Keefe OTR/L

The Five Best Exercises to Do At Your Desk

Having a desk job can certainly take its toll on your body. You may not be a professional football player getting tackled and run over all the time, but being a desk jockey does have its own consequences.

A recent survey found that 74% of people with an office job have pain at least a few times a week and 10% experience pain all day long. According to the study, none of them did exercises at their desk.

Exercise is one of the most beneficial things you can do to improve your strength, posture, mobility, and longevity of your career. Before we discuss the top exercises for your desk job, we should understand the benefits of exercising and the role it has in the office space.

Benefits of Exercising at Your Desk

The benefits of exercise on health and wellness are well known. But today we won’t be focusing on exercising in terms of performing strength training and cardiovascular exercises in a gym setting.

Instead, we will be focusing on exercising, activities, and movements that can be done in the office space. These exercises are meant to be done while at work and will allow you to still gain the positive benefits of exercise while also decreasing your pain, or risk of pain, associated with your desk job.

Obviously, while at work, you won’t be working out for prolonged periods of time. You will be on a time constraint as exercise may need to be done on short breaks, between phone calls and meetings, or anytime your activity tracker tells you to take a standing break.

But research shows that even 5 minute bouts of exercise, also called movement snacks, twice a day can result in improved leg muscle function and size.¹

Another piece of research looked at going up and down a flight of stairs instead of using an elevator throughout the work day. This study proved that use of stairs was effective in increasing overall aerobic fitness.²

There is really an abundance of research on the positive effects of short bouts of exercise, and a lot of these studies show that even just three to four 10 minute bouts of exercise throughout the day is effective in increasing cardiovascular fitness and enhancing weight less.³ ⁴

The Role of Exercise at Your Desk Job

We can agree that exercise has many positive benefits. Whether you choose to exercise in longer sessions or multiple short bouts, you will still reap most of the same rewards.

But how can exercise be adapted to your desk job, provide you these benefits, and help you combat poor posture and the inevitable aches and pains that come with a desk job?

It can be really easy! So much can be done with your body weight, a chair, and a desk.

And besides all of the benefits mentioned above, exercises at your desk job can help with:

  • Improving posture

  • Improving strength of your posture muscles

  • Decrease headaches

  • Decrease pain in other commonly involved joints

    • Neck, shoulders, wrists, low back, hips, and knees

Top 5 Exercises for Your Desk Job

  1. Squats to your chair

  2. Desk push-ups

  3. Desk plank

  4. Desk dips

  5. Marching in your chair

Squats to Your Chair

Squatting is a great, full body movement. When done at your desk job, you can use your office chair as a target. How fast or how slow you move is up to you.

Squat fast, but still with good form to increase your heart rate. Or squat slowly to increase the tension in your leg muscles. Whatever variation you choose, you will feel the benefits.

To perform a squat using your office chair, start with your feet shoulder width apart and stand a few inches in front of your chair.

Then start to bend your hips and knees simultaneously, aiming your hips down and back towards the chair. Keep your chest up and knees over your toes.

Once your hips touch the chair, stand back up to your starting position and repeat for your desired sets and repetitions.

Try out one of these squat workouts:

  • 30 seconds of squats every 30 minutes

  • 10 squats each time you have to perform a certain task

  • 3 sets of 10 repetitions

  • Or incorporate squats with one of the other top exercises for your desk job to create an office circuit

Desk Push-Ups

Push-ups are a great upper arm and core exercise. Typically, push-ups are done on the floor, but your desk helps to make push-ups more work appropriate.

Push-ups are all about good form and keeping your whole body in a straight line.

To perform a desk push-up, start by placing your palms down on the desk and about shoulder width apart. You may want to grip the edge of the table for a more comfortable arm position.

Next, start to walk your feet backwards so that your body is at an angle. The closer your feet are to the table, the easier it will be. So, if you are up for a challenge, keep walking your feet back.

Now, straighten your elbows and check to make sure your head, shoulders, hips, and feet are in a straight line. Begin to lower your chest down towards the desk, continuing to keep your body in a straight line.

Then push back up to the starting position. Continue to repeat for your desired sets and repetitions.

Try out one of these push-up workouts:

  • 3 sets of 10 repetitions

  • 10 push-ups every hour

  • Perform maximum number of push-ups while you wait for something to fax or print

  • Or incorporate push-ups with one of the other top exercises for your desk job to create an office circuit

Desk Planks

While in that same set up position for the desk push-up, you may as well do some desk planking. Planking works the core and can help prevent or improve low back pain.

To perform desk planks, start in the same position as the desk push-up. But instead of lowering your chest to the desk, you will keep your arms locked out and your core tight.

Continue to keep your body in a straight line for whatever duration you choose to hold your plank.

Try out one of these plank workouts:

  • Hold your plank for as long as you can

  • Plank for 1 minute every 30 minutes

  • Or incorporate push-ups with one of the other top exercises for your desk job to create an office circuit

Desk Dips

You will be getting a lot of use out of your desk with these exercises. Desk dips are great at targeting your triceps and increasing your heart rate.

To perform desk dips, you will start facing away from the desk. Place your palms down on the desk, shoulder width apart. You will want to allow your fingers to grip the side of the desk for comfort.

Walk your legs away from the desk. The further away your legs are, the more difficult it will be. Place your weight into your heels and not your whole foot. It is difficult to keep your whole foot flat on the ground for this exercise.

Try to keep your whole body in line, from your shoulders to your heels. Allow your elbows to bend as your body lowers. When you get to a 90 degree bend in your elbow, push yourself back up by straightening your elbows.

Continue to repeat for your desired sets and repetitions.

Try out one of these dip workouts:

  • 3 sets of 10 repetitions

  • 10 dips every hour

  • Perform maximum number of dips while you wait for something to fax or print

  • Or incorporate dips with one of the other top exercises for your desk job to create an office circuit

Marching in Your Chair

Most of these exercises are not very discrete. But marching in your office chair can be done at any time, not just on a break or when you need to get up and out of your chair.

You could easily march in your chair while on the phone, on a virtual meeting, or when answering emails.

Marching in your chair may seem like an easy exercise, but to make sure you are performing them the best way possible, start by sitting nice and tall.

Next, tighten your core and lift one knee up, bringing your thigh off of the chair. Then slowly lower the leg down. Alternate side to side.

Avoiding leaning with your torso or using your hands to help. This will allow your legs and core to do all of the work. Continue to repeat for your desired sets and repetitions.

Try out marching on its own or with other exercises for an office circuit:

  • 30 seconds of marching, 30 seconds of squatting, and repeat 3 times

  • 10 marches, 10 push-ups, 10 dips

  • 1 minute marching, 1 minute planking

The possibilities of combining these top 5 exercises for your desk job are almost endless. Give them a try to see firsthand the benefits they can bring to your work day.



Karen O’Keefe, OTR/L has combined her passion for Hand Therapy with the rewards Ergonomics can bring to her clients over the past 32 years. Co-founder of Exeter Therapy Associates and now Access Sports Medicine, she has specialized in Ergonomics in the workplace, along with musculoskeletal and neurological injuries.

Karen is equally passionate about hiking, biking and cooking. She lives with her husband in Kittery, Maine.

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