4 Exercises to Sneak Into Your Desk Bound Day
(without looking like you’ve gone completely crazy)
You’re stuck at your desk all day long. Your eyes glued to the screen, clamoring to catch up with all your work. You know it’s bad for you to sit still for so long. “Sitting is the new smoking” they say… right? But how in the world are you supposed to get up and take a stretch break if you’re slammed with work? You can barely take your hands off the keyboard long enough to get a sip of water.
More importantly, you don’t want to look ridiculous doing odd ball stretches at your desk. Lying on the tile floor is not possible. Standing to hit the restroom is about the only exercise you get, and then you rush back after to re-check your email.
Your achy back keeps telling you to move and do something about it, but what could you possibly squeeze into your crazy busy days? Maybe this sounds extreme, but more often than not it closely resembles today’s reality.
Here are four exercises you can do sneakily and stealthily in your desk area. You can even do two of them while still keeping your hands on the keyboard, and won’t even interrupt your work flow. These exercises also target areas of the body that get chronically tight and weak, from your desk bound lifestyle.
- Lunge yourself into a hip flexor stretch:
The Psoas muscle (hip flexor) is the only muscle that connects the bottom half of the body to the top half of the body, moving across the hip. It’s responsible for flexing at the hip crease, and can get persistently tight and weak when sitting in a hip flexed position for hours on end. Stretching this every few hours would be beneficial, and the exercise below even allows for some thigh work on the opposing leg so you get double the benefit.
This exercise requires you to move your chair slightly out of the way. Plant your right foot under your desk and bend the right knee. Reach the left leg behind you and plant it straight with the left ball of the foot supporting you in a lunge position. You should have all the pressure in your right front heel. Make sure the right knee is not too far forward of the right toe. Also be sure to keep your abdominals pulled in towards your spine so you don’t excessively arch your lower back. This position will stretch the left hip flexor and strengthen the right thigh muscles.
Once you get the hang of it, you could actually do this stretch without taking your hands off the keyboard. Hold the position for 1 minute and feel the burn in your right thigh. This is good! You’re getting the blood flow going, just be sure you even it out by doing both sides.
- Rock the seated pelvic tilt:
The lumbar spine can get very tight from the seated position, especially if you are prone to either sitting in an excessively arched or excessively rounded position for hours on end. Regardless of which way your pelvis may like sitting, this next exercise will help to mobilize that area of your body.
Sit tall at the end of the chair. Pull your abs in and start to “tuck” your pelvis underneath you while hollowing out your stomach area. Your upper body will round a bit too and you will feel yourself rolling backwards on to your tailbone.
Now do the opposite and roll the pelvis forward into an excessively arched position. Your upper body will again follow suit, this time your chest will stick out as the butt flips backwards. You will feel yourself roll on to the sitz bones. The sitz bones are the two bony landmarks under your butt area (formally called the ischial tuberocity).
Do these 10 times slowly, back and forth, stealthy doing your pelvis mobilization work while your neighborly coworker may interpret this as your need to take a restroom break. Who cares, your lower back will thank you.
- Spy on your neighbor with a rotation stretch
The mid-back area is where we are supposed to have some ability to rotate our spines. The lower back is not really designed for this movement so it’s important for the mid-back (or thoracic) area to have this mobility. The problem however is that most of us are so rounded forward in this area, it gets super tight and we lose the ability to rotate effectively. This next exercise will make you look like you’re simply peaking behind you, while you’re actually taking a moment to wake up and stretch these important muscles.
Sit tall at the end of your chair (hmmm, do we see a theme here). Be sure to squeeze your shoulder blades together before you rotate so that you’re really sitting as tall as you can. Make sure you keep both sitz bones planted in the chair and rotate your upper body to the left. Place your right hand on the left arm of the chair, and your left hand on the back of the chair. Look over your left shoulder. Again check to make sure you haven’t lifted the right sitz bone off the chair (this happens, and it means you are compensating).
Hold this for 30 seconds on each side, making sure you creep out your neighbor a bit and make them think you’re spying on them.
- Get grabby and feel up your chair:
We all know we slouch more than we should, and this position (technically called Kyphosis) is usually accompanied by tight pectoral (chest) muscles. When these are tight, it brings the shoulders forward into that hunched position, which in turn causes a whole onslaught of issues, such as neck pain and back pain.
This final exercise feels amazing, and despite the fact that it makes you take your hands off the keyboard for a moment, you could do it while watching a video or are on a hands free conference call.
Sit tall at the end of your chair (yep, there it is again). Reach both arms behind you and grab the back corners of your chair (seat) with your palms. Try to keep the arms as straight as possible. Notice that if you squeeze your shoulder blades together you might feel more stretch in your chest. Push into the chair with the hands gently and you will feel your lats (big back muscles) engage a bit too. You should feel like you are pushing the chair forward towards the desk.
Hold this for 1 minute. If anyone asks, you’re putting your gum under the chair like you did in grade school.
It is always possible to get some mild and easy movement into your day. With these four exercises above, it’s even possible to do it without any equipment other than your favorite desk chair. Plan to recruit your co worker to try these so you can have lunge holding competitions. Then both of you could be stealth exercisers and reap the benefits of less back pain and better posture.
Zeena Dhalla is a Certified Posture Specialist and self proclaimed posture GEEK. She specializes in helping people feel less pain and look leaner through home based exercise and stretch routines. Download her 5 Minute Solution to Hunchback Posture if you want to improve your posture and intimidate those around you with your rock star stance.