How to Exercise at Your Desk

Three Parts:Including Exercises at Your DeskStaying Active During the Work DayMeeting Physical Activity Guidelines

Engaging in regular physical activity is essential for your health. Both cardio and strength training exercises will help you lose weight or maintain a healthy weight, improve bone density and muscle mass and decrease your risk for a variety of chronic diseases (like high blood pressure or diabetes).[1] However, with busy schedules it can be hard to fit in exercise during the day. If you're lacking in time, or want to stay more active during your workday, consider exercising at your desk. There are a bunch of exercises that you can do right at your desk and ways to stay active overall. Incorporating some of these activities can help you stay active and alert during your office hours.

Part 1
Including Exercises at Your Desk

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    Work your chest with desk or wall push-ups. An easy exercise that you can do at your desk are push-ups. Using either the wall or your desk (depending on your fitness level), you can perform this exercise to help strengthen your chest, shoulders and arms.
    • If you don't have a lot of upper body strength or are just starting out, try a wall push-up first instead of the desk push-up. Begin by standing about 1-2 feet away from the wall. Place your palms on the wall shoulder width apart.[2]
    • Bending your elbows outward, slowly lower yourself closer to the wall. Stop when your face is a few inches from the wall. Your core and lower body should be stiff and firm.
    • Once you get close to the wall, slowly push yourself up to the starting position. This is one push-up. Repeat 8-10 times or as many times as you're able.
    • If you're a little more physically fit, you can try a desk push-up. Because your desk is lower, this version of a push-up is a little more difficult.
    • Follow the same protocol as the wall push-up, but start with your palms and hands holding onto the side of your desk at shoulder width. Lower until your nose almost touches the desk and push yourself back up.
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    Strengthen your arms with tricep dips. If you want to strengthen the back of your arms, you can perform tricep dips at your desk. You can use a sturdy desk chair or the edge of your desk to perform these exercises.[3]
    • Stand with your back facing your desk. Place your hands, fingers facing forwards, on the edge of the desk. Your hands should be shoulder width apart.
    • Slowly bend your elbows so they are pointing backwards. Lower yourself down until your upper arm is almost parallel to the floor.
    • Hold this position for a second or two. Then push yourself up, focusing on the backs of the arms, to the starting position. Repeat 8-10 times or as many times as you can.
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    Improve leg strength with chair squats or wall sits. Another great exercise to do at your desk are chair or wall sits. These exercises help strengthen your hamstrings, quadriceps and glutes.[4]
    • To do chair squats, start in a standing position. You should be facing away from a sturdy chair (do not use a chair with wheels). Place your hands on your hips and keep your feet shoulder width apart for this exercise.
    • Slowly squat down as if you were going to sit down in your chair. Stop when your just a few inches away from the seat of the chair. Push yourself back up to a standing position and repeat 8-10 times.
    • A wall sit is similar to your chair squat except you hold your squat position. Stand with your back pressed up against a sturdy wall.
    • Lower your body into a squat or sitting position. Your thighs should be almost parallel to the floor. Hold this position as long as you can. Repeat 1-2 times.
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    Do short bouts of cardio exercises. Although there are a variety of strengthening exercises you can do at your desk, there are also some cardio exercises that you can do at your desk or in your office. Try:
    • Jumping jacks. Do 30-60 seconds of these to help get your heart rate elevated.
    • Squat jumps. Do 30-60 seconds of these to help elevate your heart rate and strengthen your lower body.
    • Mountain climbers. Do 30-60 seconds of this exercise to help strengthen your core, shoulder and arms.
    • Running in place. Try a few minutes of running in place (with high knees) to help get your heart rate up.
    • Skater lunges. Add in 30-60 seconds of this exercise to help tone your outer thighs and increase your heart rate.
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    Do simple stretches. When you're sitting most of the day at your office, many of your muscles or joints can become tight from staying in the same position for an extended period of time.[5] Mix up your exercises to help loosen you up by adding in some simple stretches:
    • Do neck, shoulder and arm rolls. Take a few minutes before or after doing other exercises to do neck, shoulder and arm rolls. These are particular helpful if you're hunched over a computer most of the day.
    • Do the mermaid stretch. Sit in your chair with your back straight up and erect. Lift your right arm up over your head and lean towards the left to stretch out the right side of your body. Repeat on the other side. This helps stretch your back which can get tight or sore after sitting for long periods.
    • Stretching is great to do on a rest day or when you're feeling overly tight. These stretches can also help wake you up a bit and relieve any tension you're feeling from sitting too long.
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    Ask for a standing or walking desk. If you want to get even more active at your desk, consider purchasing or asking for a standing or walking desk. This allows you to move and stay upright instead of seated all day long.
    • A lot of studies have been done on these types of desks. They have proven that those people who used the desk had improved quality and quantity of work in addition to feeling more alert during the day.[6]
    • Talk to your boss or HR department about getting a walking or standing desk in your office. They may offer to pay for it, split the cost with you or just give you permission to use one in the office.
    • If you get one of these desks, try to stand or walk for part of your day. You may stand/walk every hour or alternate sitting for an hour with walking or standing for an hour.

Part 2
Staying Active During the Work Day

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    Deliver messages in person. In addition to doing exercises at your desk, also get up and move more often during the day. One good way to get you out of your desk chair is by delivering messages in person instead of email.
    • Think about how many emails you shoot off during the day. Some of those emails might be to colleagues on another floor or down the hallway from you.
    • Consider writing a message on a post-it note or memo form and delivering your messages in person instead of via email. This will force you to get up and walk.
    • To help remind you to deliver messages in person, pick out a certain person to walk to or pick out a certain time to deliver all messages in person.
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    Take the stairs more often. Another way to increase your steps and even get in a little more intense cardio, is by taking the stairs. Skip the elevator or escalator at your office and hit the stairs instead.
    • When you're coming into work, skip taking the elevator and take the stairs instead to your office. If your office is on a high floor (like the 25th floor of a tall building), consider taking the stairs half way up and then taking the elevator the remaining way.
    • Also, take the stairs to deliver messages to co-workers. Again, this forces you to get up during the day and move more and take more steps. Also consider using the bathroom or water fountain on another floor.
    • To increase the resistance or intensity of the stairs, consider taking them two at a time instead of one. This increases the resistance and your heart rate.[7]
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    Start a walking group or yoga group. You're probably not the only one at your office that's interested in being more active during the day. Talk to your friends and co-workers to see if there are activities you can do together.
    • Try to start an activity group at your office. You can plan to do a regular walking lunch break, do a short 15 minute yoga session or plan to have everyone get up and do stretches together in the middle of the day.
    • When you do exercises together with a group, you're more motivated, you have some accountability and you get time to socialize and disengage from work for a bit.[8]
    • Send out a group email or get HR to help you set up an activity group during the day at your office. Pick activities and times that work for everyone.
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    Park your car further away. Another way to get more steps during your day is to try parking father away from your office. This again, will force you to take more steps in the morning and afternoon.
    • If your office has a large parking lot, skip those close up spaces. Drive out to the end or a far corner of the lot to park.
    • Also consider using the top floor of the parking garage. That way, you can take the stairs down and up to get more steps in during the day.
    • If you leave work when it's dark or where there are not a lot of people, you may want to consider parking farther away with a friend or co-worker so you're more safe.
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    Ask for a phone headset. If you have a job that ties you to your desk - like talking or answering the phone - there are still ways that you can be active and move more during the day.
    • Talk to your boss or the HR department about getting a phone headset. These are wireless and do not tie you a physical phone or desk during the day.
    • While you're on the phone, get up and walk around while talking or walk or stand at your desk.

Part 3
Meeting Physical Activity Guidelines

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    Include adequate cardio each week. While a quick walk at work or a few yoga poses can help you stay active during your day, you need to make sure you're meeting the minimum guidelines for activity over the course of the week.
    • Health professionals recommend that you aim for at least 150 minutes of aerobic or cardiovascular activity each week.[9]
    • You should be working at a moderate intensity and do an activity for at least 10 minutes at a time. Those quick cardio sessions during your work day, if done for at least 10 minutes, can count towards this guideline.
    • Other exercises that will count towards your weekly minimum include: walking, jogging/running, using the elliptical machine, hiking, biking or taking an aerobics class.
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    Incorporate a few days of strength training. In addition to cardio exercises, it's also recommended to do strength training. Try to meet these guidelines so you are participating in a well rounded exercise plan each week.
    • Health professionals recommend that you incorporate 2 days of strength training each week in addition to cardio exercises.[10]
    • You need to aim to work every major muscle group (like your legs, arms and core) and should be exercising for at least 20 minutes.
    • Depending on your work schedule, you may be able to complete most if not all of these strength training exercises during the day.
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    Keep up with lifestyle activities. Although it's great to go for a 30 minute jog or spend 40 minutes on the elliptical, not everyone has time for that. If you can't fit in more structured exercise, keep up with your lifestyle activity instead.
    • Lifestyle activities are the daily movements you do that keep your body active and moving. These include using the stairs, walking to and from the car, doing household chores or standing.
    • Studies have shown that regular lifestyle activity has similar benefits to more structured aerobic exercise.[11]
    • Think about your typical day. When can you add more steps or move more often? Try to take regular breaks at work and include some exercises to help keep you active during your typical work day.
    • Also continue to stay active when you get home. You can walk to get the mail, sweep the floors, vacuum or stand during TV commercial breaks.
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    Take a break occasionally. Although regular and consistent exercise is essential to your health, its also important to take time off occasionally. Take an occasional rest day to help your body recover and refuel from more intense exercise.
    • Rest days are just as essential to your health and fitness level as more regular exercise. Plan to have 1-2 rest days each week.
    • Rest days help your body recover after more intense or longer sessions of exercise. It's during rest that your muscles rebuild, grow stronger and get bigger in size.[12]
    • Although exercising at your desk won't be a high intensity exercise or something you do for a long time, if you need a full day of rest, you might want to consider skipping your desk exercises or only doing restorative exercises.


  • Even a 5 or 10 minute exercise break can help wake you up and help you meet your recommended amount each week.
  • Write in your exercise on your work calendar so you know when you have time during your day to fit in a few exercises.
  • To make exercise more fun at the office, ask your coworkers to join you!

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Categories: Motivation to Exercise