Office worker workout: exercises to offset the harmful effects of sitting

Sitting at a desk in an office all day? Here’s how to fix that.  

Some have called sitting the new smoking. Aside from increasing your chances of chronic health problems down the line, prolonged sitting forces your body into uncomfortable positions and postures.

Rounded shoulders, neck and back pain, weakened hip flexors…the list goes on.

But many of us have to work at a desk all day. So, what’s the solution?

The good news is, there are physical activities you can do, both in the gym and outside of it, to offset many of the hazards of a sedentary job.

Simple things first

Firstly, there are things you can do right there in the office to help mitigate some of the issues, such as:

  • Set your computer monitor so that you’re not straining your neck to look at it. Position it at eye level so that your head is in a neutral position. Raising the height of your monitor just with some books can do wonders for your neck and posture.
  • Use a chair with good lumbar support.
  • Get up and move every 20 minutes or so. Many wearable fitness devices have alarms you can set to remind you to do this and there are apps you can install on your computer as well.
  • If you can, use a standing desk and anti-fatigue mat (to take the pressure off your joints).

Work on the problem areas

Our shoulders get pulled forward being at a computer all the time, so we need to strengthen our rear delts and upper back to help.

In fact, modern life is constantly getting us to lean forward with our shoulders hunched and our heads down (think of how much more you look at your phone than five or ten years ago).

To combat this, we need to strengthen our shoulders and back to actually hold our bodies up and prevent them from slumping forwards.

A weak posterior chain (the muscles of the back of the body all the way from your neck to your calves) and glutes in particular are also a chronic problem for office workers. Being in a seated position for long periods makes our hips and glutes weak from disuse, which only compounds our bad posture.

Stronger glutes will go a long way to helping you offset all that sitting. They will encourage a better, taller posture and prevent slumping.

Thus, the exercises in the below workout are designed to address the problem areas for desk jockeys: rear delts, back, glutes and the overall posterior chain

Note: These are just examples. Aside from the exercises listed below, to further help your posterior chain and overall strength, you should also add some core movements (such as planks, sit-ups and knee raises) and deadlift variations.

Here are some exercises to offset the damage you’re doing just by being an office worker.

The workout

Warm up

Foam rolling
For improving blood flow (and speeding up recovery after a workout) foam rolling is a must.

Rolling your body over a foam roller where you feel muscle tightness can provide relief and increase your mobility. For office workers who sit at a desk all day, the areas of importance are the hips, upper back and glutes.

Chest stretch

Stand in a a doorway with your shoulders relaxed. Hold onto one side of the cable machine just above shoulder-height and lean in so you feel a stretch across your pec. Drop down to one knee for an extra stretch. Repeat for the other side. This will help release some tension from having your shoulders forward all the time and encourage blood flow.

Hip circles

These will help to open up your hips and release some of that tightness. Position yourself on all-fours. Keeping a neutral spine, lift one knee off the ground and rotate it in a circular arc. Repeat with the other knee. 10-12 circle per side.

These warm-up exercises can be performed even when you’re not at the gym. They can be useful to you after a long day at work to help you unwind and decompress.

Office worker workout

Rope face pulls
Strengthening your rear deltoids is key to helping fix your posture by helping to hold your shoulders back. It will help stop you from internally rotating your shoulders and hunching over.

  1. Attach a rope to a pin-loaded cable stack, such as the SYNRGY360, and adjust it to face-level.
  2. Walk back a few feet so that the cable is tight when you pull it.
  3. Pull the rope directly towards your face, driving your elbows back.
  4. Hold for a second at the point of contraction and release with a controlled motion.

3 sets, 10-15 reps

Dumbbell rear delt raise

  1. Sit on the end of a bench with a dumbbell in each hand and bend forward so that your chest is on your knees.
  2. Lift the dumbbells ups to around shoulder height, feeling the stretch in your rear deltoids.
  3. Hold for a second at the top of range and control the movement on the way back down.

3 sets, 8-10 reps

Dumbbell shrugs
These will strengthen your traps, which help to support your neck.

  1. With a dumbbell in each hand, let the weights hang so you feel a stretch.
  2. Shrug your shoulders directly up (don’t roll your shoulders back!). At the top of the movement, squeeze your traps. Control the weight back down.

3 sets, 12-15 reps

Wide-grip pulldown
These will strengthen your back overall, including the lats and midback.

  1. Seated at the pulldown station, grab the bar with a wide-grip, meaning wider than shoulder-width.
  2. Pull the bar towards your chest, pulling your elbows down and back. Make sure to retract your scapula. Try not to lean too far back and avoid using momentum.
  3. Squeeze at the bottom of the movement. Imagine squeezing a grape between your shoulder blades. Then slowly return the bar back to its starting position.

3 sets, 8-10 reps

Hip thrust
Hip thrusts will help strengthen your hip flexors.

  1. Sit on the ground with your upper back against a bench. Have a barbell across your lap (for comfort, you can use a pad or towel around the bar).
  2. Roll the back just above your hips and drive your shoulder blades into the bench.
  3. Thrust your hips upwards, driving through your feet, and squeeze your glutes. Control back down.

3 sets, 12-15 reps

Squats

Sitting at a desk severely inhibits your mobility, so a full body movement such as the barbell squat does a world of good. Squats, even just sitting into a deep bodyweight squat, will open up your hip flexors and strengthen your glutes, which will help you sit nice and tall, improving your posture.

  1. Standing in a secure squat rack or rig, hold the barbell across your traps. Make sure you chest is up with a neutral spine.
  2. Keeping your knees in line with your feet, descend down so that your hips are at least parallel with the ground. Try to keep your torso as upright as you can and the weight on the front of your heel.
  3. Explode from the bottom position, driving the weight up back into a standing position.

3 sets, 8-10 reps

Takeaway

Stay active in everyday life and when you’re in the gym, train for strength. The more fit you are, the better you will be able to handle sitting all day. And the more muscle you have, the more strength you’ll have to keep a good posture while working.

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