My Not-So-Secret At-Work Workout

at work workout

My job requires me to sit for 8 hours a day, and I’m ashamed to admit I’ve packed on a few extra pounds in the last couple of years because of it. Recently, I’ve found I can break up the monotony at work and lose a little bit of the flab at the same time if I squeeze in a few exercises now and again.

So in case you were curious about what I get up to in my office, here’s my at-work workout:

Bicycle Crunches

bicycle crunchesBicycle crunches work the lower abs in a way ordinary crunches can’t quite reach. Since I have a bit of a lower belly pudge, it gives me the false sense that I’m somehow getting the six-pack abs I’ve always wanted.

How I Do Them

I sprawl on the ground, flat on my back, and flail my legs in somewhat circular motions. Fail.

How to Do Them Properly

According to Health magazine, the best way to do a bicycle crunch is to lie on your back with your knees bent and feet on the floor. Your hands should be behind your head, but don’t clasp your fingers.

Then, tighten ab muscles as you lift head, shoulders, and upper back off the floor. Move right elbow and left knee toward each other while straightening your right leg without letting it touch the ground. Next draw in right knee and move left elbow toward it as you straighten your left leg. [1]

Lunges

lungesLunges are the perfect exercise for achieving toned legs. They work the thighs and glutes and don’t require a lot of space to be effective.

How I Do Them

I step forward in a half-kneel, as if I’m about to propose or be knighted by the king and queen. Occasionally, I go too deep and end up banging my knee on the floor. I then stand up, slightly wobbly because tend to overstep.Fail.

How to Do Them Properly

Shape[2] magazine has a few pointers.

“Keep your upper body straight, with your shoulders and back relaxed and chin up . . .Always engage your core. Step forward with one leg, lowering your hips until both knees are bent at about a 90-degree angle. Make sure your knee is directly above your ankle, not pushed out too far, and make sure your other knee doesn’t touch the floor. Keep your weight in your heels as you push back up to the starting position.”

Challenges

  • Step backward instead of forward into a reverse lunge
  • Do a bicep curl with dumbbells to work the upper body

Pushups

Pushups are the most praised and probably the most basic compound exercise. It works arms, chest, shoulders, and abs – pretty much everything.

How I Do Them

push upI get into a semi-plank pose, lower myself about half an inch, realize it’s too much, and then collapse on the ground. I use my butt to then give me the movement I need to get back up again. Fail.

How to Do Them Properly

Steve at NerdFitness.com[3] has the following suggestions for the proper pushup. I think his advice is excellent, although I have no idea what gives him his credentials…

  • Set hands at a distance slightly wider than shoulder-width apart.
  • Think of your body as one straight line with your head looking slightly in front of you.
  • With arms straight, butt clenched, and abs braced, steadily lower yourself until elbows are at a 90 degree angle or smaller.
  • Once your chest touches the floor, pause slightly and then explode back up until you’re in the beginning position.

Simplify
Since I can’t do a regular push up (I’m not strong enough), I have learned a few ways to cheat and still maintain semi-good form.

“Do pushups against a wall or a chair so you’re not fighting gravity.”
“Use knees rather than toes to keep body straight.”
“Move arms closer or farther apart depending on strength.”

Challenges
If you’re stronger than me (and you likely are), then regular pushups may be too boring for you. Don’t worry – you can still challenge yourself while following my example (ha!).

  • Reverse incline pushup – put your feet on an incline
  • Hand-stand pushup – lower yourself while doing a handstand
  • Clap pushup – if you’re so happy to be doing pushups, explode with enough force to clap when you’re at the top.
  • One arm pushup – only use one arm to lower and push up

Plank

Planking offers a lot of the same benefits as the regular pushup, but rather than focusing on controlled movement, you focus mostly on holding yourself in the same position for as long as possible.

How I Do Them

plankI get up on my elbows and toes, start shaking as my muscles strain to support my own body weight, and then I collapse on the floor after about 20 seconds. Fail.

How to Do Them Properly

Even though I’m a woman, there’s nothing wrong with using Men’s Fitness [4] as a resource. The editors there suggest getting into a pushup position on the floor and resting your weight on your forearms. Your elbows should be directly beneath your shoulders and your body should make a straight line (Avoid sticking your butt in the air or letting it sag).

Your goal should be to hold it for at least 2 minutes,
though most people can’t last 30 seconds on their first attempt.

Variations

  • Lift one leg up
  • Lift one arm up
  • Use a Swiss ball

Squats

Squats are often dubbed the king of all exercises. Like the pushup, it’s a compound exercise that works multiple muscle groups such as the glutes, thighs, calves, and core. And, if you decide to add resistance, it’ll work your upper body.

How I Do Them

squatI lightly grab onto my desk to stabilize myself as sitting down without a chair usually leaves me on the floor. I lower myself until what I feel is a natural stopping point (I have no idea how athletes squat to their ankles) and then I push myself back up again. I wonder if squatting is the reason why I had that giant rip in my pants . . .Fail.

How to Do Them Properly

Once again, I look to Steve from NerdFitness.com[5] to give a few solid pointers:

  • Before loading up with the weights, make sure you can do a regular squat with proper form.
  • Keep your feet are slightly wider than shoulder-width apart with toes pointed outward.
  • Squat until your thighs are at least parallel to the floor.
  • Try not to extend your knees past your toes.
  • Your back should be straight and your butt will be pushed out. Abs should be tight through the whole exercise.
  • Don’t lean forward as you stand up.

Squatting With a Rack or Dumbbells

  • Maintain the proper form of a regular squat: flat back, elbows high, chest up, and abs tight.
  • If using a bar, rest the weight across the upper part of your back (not your neck).
  • If using dumbbells, press them up to your shoulders – or press weights above you as you stand up from your squat. [5]

Downward Facing Dog

Downward Facing Dog works the traps, the lats, the triceps, the glutes, and the hamstrings – pretty much every one of my problem areas. This makes a great workout to sneak in at work.

It is a traditional yoga pose also known as Adho, MukhaSvanasana
(don’t ask me to pronounce that).

How I Do Them

downward dogI kneel on the ground, then stick my butt in the air. My calves and hamstrings are a little stiff most days (probably from all the sitting), so I can’t extend all the way into the triangle shape I know I should be in.Fail.

How to Do Them Properly

YogaJournal.com is probably one of the best resources for learning individual poses outside of signing up for a class.

Here are step-by-step instructions for achieving proper form:

  • Get on your hands and knees – knees should be directly below hips and hands slightly forward of shoulders.
  • Exhale and lift knees away from floor. Keep knees slightly bent at first and heels lifted away from floor. Lengthen the spine.
  • As you exhale, push top thighs back and stretch your heels onto or down toward floor. Roll upper thighs slightly inward.
  • Keep head between the upper arms – don’t let it hang.

Stay in this pose anywhere between 1 to 3 minutes. [6]

Upward Facing Dog

Upward facing dog is an excellent back bending pose, so it’s a great way to stretch after sitting for several hours.

How I Do Them

upward dogDepending on how my downward facing dog is doing, I sometimes switch things up and roll into an upward facing dog. Keeping my hands and feet in approximately the same place, I switch from having my butt in the air to arching my back and keeping the weight mostly on my toes. Fail.

How to Do Them Properly

Once again, let’s go to YogaJournal.com[7] for the best explanation:

  • Lie prone on the floor, stretch legs back with tops of feet on the floor.
  • Bend elbows beside your waist so forearms are relatively perpendicular to the floor.
  • Inhale and press your hands firmly into the floor, then straighten and lift your torso up (legs will come up a few inches too).
  • Keep thighs turned slightly inward and elbow creases facing forward.
  • Firm, but don’t harden, the buttocks. Do not compress the back of the neck or harden the throat.

Hold it anywhere from 15 to 30 seconds.

Making It A Game

Because I have to keep my workouts quiet (I don’t want to disturb anyone else), I can’t all-out exercise whenever I want. I spread it throughout the day and only for a few seconds at a time to reduce the likelihood of someone walking in on me (which happened anyway).

Consequently, I turned my workout efforts into a game – like a TV show drinking game but with work assignments and exercise rather than drinking.

  • Edit an article – 10 bicycle crunches
  • Edit a review – 10 lunges
  • Check emails for 5 sites – 30 seconds plank
  • Deleting 5000 comments from one site – 10 squats
  • Double-check a posted link – 10 pushups
  • Answer an email with a template response – 30 seconds downward facing dog
  • Answer an email with a genuine response – 30 seconds upward facing dog

This little workout game works well for me, but only because I can get away with it.

After a few days of this, I realized my work schedule changes regularly, with some days resulting in an overwhelming number of squats or planks. So, if I start to feel bored with one exercise or stretch for that day, I switch it up with the other exercises listed above.

Working out at work has been pretty successful for me because I have an entire room to myself. A few months ago, I shared the same office space with several other co-workers (half of which were guys), which would have made exercising and stretching a little bit weird.

Do you guys have any sneaky exercises you do while you’re at work? Or do you wait until you’re at home or in a gym to get moving?

References

[1] “How to Properly Do a Bicycle Crunch.” Health Magazine. Available from: http://www.health.com/health/article/0,,20412214,00.html

[2] “Know Your basics: How to Do a Lunge.” FitSugar.Shape. Available from: http://www.shape.com/fitness/workouts/know-your-basics-how-do-lunge

[3] “How to Do a Proper Push Up.” Steve. NerdFitness. Available from: http://www.nerdfitness.com/blog/2011/02/15/proper-push-up/

[4] “How to Do a Plank: a single move for stronger abs.” MF Editors.Men’s Fitness. Available from: http://www.mensfitness.com/training/lose-weight/how-to-do-a-plank-a-single-move-for-stronger-abs

[5] “Why You Need Squats In Your Workout and How to Do Them Right.” Steve. NerdFitness.com. Available from: http://www.nerdfitness.com/blog/2009/07/08/why-you-need-squats-in-your-workout-and-how-to-do-them-right/

[6] “Downward-Facing Dog.” YogaJournal.com. Available from: http://www.yogajournal.com/poses/491

[7] “Upward-Facing Dog.” YogaJournal.com. Available from: http://www.yogajournal.com/poses/474

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