11 desk exercises that are better than a cup of coffee

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If you haven’t started doing desk exercises at work yet, you’ll probably regret not starting sooner. While exercising at your desk won’t beat a full-blown workout, it can help you stay energized, limber and focused throughout the day.

Two call center employees wearing headsets and smiling while working at their desks; one is stretching their arm.
Photo credit: YayImages.

Does your job keep you at your desk for most of the day? Do you feel tired, sore and sleepy from all that sitting? Well, it might be time to add desk exercises to your daily routine.

Why exercise at your desk?

Exercise is essential for optimal health. People with active jobs can get most of their exercise simply by just doing their duties. However, it’s a different story for people with desk jobs.

Sure, you can just exercise after you clock out, but why wait? Here are several reasons why you should start exercising at your desk today:

  • Exercising is relaxing: Physical activity is one of the best methods of natural stress relief. Even if it’s just stretching, moving your body around can release those happy hormones that keep you calm and in a good mood.
  • You can relieve pain: UCLA Health says that sitting for prolonged periods can lead to pain in your back, neck, bottom and limbs. Getting up to do a desk exercise can help prevent that by keeping your muscles and joints loose.
  • You’ll be more productive: According to Robert Pozen from Brookings, exercising increases oxygen in your blood, which will make you feel more alert, awake and focused on your work.
  • You may be able to sleep better: If you expend more energy during your workday, you may be able to fall asleep faster at night, which can keep your circadian rhythm on the right track.

The best part is that desk exercises can take as little as five minutes and they will still provide some benefit. Even if it’s just two or three mini-workouts, it can make a difference.

“I’m a fan of 5-Minute Fitness, which means I take a five-minute break every so often and find a way to move. When in the office, I favor chair squats, obliques, stretches and neck rolls. I find that prioritizing just 5 minutes is practical and effective because it adds up throughout the day!”

— Shelby, Fit As A Mama Bear
A person in business attire is bending forward to touch their toes in an office setting, next to a desk and chair. The office is furnished with a lamp, plant, shelves, and a clock on the wall.
Photo credit: YayImages.
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Simple exercises you can do at your desk

The beauty of desk exercises is you won’t have to leave your seat to do it. Here are some simple mini-workouts you can try.

1. The seated twist

While seated with a straight spine, place your right hand on the outer side of your left knee. Use this hand for support as you gently twist to the left, reaching your left hand as far right as possible for stability. Sync this movement with your breath.

Exhale as you deepen the twist, and inhale as you release. Repeat on both sides two to three times.

2. Triceps dips

You need a stable, non-wheeled chair for this. Start by sitting towards the edge of the chair, with your hands facing forward. Place your palms flat on the chair, and gently bend your elbows straight back as you lower yourself a few inches. Keep your back close to the chair.

Then, straighten your arms to return to the starting position. Repeat this move 15 to 20 times.

3. The chest opener

Perched at the edge of your chair, interlace your hands behind your back, gently expanding your chest and shoulders. Inhale deeply, then exhale slowly. You might notice that the stretch intensifies as you breathe in. Repeat this sequence two to three times.

4. Chair squats

This one is pretty self-explanatory. Simply get up from your chair, stand to full height, then do a standard squat without letting your butt hit the chair. Repeat for 10 times.

5. Chair bicycle

While sitting in your chair with your feet firmly planted on the floor, place your hands behind your head. Lift one knee towards the opposite elbow, twisting your body down towards it, then return to the upright, seated position with a straight back. Alternate sides and repeat as many times as you want.

6. The hip flexor stretch

Sit at the edge of your chair, but shift your position to face left. Extend your right leg straight behind you, focusing on keeping the knee as straight as possible. Sit up tall, lifting your sternum and gently tucking your tailbone under. Repeat as many times as you want.

7. Chair obliques

Take advantage of your swivel chair to target your oblique muscles. Start by sitting upright in your chair, with your feet slightly lifted off the floor. Grip the edge of your desk for stability. Engage your core muscles as you use them to swivel the chair from side to side. Repeat 20 times.

Two call center employees, wearing headsets, stretch their arms out and lean back in their chairs at workstations. A coffee cup, notebooks, and a pen are on the desk.
Photo credit: YayImages.

8. The shoulder stretch

Here’s something that we all do from time to time. To do this move, clasp your hands together and stretch your arms upward. Hold the pose for two to three deep breaths or until you feel some relief in your back muscles.

9. Neck rolls

Lower your chin towards your chest and gently rotate your neck in a circular motion. Then, lift your chin upward and tilt your head to each side, holding the stretch for about 10 seconds on each side. Repeat these movements as necessary throughout the day to release tension in your neck and shoulders. 

10. Seated leg extensions

Extend one leg until it’s level with your hips. Hold this position for as long as it is comfortable before relaxing and returning the leg to its original position. Aim for 10 repetitions on each leg.

11. Seated band abduction

If you have a resistance band at home, take it with you to the office to try this desk workout. Sit comfortably on a sturdy chair with your torso upright and feet firmly planted on the ground. Secure a mini-band below your knees to establish the starting position.

Push your knees outward against the resistance of the band while focusing on engaging the small muscles on the sides of your buttocks. Then, slowly bring your knees back together to complete one rep.

Other great ways to energize your day

Still feeling drowsy after a round of desk workouts? Here are other ways to give yourself a much-needed energy boost:

  • Try coffee alternatives if you want to reduce your caffeine intake.
  • Switch to a bone broth latte for long-lasting energy without the coffee jitters.
  • Take a lap around the office or maybe even take a short walk outside.
  • Try small, frequent feeding instead of a heavy meal during your break.
  • Put peppermint, spearmint, lemon and other energizing essential oils in a diffuser.

Make your workday more fun with desk exercises

One of the best ways to start your day is with a cup of coffee, but that initial energy boost won’t last all day. Instead of reaching for another cup, try desk exercises instead.

Jessica Haggard is dedicated to helping people cook easy everyday recipes focusing on bioavailable and nutrient-dense foods. She helps people overcome food allergies and discover healthy recipes that make a difference in their health with gluten-free, low-carb and keto cooking at Primal Edge Health.

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