by Joe Giandonato, MS, CSCS
Let’s face it, unless you’re a professional athlete or work in a gym, finding the time to work out during your workday is a nearly impossible feat. Many work environments aren’t as time-friendly as they used to be. Profit-centric businesses operating in an unstable economy are demanding more from their employees, requiring them to work harder and longer, picking up the slack left behind by layoffs and doing the work of vacant positions that won’t be filled in the foreseeable future. Many employees are crumbling under inordinate amounts of job-related stress, which is compounded by the ever-looming threat of losing their job.
Usually the last thing an overstressed employee is thinking about is exercise, instead opting for greasy hors d'œuvre and a handful of alcoholic beverages during lunch-break happy hours. Instead of doing something good for their health, they’re destroying it, as they attempt to escape the stress and misery associated with their job with crappy food and alcohol. Instead, stressed employees need exercise and they don’t need a lot of time, fancy equipment, or an expensive gym membership to get it.
Finding the time
Many office workers waste too much time during their workdays, often by engaging in awkward break room conversations with coworkers they barely know, reading and passing along annoying chain e-mails, shopping online, and playing mind numbing computer games. The next time you’re at work, log everything you do during the course of your workday. You’ll be surprised to find that you have some time left over – time that should be invested in making you healthier!
No equipment necessary
That’s right. Your body weight and common objects found around the office will suffice. Besides, your boss won’t be too happy if they catch you lugging the rusty bench and barbell from your basement into your office.
No gym needed
Sometimes finding the time to work out isn’t the problem, it’s getting there. This is especially true if you operate on shorter lunch breaks and if a gym isn’t in close proximity.
Outside of improving your physical health, you’ll also improve your job performance, which will earn you respect from your boss, coworkers, and customers, thus making your life easier. According to a recent study found in “Industrial Health,” brief periods of exercise were found to improve worker attentiveness. Exercise was also found to combat stress, by improving employees' perceptions of the organization and their self esteem according a study in “Stress Medicine.” You may also question the effectiveness of brief workouts, but they have been shown to increase cardiovascular fitness, reduce body fat, according to a recent study found in the “Journal of Obesity.” The study also supported that intermittent, or brief exercise, was helpful in improving insulin sensitivity which helps attenuate fat loss.
By no means is this workout an exhaustive list of exercises one can perform at their desk. Instead, consider it a sample program. Also, this workout isn’t intended to replace your existing program; however, it can still be helpful, because the most activity office workers get throughout their workday is maybe a trip or two to the break room or lavatory. The workout listed below should only take 10 minutes to complete, provided you perform all of the movements in succession without much rest between them.
Set up: Assume a supine position, with your back on the floor.
Execution: Flex your knees, squeeze your buttocks, which will draw the hips into extension. Focus on keeping a neutral spine throughout the hold. Hold this position for time, usually until mechanical failure, or when form breaks down. If you haven’t done these before, work up to holding this position for a few seconds until you get comfortable with the movement.
This exercise really targets the glutes, which don’t get nearly enough work according to strength coach, Bret Contreras. Contreras also blames weak glutes as a culprit for lower back pain, which is prevalent in many office workers.
Set up: Place your feet shoulder to hip width and grasp an object, keeping it close to your torso. Doing this will really help engage the core, which will provide the stability needed to squat.
Execution: Focus on keeping a neutral spine with a tall torso and sink the hips and bend the knees simultaneously, descending until you’ve reached a comfortable depth. Range of motion varies from person to person, so don’t concern yourself with getting too deep if you can’t. Return to the starting position by extending your hips and knees.
Set up: Stand in front of a sturdy object which sits at approximately knee-height.
Execution: Again, keeping a tall torso and neutral spine, bring your leg up and step onto the object with one leg. Bring the opposite leg up and step down. You may work on one leg at a time, or alternate them throughout the set. Aim for 10 reps each leg, or 20 total reps.
Set up: Similar to the squat set up, stand with your feet shoulder to hip-width apart.
Execution: With your weight equally distributed on each foot, take a long step out in front of you, focusing on keeping the torso erect and spine neutral, and your knee and foot in line. If you step too far, your torso will collapse, making it difficult to complete the movement. Conversely, if your step is too short, the knee will travel beyond the foot, which may throw your body off balance. Focus on keeping the thigh of the rear leg and shin of the front leg parallel with each other. Their angles should also match the angle of your torso, which should be upright. Ascend from the lunge position returning to a standing position. You may work on one leg at a time, or alternate them throughout the set. Aim for 10 reps each leg, or 20 total reps.
Set up: Assume a prone position, with your knees on the floor. Set your feet at shoulder width and place the palms of your hands on the floor. For people with tighter finger flexors, another issue in office workers, you may brace yourself with two clenched fists instead.
Execution: Keep a neutral spine and shoulders pulled back and down which will not allow the back to bend or hips to sag. Descend to the floor until your torso makes contact with it and return to starting position. For people who cannot get to the floor, place an object (a binder or book) underneath the body. Females and weaker individuals should consider doing pushups against a sturdy, raised object, such as a cabinet, desk, cubicle divider, or wall. Start with 10 pushups, progressively increasing the repetitions as your muscular strength and core stability improve.
One Armed Row
Set up: Keep a neutral spine with your arm atop a desk or cabinet. With your other arm, grasp an object, pulling it from the floor, towards your torso.
Execution: In this movement, it's best to imagine the object as an extension of your body. Do not initiate movement with the arm. Instead, use the back, via the retraction of the shoulder of the arm that’s holding the object. Drive the elbows towards the side of the torso.
Set up: Assume a prone position, with your feet placed at shoulder width. Place your forearms on the ground, with your elbows bent and directly beneath your shoulder. Similar to the push up, keep your shoulders back and down.
Execution: Maintain a neutral spine and your body in one straight line from the head to the heels. Do not allow the back to bend and keep the hips from sagging or hiking. Aim for 10 seconds.
Set up: Grasp one object in each hand (usually a stapler and tape dispenser) and keep them at your sides. Also, your feet should be shoulder width apart.
Execution: Simultaneously, raise each object to your sides, not bringing them past the height of your shoulder. Return to starting position and complete 9 more repetitions. You may increase the number of reps provided you can perform with good form.
Set up: With two hands, grasp an object, such as a book or binder, keeping it at waist height.
Execution: Keeping a neutral spine and your feet shoulder-width apart, extend your arms, raising the object out in front of you to shoulder height. Return to starting position and complete 9 more repetitions. You may increase the number of reps provided you can perform with good form.
Set up: With two hands, grasp an object, such as a book or binder, placing it behind your head.
Execution: Extend at the elbows, keeping them close to the head. The object should be directly overhead and not beyond it, which happens when you forcefully extend the elbows. Be sure to avoid that. Return to starting position and complete 9 more repetitions. You may increase the number of reps provided you can perform with good form.
Depending on your current level of conditioning, you can repeat these movements throughout the ten-minute period. Also, this workout can be performed in brief bursts throughout the day, helping you keep loose and reducing the tension from poor posture and stress, issues that negatively affect workplace productivity. You may do this work out a couple of times per week, or daily, provided you keep the volume low.
So there you have it – a simple series of exercises to get more physical activity during your workday!