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Physical fitness can ‘fit’ into your desk job workday

Push-ups. John Stennes/Grand Forks Herald1 / 9
Chair squats. John Stennes/Grand Forks Herald2 / 9
Leg Raises. John Stennes/Grand Forks Herald3 / 9
Hanstring stretches. John Stennes/Grand Forks Herald4 / 9
Arm circles. John Stennes/Grand Forks Herald5 / 9
Desk dips. John Stennes/Grand Forks Herald6 / 9
7 / 9
Lateral leg raise. John Stennes/Grand Forks Herald8 / 9
Shrugs and shoulder rolls. John Stennes/Grand Forks Herald9 / 9

GRAND FORKS, N.D. -- Even if you spend most of your workday at a desk, you can still incorporate some physical activity that’s good for your body, according to Jordan Erickson, a trainer at Anytime Fitness in Grand Forks.

Such activity will also bring you closer to the goal of 30 minutes, five days a week of moderate exercise the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has recommended, he said.

Here are some office-friendly exercises that Erickson recommends:


Reps: Every two hours or on a lunch break, get up and walk.

“Take a 10-minute lap around your building,” he said. “If you do that three times a day, there’s your 30 minutes of moderate exercise.”  

This activity is not meant for strengthening muscles, he said, but will improve cardiovascular and respiratory function. He also suggests taking the stairs instead of an elevator whenever possible.


These can be done on the floor, at your desk or against a wall. Standing and holding the top back of your chair or edge of your desk, or with hands flat against the wall at chest level, walk back a few steps. Walk back further for greater resistance.  

For less strenuous floor push-ups, do them with your knees on the floor, Erickson said. “Find what’s comfortable for you.”

Reps: Do 10 to 15 repetitions, once in the morning and once in the afternoon. You’re aiming for “a little fatigue,” he said. “Do enough so you can feel it.”

A couple of his clients who were plagued with shoulder and back problems have seen those issues subside with this exercise, he said.  

Muscles targeted: Chest and upper back.

Leg raises

While seated, lift one leg, so it’s straight and parallel with the floor, and point toes up; hold for a count of two or three. Then, repeat with the other leg.

Reps: Do 10 to 15 repetitions with each leg, he said. “You can even keep typing if you wanted to.”      

Muscles targeted: Quadriceps (front of thigh).

Chair squats

Slide forward, so you’re sitting at the edge of your chair; keep your feet flat on the floor. Rise to a standing position; try not to hold on to anything. If your chair is adjustable, raise it to make the exercise easier or lower it to increase difficulty.

“Stand up slowly and in a controlled way to get the tension,” Erickson said. “When you sit, push your hips back and then sit.”

Reps: Do 10 to 15 repetitions at midmorning and midafternoon. “If it’s easy, do more,” he said. “If difficult, do fewer.”

Muscles targeted: Quadriceps and glutes (buttocks).

Hamstring stretches

While seated, with legs extended, try to reach your toes with the tips of your fingers until you can feel stiffness in your legs. Or you can put one leg on your desk. Reach for your toes.

Reps: Hold for 10 to 20 seconds. Rest, and then repeat with the other leg.

“Feel the stretch,” he said. “This helps with flexibility.”    

Muscles targeted: Hamstrings (back of the thigh).

Foot and ankle stretches

While seated, extend your leg straight forward and point your toes toward your body. Hold for 10 to 20 seconds and rest; repeat with your other leg.

Combine this exercise with ankle and leg circles, he said. With leg straight out, make circles with your foot and then, toes pointed, with your leg.

Reps: Do each leg two times.

Muscles targeted: Ankle and calf muscles.

Arm circles

With arms straight out from your sides, rotate arms in ever-widening circles. Rotate both arms at the same time.

Reps: “Do this in a forward motion for 20 seconds, and then reverse and do it backwards for 20 seconds,” he said.

Muscles targeted: Shoulder and deltoids.

Shrugs and shoulder rolls

Lift shoulders at the same time and rotate; pinch shoulder blades during the movement. Relax. Do 10 full circles in forward motion and 10 full circles backward.

Combine with lifting shoulders straight up, hold for the count of two, and then relax.

Reps: Do 10 to 15 repetitions.

Muscles targeted: shoulder and upper back.

Desk dips

With your back to your desk, hold on to the desk edge and walk away. With elbows bent, keep your body straight but bend a little at the hips. Drop body down until arms form 90-degree angle and lift back up, keeping your arms close to the body.

Reps: Do 10 to 15 repetitions, twice daily.

Muscles targeted: Triceps (back of arms).       

Reach-for-the-sky stretches

While standing with feet shoulder-width apart, reach your hands straight up and grip hands together. Tilt over to the side “until you feel a good stretch,” Erickson said. Hold for 10 to 20 seconds and then return to straight-up position. Relax, and then tilt the other way. This also can be done while you are seated.

Reps: Do 10 to 15 repetitions, twice daily.  

Muscles targeted: Oblique muscles, underarm and shoulder muscles.

Lateral leg raise

Stand and grip the top of your chair or desk. Lift your leg out to the side and return in a slow, controlled motion. Keep your foot at a 90-degree angle but relaxed. Repeat with other leg.

Reps: Do 10 to 15 repetitions on each leg, twice a day.

Muscles targeted: “It gets people standing up, that’s the main thing,” Erickson said.

Erickson also suggests people “sit up nice and straight” on an exercise ball instead of an office chair.

“It’s good for the back,” he said. “There’s nothing to lean against.”

Debunking exercise myths

Some misconceptions about exercise linger, Erickson said. Certain movements should be avoided, mostly for the sake of preserving the health of your spine.

Rolling the head in full circles, for example, is not good for you, he said. But it is OK to move it from side to side, holding it in those side positions for a few seconds.

Standing perfectly straight and reaching for your toes is not recommended, he said.

“A better alternative is to sit on the floor, with your feet straight out, and reach for one foot and then the other.”

A full sit-up is not recommended, he said. It’s better to do “crunches” by crossing your forearms on your chest and raising your upper body a few inches and dropping back down.