The 10 stretches and exercises you can do without leaving your desk.

Image: iStock

If there’s one thing I’ve struggled with most since starting full-time work — apart from actually having to get dressed in the morning instead of spending all day in my pyjamas — it’s the constant sitting down.

Like most people who work in an office, it’s not uncommon for me to stay in the exact same position at my desk from the moment I arrive in the morning ’til home-time in the evening. But as more and more studies show just how dangerous sedentary movement can be, it’s got me desperately searching for ways to stretch, move and exercise without strange looks from my colleagues.

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The good news is that it’s possible to get moving without leaving your desk.

“Despite statistics showing that our bodies are not built to sit at a desk, most of us spend more than 30% of our lives there,” says Winter Olympian and owner of Studio PP Stephanie Prem. (Post continues after gallery.)

According to Love Me Fitness‘s Emily Barron, the recommended 30 minutes of moderate intensity exercise is not enough for those who sit at their desks all day.

“You need to get up and move every 40 minutes – it will have such a big impact on your productivity at work as well as your long term health,” she says. “It’s so important for your health and wellbeing to keep active. Sitting still for long periods of time increases the risks of a whole range of health issues.”


1. Neck stretch

Both Prem and Barron recommend neck stretches.

"Releasing tension in your neck is the most effective quick fix for those that are desk bound. Your upper back and neck take all the load when you are at a computer all day long which can often lead to tension headaches and a stiff neck."," says Prem.
To do: Take your right hand and place on over your head, resting your hand on your left ear. Gently pull to the right, then look up to the left. Pull gently away from yourself until you feel the stretch. Repeat right and left at least five times.

2. Chest stretch

"A big issue when it comes to sitting at the desk for too long is rounded shoulders," says Barron.

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To do: Clasp hands together behind your head and bring the elbows together. Take a deep breath. As you exhale, engage your upper back muscles and pull elbows back.

3. Upper Back stretch

Image via iStock


"Thoracic mobility is so important for those that get caught typing away at a keyboard all day. An upper back stretch combines with your neck stretch will eleveate mid, upper back and neck tension," says Prem.

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To do: From your sitting position, take your hands and interlock them behind your head, being sure to sit up tall with a nice straight spine. From here, imagine there are two panes of glass in front and behind you.

Lean from side to side down towards your hips and stay upright, letting your core do the work. Then, cross your hands across your chest and rotate left to right from your core and spine, not hips.

4. Scapula retraction

To do: Sit up tall. Proceed to squeeze your shoulder blades together for three seconds, then relax. Repeat four times.


5. Sit squats

"Every time you go to stand up out of your chair, think of doing your booty some good with this exercise!" advises Prem.


To do: Making sure your legs are at 90 degrees, squeeze your bum and activate your core as your press up out of your chair.

"Repeat this chair squat ten times before you head to the kitchen for morning tea," Prem challenges.

You don't to be in a gym to do your squats.

6. Push Ups

To do: Keep feet together, put your palms on the desk and lower your chest to the edge of the desk. Repeat ten times.

"If you find this too difficult, try putting your knees on your chair," advises Barron.

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7. Spine curl

"This is such a simple movement but it's just so great for blood flow, spinal mobility, postural realignment, flexibility and improving back pain," says Prem.

To do: From a standing position, tuck your chin in, hang your hands and roll yourself down to the ground, letting your head hang. Drawing your belly button into your spine (turning on the core), roll yourself back up to standing, vertebrae by vertebrae. Take a deep breath and repeat. (Post continues after gallery.)

8. Dips

To do: Facing away, put your palms on your desk. Keeping feet together, bend your elbows and lower yourself down until arms are parallel to the ground.

9. Calf raises

"This exercise will get bloodflow going and improve strength through your legs," advises Prem.

To do: Either standing against a wall or holding onto your desk, lift your heels off the ground and come up onto your tip toes. When you can feel your calf muscles switch on, lower them back down to your heels. Repeat this 10-15 times.

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An extension of this is to raise one leg off the ground and point that toe behind you, then press up onto your tip toes on one leg. Make sure you hold onto the wall or desk for balance.

10. Wall sit

To do: Stand against the wall and lower yourself down into a seated position. Hold for two minutes.

What else?

Prem also has some tips about staying healthy when you feel like you're chained to your desk.

"Drink plenty of water as this can help eliminate tension headaches and inflammation in the body," she says.

RELATED: Why being dehydrated is just as bad as drink driving

"Always take the stairs not the elevator... it's seriously an extra five minutes out of your whole day of sitting down for hours. Likewise, try and walk a lap of the block during your lunch break."

"Finally, have a handful of protein around 3-4pm (aka the 'looking for sugar' time of day). This could be almonds, rolled ham or turkey or a bliss ball," she says.

Do you exercise at your desk?