Man happily stretching at work

Workplace Exercises

If you’re like most working people, your day involves sitting in front of a screen the majority of the day. In this article, we’ll share workplace exercises to help you avoid problems resulting from too much sitting or standing.

Is Sitting Really the New Smoking?

Back in 2010 a study came out showing that sitting too long decreased mortality at a rate similar to smoking. Since then, this has been a hot news topic that’s been written about (and debated) on all major news streams. We won’t comment on mortality in this article, but it’s true…prolonged sitting can certainly lead to neck pain, lower back pain, and contribute to muscle imbalances. The key is to sit correctly, stretch throughout the day, and get up and move. Here’s a great info-graphic depicting the problems that result from poor sitting posture.

Don't just sit there info-graphic
Info-graphic describes poor sitting posture and it’s affect on health.

For a readable version, download a PDF poster of this graphic and post it in your workplace.

Workplace Exercises to Combat Problems from Sitting

The most common problems we see with prolonged sitting are: forward head, rounded shoulders, spine not neutral (too flexed OR too extended), incorrect breathing, and hips constantly flexed. At work, the wrists and elbows are also vulnerable to repetitive injuries related to mouse and keyboard use. Below, learn appropriate workplace exercises to combat each of these problems.

Forward Head

Chin tucks: from the starting position, move your forehead and chin straight back in a line. Imagine talking to someone with really bad breath and you subtly want to move your nose away from their face (oddly, this cue works for ALMOST everyone!). Repeat 5-10 reps.

Workplace exercise - chin tuck
Chin tucks – do these at your desk, in the car, standing…anywhere!

Rounded Shoulders

Doorway stretch: place hand on a wall (vary placement of the hand if you want to change the stretch), step through until you feel a stretch in the front of the chest/shoulder. Hold 30 seconds.

Workplace exercise - Doorway stretch
Doorway stretch – stretch shoulders and chest while talking to your co-worker

Spine too Flexed (most common)

The problem – sitting too flexed: This is the typical slumped posture, the most common sitting posture we see.

The stretch – standing back bend: Stand up, place hands on your hips, extend entire spine back. Repeat 5-10 reps.

The solution – find neutral: Position your weight directly over your firm sitting bones, then stack your rib cage directly over your pelvis. Finally, practice elongating your spine.

Workplace exercise - back bend
Sitting too flexed | Back bends | Neutral Spine

Spine too Extended (less common)

The problem – sitting too extended:  Some people over-arch their mid to lower backs attempting to get their shoulders on their back.

The stretch – standing cat stretch: Stand at your desk and hunch up like a cat, pulling your navel toward your spine to lift up even more. Hold and breathe into the back of the rib cage for 30 seconds.

The solution – find neutral: Position your weight directly over your firm sitting bones, then stack your rib cage directly over your pelvis. Finally, practice elongating your spine.

Workplace exercise - cat stretch
Sitting too Extended | Standing Cat Stretch | Sitting with Neutral Spine

Incorrect Breathing

First and foremost, just breathe! Patients often say, “but, I wouldn’t be alive if I wasn’t breathing”. True statement. But remarkably, most people either hold their breath throughout the day, or don’t optimally fill their lungs when they breathe.

Breathing is pretty amazing. It’s the one direct route to the autonomic nervous system (think fight or flight response) that we have control over. The respiratory diaphragm is a unique muscle. It has both voluntary and involuntary muscle fibers. The involuntary fibers allow us to continue to breathe when we sleep, faint or are in a coma. The voluntary fibers are the ones that we have direct control over. Because of this, we can train our diaphragm to be stronger and fill our lungs appropriately. Additionally, the respiratory diaphragm is an integral part of your core.

Diaphragmatic breathing: Place one hand on your chest and one on your belly. Upon inhalation, assure that your belly expands outwards. Notice if your breath is also filling your whole rib cage and your chest should rise slightly. If your belly doesn’t expand when you inhale and your chest is the only part moving, you are using less efficient muscles to breathe which will make it impossible to fully fill your lungs. Practice consciously breathing this way throughout the day.

Hips Constantly Flexed

Hip flexor stretch: Place one leg on a rolling office chair, hold onto something for balance if needed. Lunge back for a few reps while keeping a neutral spine. Then hold the stretch for 30+ seconds. Repeat on other side.

Wrist and Forearm Stretches

Forearm Extensor Stretch: Point fingers toward the floor with palm DOWN, pull hand toward you, hold 30 sec.

Workplace exercise - Forearm extensor stretch
Stretch the top of your forearm easily at work.

Forearm Flexor Stretch: Point fingers toward the floor with palm UP, pull hand toward you, hold 30 sec.

Workplace exercise - Forearm flexor stretch
Stretch the bottom of the forearm easily at work.

Standing Desks

Many people in the workplace have made the switch to a standing desk, or alternate between sitting and standing throughout the day. Even prolonged standing can cause problems if done incorrectly. Just like sitting, optimal positioning, breathing and movement are key.

Standing Posture

Positioning: Stand with equal weight on both feet. Position pelvis so that the pubic bone and front hip bones are perpendicular to the floor. Stack rib cage on top of the pelvis. Elongate the spine. Elbows should be flexed about 90 degrees. The screen should be positioned so that you don’t have to look up, look down, or move too close to do your work.

Man with good posture at standing desk.
Standing desks – positioning is just as important.

Looking for a Workout at Work?

I came across an entertaining series of workplace exercises from The Washington Post called A Workout at Work?. I’m sharing it with you because the exercises made me giggle, but they’re also pretty legitimate. If you read this article hoping for a workout for the workplace, you’ll definitely want to check it out.

Wishing you a pain-free and pleasant work experience, where you know how to stretch, breathe and position yourself appropriately!