If you spend a lot of your day sitting, you can still keep up your strength, flexibility, and mobility with a few simple chair exercises at work. You can do this sequence in about five minutes, and nobody even has to know!
For each exercise, start by sitting up straight but relaxed, feet on the floor and hands on your knees.
Seated Cat/Cow Yoga Pose
In this modified yoga pose, you'll move between rounding and arching your back. The alternating motion frees up your spine and opens your chest, giving you better posture and lifting your spirits.
For Cat pose, round your back and curl your body forward. Exhale slowly, tuck your pelvis under, and let your head relax down. Round your shoulders forward and squeeze the air out with your abdominal muscles.
Move into Cow. Inhale and let your chest move forward and your head lift to look slightly up. Stick your tailbone out and lengthen your spine.
Move between the poses 5-7 times. Finish in the starting posture with a few deep breaths.
- Keep your arms and legs still but relaxed as you move between the poses.
- Extend your neck rather than cranking it.
- Watch this video tutorial.
Seated Twist, Chair Style
Twisting exercises keep your spine mobile and strengthen your abs and back.
Cross your right leg over your left. Reach your left hand across your body and place your palm on the outside of your right thigh or hip.
For your right hand, either:
- wrap your arm across your lower back and press the back of your hand into your body, or
- place your palm by the edge of your chair seat behind your right buttock
Inhale deeply, then exhale and rotate your torso to the right using your abdominal muscles. Rotate your neck in the same direction and focus your gaze on a single point.
Your hands and arms can assist with the twist, but your abs should be the main driver. Take a few deep breaths in the twist.
Exhale again and slowly release back to the starting position, then cross left leg over right and do the exercise to the left. Alternate sides 3-5 times.
- Keep your breathing smooth.
- Relax into the twist rather than forcing it.
- Lift your chest in the twist, using your upper body muscles assisted by your right hand for the right twist and left for left.
- See it in action.
Slumping and hunching at work can weaken the muscles in our upper back. This exercise can be uncomfortable, but you might be surprised how much better you feel.
To warm up and make sure you can move your scapulae (shoulder blades), start with some slow shoulder circles. Pay attention to your scapulae, not just the balls of your shoulders. Draw your shoulders back, then up. Slide them forward, then down.
Do this a few times in the same direction, making the motion a little bigger each time. Then do a few circles in the opposite direction, up the front and down the back.
To move into the exercise, simply squeeze your scapulae back and down.
Hold it for a moment (or up to 5 seconds), then slowly release. Repeat 8-12 times to start, then give your shoulders a little shake for 15-20 seconds. Do two more sets.
- Keep your chin gently pulled back and the top of your head lifted.
- Don't actively move your scapulae forward after each rep. Just relax and release.
- Do this multiple times each day for posture retraining.
- Variation: try holding the squeeze up to 30 seconds or more for 2-3 reps.
- Watch this video.
Many people crane their heads forward when using computers or other devices. The effective weight load in this posture can be many times its actual weight.
This strains your neck and shoulder muscles like the trapezius as well as your spine.
Here's a great exercise to strengthen those muscles and help keep your head over your spine where it belongs.
Clasp your hands across the back of your head.
Press your head back into your hands while also lifting your chin a little.
Hold for a moment at the peak of the press, then slowly release. Repeat 8-12 times, then rest and gently shake your shoulders and neck for 15-20 seconds. Do two more sets.
- Start gently and work up to using more force. If you have intense pain, stop.
- Keep your jaw relaxed.
- Don't actively move your head forward after each rep. Relax and release.
- Variation: try holding the press up to 30 seconds or more for 2-3 reps.
- Watch this demo video.
This fun yoga exercise relieves tension in the throat and reduces emotional stress from feeling unable to fully express yourself (which never happens at work, right?).
Take a few deep abdominal breaths [link to breathing post].
When ready to begin, open your mouth wide as you exhale and stretch your tongue out and down as far as possible. At the same time, roll your eyes up and in to look at the point between your eyebrows.
The force of your breath should make a soft "ha" sound, but don't try to make the sound. Take another abdominal breath in, relaxing your face, then repeat the roar.
- Don't strain your throat — let the exhalation come from your core.
- Stretch out your fingers when you exhale, like a lion extending its claws.
- Check out the full lion pose here.
It's good to get up and move regularly and change your position throughout the day. But using these chair exercises at work will help you feel better, look better, and keep your body going strong despite the negative effects of sitting.
Maybe you'll even inspire your coworkers to do the same!
We'd love to hear about your experience. Once you try the exercises, let us know how it goes in the comments.