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6 Exercises You Can Do At Your Desk

How do you use a pigeon to exercise?

If you’re sitting down right now, the answer will be particularly relevant to you.

After all, we sit a lot –– especially this year. Whether it’s working at the desk, relaxing on the couch, or just pondering what to do until everything is open again.

And all that time spent sitting is most often time spent not exercising. Time your bones and overall health crave.

So today, I’m going to teach you how to make the most of your time spent sitting. I’ll show you how to perform a series of easy exercises you can do at your desk or sofa to break up your day –– and help support your health.

And yes, one of them involves a pigeon…

Neck Stretch

Benefits of the neck stretch exercise:

This exercise helps to stretch the upper part of your trapezius muscles (the two large, triangular muscles that run from the base of your head, along your shoulders and down the top of your spine.) 

It’ll also help stretch certain fibers in your sternocleidomastoid (SCM) muscle too. The SCM runs from the base of your skull, just below your ears, on both sides of your neck. It splits in two to connect to your sternum (breast bone) and clavicle (collarbone) on both sides.

The SCM helps you rotate your head from side to side, drop your chin down towards your chest, lean your head to one side to rest your ear on your shoulder, and even plays a part in breathing. 

So, by stretching your SCM, this exercise will help you maintain your necks’ range of motion –– particularly lateral motion. Plus, it’ll help ease the knots that can form in your neck when you sit too long.

How to perform the neck stretch exercise:

  1. Sit upright with your feet planted on the floor, shoulders width apart.
  2. Grip the underside of your chair with your left hand, and drop your left shoulder as far toward the ground as you comfortably can.
  3. Arch your right arm over your head to gently place your right hand on the left-hand side of your head, just above your ear.
  4. Gently guide your head toward your right shoulder and hold for 1 minute. If that’s too long, hold for as long as you can.
  5. Take deep breaths as you hold the stretch, placing your attention on the area you’re stretching.
  6. Return to your starting position and perform the exercise again, but on the other side.

Tailor this exercise to you:

The SCM is a very complex muscle. I could write an entire blog post about exercises for it! (Let me know in the comments if you’d like to see that). An important thing to note is that the SCM can develop pain, sensitivity, and tightness. This could be a sign of SCM syndrome. Exercises like this one can help, but you should always consult your healthcare provider first if you experience any symptoms.

Seated Cactus Arms

Benefits of the seated cactus arms exercise:

This exercise happens to be one of my favorite yoga poses. It helps strengthen your shoulder and back muscles while also opening up tight chest muscles. So, it’s a powerful tool for improving your posture.

And good posture benefits your body in many ways –– check out our posture exercises blog post for more information –– including reducing your risk of falls.

How to perform the seated cactus arms exercise:

  1. Sit upright with your feet planted on the floor, shoulder-width apart
  2. Raise both arms towards the ceiling, engaging your core to keep your shoulders or rib cage down
  3. Tuck your chin slightly and avoid bringing your head forward
  4. On an exhale, bend your elbows and bring your upper arms parallel with the floor with your palms facing forward. Draw your shoulder blades together, and lift your chest. (Do you see where the cactus arms name comes from?)
  5. On an inhale, straighten your arms again, engaging your core.  
  6. Repeat the exercise 10 times

Tailor this exercise to you:

Don’t worry if you can’t fully straighten your arms. Keep your arms further apart, with a slight bend in your elbows if that’s more comfortable for you.

Seated Pigeon

Benefits of the seated pigeon exercise:

The seated pigeon is another yoga exercise. The main muscles it stretches are on the back and lateral part of the hip joint. So, this exercise helps to open your hip joint and improve overall hip flexibility.

Plus, I find it helps to improve my posture and relieve lower back pain. So, it’s perfect during a long stint at the desk.

*This is a more challenging exercise. Especially if your hips aren’t that flexible. If that’s the case, you may want to hold off trying this one until your hips are a little more flexible.*

How to perform the seated pigeon exercise:

  1. Sit upright with your feet planted on the floor, shoulders width apart
  2. While engaging your core, lift your left leg and rest your ankle above your right knee
  3. Flex your left foot so that the toes move back towards the left knee
  4. Let your left knee drop down to the side until you feel a stretch near the outside of your hip.
  5. To intensify the stretch, hinge at the hips (not your waist), and bring your chest forward towards your leg with a straight spine 
  6. Hold the stretch for 30 seconds
  7. Return to your starting position and repeat the exercise with your opposite leg

Tailor this exercise to you:

You may be unable to bring your knee down very far, to begin with. And that’s completely fine. You can keep your knee upright and it will lower over time as your hips become more flexible. Never try to push past any discomfort in the knee.

Seated Leg Raise

Benefits of the seated leg extension exercise:

The seated leg raise (or seated leg extension) works your quadricep muscles –– the group of muscles on the front of your thigh. This set of muscles is important for obvious reasons, like walking, standing, etc.

But having strong quadriceps appears to be extra important for avoiding a fall too! A large study concluded that older people with weak quadriceps were the most likely to fall.

How to perform the seated leg raise exercise:

  1. Sit upright with your feet planted on the floor, shoulders width apart.
  2. Grip the underside of your chair with both hands.
  3. Engage your core and slowly raise your right leg in front of you, toes pointing toward the ceiling. (Or the wall in front of you if it’s uncomfortable to point higher).
  4. Hold for a couple of seconds and then slowly return your leg to its starting position.
  5. Complete steps 2-4 with your left leg.
  6. Repeat the exercise 10-15 times with each leg.

Tailor this exercise to you:

When you start finding the leg extension a little too easy, try to lift your leg an extra inch or so, and/or hold for a few more seconds.

Seated March

Benefits of the seated march exercise:

The seated march helps improve the strength and mobility of your hips. Plus, you should feel your abdominals getting a work out too.

How to perform the seated march exercise:

  1. Sit upright with your feet planted on the floor, shoulders width apart
  2. Grip the underside of your chair with both hands
  3. Keep your back nice and straight and engage your core
  4. Keep your knees bent and lift your left leg about 10 inches
  5. Hold for a couple of seconds before returning to your starting position
  6. Repeat the exercise 10-15 times with each leg.

Tailor this exercise to you:

You can add ankle weights if you find this exercise is becoming a little easy. Or, you can increase the difficulty of the exercise by lifting your leg a little higher.

Tennis Ball Grip Strength

Benefits of the tennis ball grip strength:

As the name suggests, this is a great exercise to increase your grip strength. So, it’ll come in handy for everyday activities like opening doors, carrying groceries, and twisting that pesky lid off the pasta sauce jar. 

Plus, handgrip strength is an indicator of potential fracture risk since it’s linked to fragility and increased likelihood to fall. 

In fact, some studies show those with weaker hand grip strength tend to have lower bone mass in the hip and the spine. Decreased grip strength indicates impaired muscle strength, and therefore diminished physical ability, which causes greater mortality risk in older people. The bottom line is, once your grip strength starts to weaken, it’s generally a sign of worse things to come.

How to perform the tennis ball grip strength exercise:

  1. Grip the tennis ball in one hand
  2. Slowly squeeze it as hard as you can, and hold for 2-3 seconds
  3. Slowly release your squeeze
  4. Rest for 3 seconds and then repeat 10 times
  5. Switch hands and repeat steps 1-4 above
  6. Repeat twice on each hand (for 3 sets in total for each hand)

Tailor this exercise to you:

I used a tennis ball for this exercise as it’s an object most people will have. But, a softer ball, like a foam stress ball, works better if you have one. A softer ball will mold to your palm better and provide a more tailored workout.

Desk Exercises Takeaways

These desk exercises are a great way to break up long bouts of sitting. They’ll help relieve the lower back and neck pain that come with hours of hunching over a computer. And, many offer posture and stability benefits to help keep you on your feet!

Let me know what you think of these exercises in the comments below, and if you’re looking for more exercises to improve your bone health, click here.

And remember, I recommend consulting your healthcare provider before adding any new exercises to your regimen.

Author: Cat Buckley, RYT, RYOT

Cat Buckley is AlgaeCal’s Community Manager and Fitness Expert. She’s a Registered Yoga Teacher (RYT) — a distinction given to yoga teachers whose training and experience meet Yoga Alliance requirements. She’s also a Registered Yoga for Osteoporosis Teacher (RYOT), as she completed Dr. Loren Fishman’s Yoga vs. Osteoporosis training! Cat works closely with AlgaeCal’s Resident Bone Health Expert, Lara Pizzorno, to share the latest science-backed bone health advice.