Desk Job? 5 Hacks to Sneak Exercise into Your Workspace

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In college, I was a bartender. While it isn't overly physical, it kept me on my feet for extended periods of time. Lifting crates of glassware and switching out kegs all night kept me moving without really knowing it. After I graduated, my career required a desk job. It still does. Most work activities are conducted online and I find myself sitting at a computer for 8 or more hours a day. On top of that, I accomplish the vast majority of everyday activities electronically. Like you, I shop, bank, and catch up with friends online all while sitting or lounging in front of a computer. I've learned something: "Use it or Lose it" is real.

A desk job gradually takes a toll on muscle strength, circulation, and other health factors. "When you sit for an extended period of time, your body starts to shut down at the metabolic level, says Marc Hamilton, Ph.D., associate professor of biomedical sciences at the University of Missouri. When larger muscles like legs and butt are at rest (aka sitting), your circulation slows. When core muscles aren't called upon to hold you upright, they begin to weaken and your posture suffers.


Over time, a desk job can cause unexplainable back and neck pain as well as joint stiffness. This is when you realize you're starting to "Lose It". The only remedy is to "Use It". It's amazing how quickly the human body responds to small changes in activity level. These are the top 5 hacks for sneaking exercise into your workspace:

1. Dumbbells: Your Most Valuable Desk Accessory.

No matter the office environment, we all like to personalize our workspace. According to the Association for Psychological Science, "bringing in personal items such as photos, knick-knacks, and children’s drawings may provide workers with a greater sense of ownership and control over their space, which could help to buffer against the negative effects of a lack of privacy." Make one of your desk accessories a pair of dumbells. Choose a weight that challenges your strength for at least 12-15 reps per set and you can sneak in a couple of sets of bicep curls during your next phone call. Do a couple of sets of dumbbell squats to help clear your head and change gears between meetings. You can get a great workout sporadically throughout the day. You'll likely inspire some of your office mates to do the same.

Buy a few of these CAP barbells on Amazon. We have some laying around the office and they're excellent for sneaking in a few sets.

2. Sit. Stand. Just Don't Stay.

The human body is meant to move. Even when aches and pains accumulate, we need to keep our muscles and joints moving. “Our bodies are built for movement, and movement helps joints stay healthy,” says Eric Matteson, M.D., chair of Rheumatology at Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota. According to a new study led by researchers at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis, the total daily sitting time has increased in adults to a whopping 6.5 hours or more. A desk job exacerbates the issue with little opportunity for major muscle and joint movement. You can offset this by changing positions often throughout the day. Conference call? Try standing up for the duration. Internet research? Set your laptop on top of a cabinet and work while standing. Throw in a few deep knee bends to keep circulation flowing.

Try alternating 1-hour increments of sitting and standing. The main goal is not to replace sitting with standing all day. After all, research shows that prolonged standing is equally unhealthy. The focus is on moving. That means sitting, standing, walking, taking stairs, and using your most valuable desk accessory.

3. Make An Appointment.

Do you rely on a calendar to make the most of your day? You should. Calendaring frees your mind of numerous life details like medical appointments, payment deadlines, birthdays, and other obligations. I live by my calendar. If it's not scheduled, I likely won't be there.  I even schedule time for fitness. Mapping it out carves space in my day and makes it look doable. I get a reminder and there are automatically no conflicts to deter me from my designated fitness hour. I even schedule reminders to sit, stand, or somehow move throughout the day!

4. Stash Your Gym Shoes.


Sneaking fitness into your desk job can be challenging when it comes to office attire. Dress shoes don't cut it when you unexpectedly have a free half-hour and can finally take a walk outdoors. Reduce the excuse. By this I mean don't let shoes stop you from moving. Keep a gym bag at work or dedicate an office drawer to personal items like an extra pair of shoes and a change of clothes.

5. Bring Your Lunch and Walk It Off.

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According to the United States Department of Agriculture, Americans spend a large share of their food budget (42 percent) on food away from home, which is less nutritious than food prepared at home. Most Americans eat too few fruits, vegetables, and whole grains. They also consume too much saturated fat, sodium, and sugar disguised in convenience foods. If you're dining out regularly, you're taking in a lot of processed foods. You can make a significant impact on your health, fitness, and budget by meal prepping and bringing your own lunch to work.

"For the average consumer, eating one meal away from home each week translates to roughly two extra pounds a year," said Lisa Mancino, a food economist for the USDA. Meal Prep is a fun weekly habit that puts you in control. Move away from the large portion sizes and unwanted extras that often come with restaurant meals and you could drop a few pounds.

Bringing your own lunch suddenly frees at least a half-hour of your day so you can get moving. Put on your stashed pair of gym shoes and add a nice walk to round out your lunch hour. When you get back you'll be ready to attack the afternoon with a fresh and energized body and brain. 

Try one or all of these hacks and you'll be living your fit life even with a desk job.

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