04/08/2020 • 6 min read

7 Exercises You Can Do at Your Desk

Movement in small bouts can improve well-being

by Teresa Bellingar

The idea of getting the recommended 150 minutes of moderate exercise every week can sometimes be daunting when you think of everything else you need to get done. And then, there’s research that says your heart rate needs to be elevated for at least 10 minutes at a time for exercise to be beneficial. But, have you heard about the recent research that says you can get your exercise in smaller bouts than 10 minutes and still have it be beneficial to your health?

If you work in an office—whether at home or elsewhere—you’re often sitting for a big percentage of your day, so it’s important to find ways to move more during your day in order to get your blood flowing. A recent study found that “posture changes and movement reduce rigidity in the body and increase openness of thoughts and emotions.”

So, to benefit both your body and your mind, here are some exercises you can do while in your office to help you take a break and get in some of those much-needed exercise minutes.

Before You Begin

Please make sure to consult your doctor before you start any exercise program.

Before doing any exercises using a chair, make sure that:

  • The armrests are all the way down
  • The chair tension is at its highest position
  • The back is locked in the upright position
  • The casters on the base of the chair are not in your way when standing in front of the chair

None of the exercises using the worksurfaces should be performed on any table/worksurface that has casters.

Arm Rotations

1. Sit or stand in a neutral posture with your feet hip-width apart.

2. Reach your arms straight out to your sides forming a T-shape, with your palms facing the floor.

3. Keeping your arms reaching out to each side of your body, rotate them so your palms are facing the ceiling. Be careful not to let your shoulders shrug.

4. Repeat the motion at a challenging pace for 30 seconds to a minute.

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Seated Marching

1. Make sure your chair height is adjusted so that your thighs are parallel to the floor. 

2. Sit in a neutral posture halfway forward in your chair, with your hands lightly holding the front of the seat pan.

3. Engage the abdominals, and exhale to lift one foot off the floor without changing the position of the lower back or pelvis or leaning to one side or the other.

  • Lift your knee only as high as you can go without moving any other part of your body.
  • The goal is to lift your knee above 90 degrees of hip flexion without any movement of the pelvis or low back.

4. Lower the leg and alternate sides.

5. Repeat 8 times on each side. Do not let your legs do the work for you. This is an ab/core exercise.


1. Make sure your chair height is adjusted so that your thighs are parallel to the floor. 

2. Sit in a neutral posture halfway forward in your chair.

3. Place hands behind your head with the elbows wide and visible out of the corner of your eyes.

4. Engage your core, exhale, and lift the left knee while rotating the torso to reach your right elbow towards your left knee. 

  • Keep the pelvis still and your spine in neutral as you complete the movement. 
  • Do not allow your back to become rounded as your reach your elbow towards your knee.

5. Repeat 8 times per side.

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Easier: Raise the seat height of your chair.

Harder: Lower the seat height of your chair.

1. Stand a couple of inches in front of your chair in a neutral posture with your legs parallel and your feet hip-width apart.

2. Engage your core, exhale, and bring arms straight out in front of you as you tilt your torso forward keeping your spine in the neutral position.

3. Bend your knees while lowering the hips until they hover just above the seat of your chair. Keep your knees aligned with your feet and do not let them extend beyond your feet.

4. Inhale, and then push into your heels to return to standing.

5. Repeat 8 times.

Tricep Dips

Before doing this exercise, if you are using a height-adjustable table, make sure the worksurface is at a height that your arms are not bent when in the standing position.

To make this exercise harder: Lower the worksurface and move your feet further away from the worksurface, ensuring that your arms are straight at the beginning of the movement.

1. Facing away from the worksurface, stand about 3-6 inches away in a neutral posture.

2. Place your hands shoulder-width apart onto the edge of the worksurface.

3. Bend the elbows and knees to lower the torso. Be careful to not let the elbows go wide and not shrug the shoulders.

4. Straighten the elbows and knees to return to the starting position.

5. Repeat 8-12 times.

Glute Pulses

1. Face the worksurface and place your hands on it shoulder-width apart and select one of the following positions for your torso:

  • Standing tall with spine in neutral (easiest).
  • Step slightly away from the worksurface, tilt the torso slightly forward, and bring one leg behind you with the toes touching.
  • Step away from the worksurface and tip the torso so it is parallel to the floor, bend the standing leg, and bring the working leg behind you with the toes touching.

2. Engage the glutes to lift the leg off the floor, but only as far it will go when activating the glutes. 

  • Be careful to not allow the pelvis to tilt or hike as you do the movement. 
  • Keep spine in a neutral position.

3. Lower the leg.

4. Repeat 8-10 times, switch legs, and repeat.


This exercise works best if you have a height-adjustable table. Set the height of the worksurface so that it is approximately the same height at your hips.

1. Face the worksurface, step back from your table, and position your body as follows:

  • Hinge forward at the hips.
  • Place your hands flat on the top of the worksurface shoulder-width apart. 
  • You should be far enough back from your worksurface that your back is flat and your arms are straight.
  • If your hamstrings are so tight that it limits how far you can hinge forward, slightly raise the height of the table.
  • Make sure your shoulders are down, not up by your ears.

2. Engage the abs to support your back.

3. Keep your hands on the table and inhale as you slide your shoulder blades down the back and lift the upper body into extension.

  • Try not to push into your hands and keep your hips stationary.
  • Focus on the extension being in your upper back and not in your lumbar. Think extending from the bottom of the ribs up.
  • Make sure that your neck is aligned with your spine.

4. Exhale, and return to the start position. 

5. Repeat 3-6 times.

Advanced Version

When you’re in extension, without changing any other part of your body:

  1. Slightly lift your right hand off the top of the table. Do not put additional pressure into your left hand.
  2. Lower your right hand, and then repeat with your left arm.

For more about the importance of movement and its effects on well-being, check out “The 3 Layers of Movement.”

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