10 Exercises to Do at Work That Don't Make You Look Silly


Many of us work long days at desks, even though we know it's not the best thing for our health. A sedentary lifestyle makes us obese. And heck, I have trouble just focusing if I don't get up and move around every now and then.

This is why I've always loved the idea of exercises you can do at work. Exercise is a great thing to do for your body and mind! However, I find that most articles I read about exercising at work are utterly impractical. Sure, if you have your own office with a door, that's great. Keep weights in there, do some fierce squats, and complete push-ups until your arms scream. And likewise, if you work at an office where you can easily skip out to the gym during lunch, or where you have onsite workout facilities, bully for you.

But when I was still working in offices instead of out of my house, I had none of these things. I always worked in a cubicle hive, where coworkers could buzz by at any moment and see everything I was doing. I'm a person who doesn't mind if someone else sees me doing a few jumping lunges, but I also recognize, out of respect for my coworkers, that behavior like that can be considered weird, if not disruptive. Thus, here are 10 exercises you can actually do at work without weirding out your coworkers. (See also: Fitness for People Who Hate Exercise)

1. Calf Raises

These are perfect for when you're waiting at the copier, printer, or microwave. While standing, simply lift your heels up off the ground, bring them down, and repeat. Sure, they're noticeable, but the actually amount of movement is about on-par with fidgeting.

2. Walking

So many articles on exercising at work include walking for a good reason — it's great for you, easy to do on your lunch break, and a totally normal activity. I won't suggest that you trade eating mindfully for shoving your face full of food so you can get out and walk, but if you can split your lunch break between eating and walking, that's a great compromise.

3. Kegels

Ladies, we've all been told that we should do our Kegels. And fellas, strengthening the pelvic floor can be helpful for you as well (check out this male Kegel explanation from AskMen, but be forewarned that it includes some graphic sex talk). Since you're just clenching and unclenching the pelvic floor, nobody will know you're doing these (unless you find a way to be super awkward about it).

4. Chair Dips

This probably has the highest silly factor out of all the exercises I'm recommending. You can't do these without bobbing up and down a little bit, and depending on the height of your cubicle walls, your up-and-down motion could make you look like you're on a boat at sea. Check out instructions for chair dips from About.com, or if you want to stay seated in your chair, you can also try putting your hands on the arms of your chair and lifting yourself up and down.

5. Taking the Stairs

Yes, this is another old classic. You should take the stairs instead of the elevator, but also take the stairs, up, down, and up again a few times if you can. This can be especially fun if you work in a big corporate complex. Carry a folder to make it look like you're delivering something.

6. Leg Lifts

Lift one leg until it's straight and parallel to the ground. Hold for a few seconds, then lower. Repeat 10-15 times, and switch to the other leg.

7. Stretching

Ah, yes, stretching — or, as I like to think of it, "the only exercise you can do a lot of at work and get away with it." Where most cardio or strength-training efforts might seem out of place in your business-casual environment, pretty much everyone recognizes that sitting all day can make you rather sore. So stand up and stretch your arms, legs, torso — whatever. You might just want to avoid doing a downward-facing dog.

8. Sitting on an Exercise Ball

Times change. It's now acceptable to write "email" instead of "e-mail," and similarly, I think the exercise-ball-as-chair has finally gained enough acceptance that you can bring one into your office and not worry about it being strange. Sitting on an exercise ball helps strengthen your core and keep your posture straight. It's also fun. In fact, I am writing this while sitting on an exercise ball.

9. Muscle Clenches

Your abs and butt are prime candidates for this. Clench the muscles for a period of several seconds, then release. Repeat again in sets of 10-15.

10. Maintaining Good Posture

I know — what kind of hacky suggestion is this? Posture isn't an exercise! But if you normally have poor posture, actively maintaining a straight back will give your back muscles a serious workout.

What exercises do you do at work? Share in the comments!

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Guest's picture
Debbie M

If, by leg lifts, you mean seated leg lifts, then I think you got most of the ones I've thought up. You have to be careful during meetings not to kick someone, but at your own desk, it's pretty safe. And it doesn't just use your thigh muscles, but also your belly muscles.

And the good posture is especially good if you ride a bus or train to work. Try to keep sitting upright even when the vehicle turns, stops, or accelerates.

For more walking and stairs, you can also go to a further away water fountain or restroom than the most convenient one. And if you need to communicate with someone in a nearby office, you can walk over instead of calling or sending an e-mail.

When you go to sit down in your chair, you can stay in a squat position for a few seconds before you finish sitting down all the way. And you can use mostly your arms to lift yourself out of your chair (instead of your legs)--sort of like a chair dip but you're pushing yourself up from your armrests or the top of your desk as far as you can, slowly, with your arms (and then once your arms are straight, finish getting up the regular way).

Also, you might be able to do wall push-ups against the door of the bathroom stall (unless you have automatic flusher toilets that go crazy with that behavior or the door is creaky), at least until you start panting.

Meg Favreau's picture

I love the almost-sitting squat idea. And picturing trying to do bathroom-stall push-ups with the automatic toilets just made me laugh out loud. You could count your set with flushes!

Guest's picture

Great suggestions! And, yes, no one seems to bat an eyelash at the chair balls any more. When I brought one into my office, quite a few other people decided they wanted one, too.

One other option (not sure about the silliness factor for this one) is an underdesk cycle. They are quiet and not very noticeable. And fun!

Guest's picture

We happen to have laptops and so I like moving my laptop to a file drawer or some other higher piece of office furniture so I can stand and do work on the computer at the same time. Throw in some stretching and calf raises like you mention and its great!