Healthy Beginnings

18 exercises you can do at work without being noticed

Photo: Getty Images

By now, most of us know that sitting for long periods of time isn’t good for us. One study published in Time Magazine in 2014 found that sitting could increase your risk of cancer by up to 66 percent.

As a result, there are an endless number of workplace suggestions that range from jumping jacks to push-ups leaning against your desk. And they’re all valid.

But what if you’d rather not be noticed by your coworkers? Is there anything you can do while sitting at your desk? You’re in luck. Here are 18 sneaky suggestions:

  1. Glute squeezes. While sitting in your chair, squeeze your buttocks for 5 to 10 seconds and then release. Repeat until you tire.
  2. Bicep pulls. Place your hands on your desk and hang on. Slowly push your chair back until your head is between your arms and you’re gazing at the floor. Then, pull yourself back in, slow and controlled.
  3. Core swivel. If you have a swivel chair, sit upright. Hover your feet over the floor, hold the edge of your desk with your fingers and thumb. Use your core muscles to swivel the chair from side to side.
  4. Thigh press. Find a sealed package of printing paper or a similar-size book. While seated, place the item between your knees and press your legs inward, engaging the inner thighs. Continue squeezing for 30 to 60 seconds at a time.
  5. Tricep pulses. While sitting in your chair, extend your arms straight down, hands pointing toward the floor. Pulse arms backward, engaging the tricep muscles until you tire.
  6. Core squeeze. This one is simple. Adjust your chair height to make sure your feet, hips and arms are at a 90-degree angle. Then, engage your core to keep your back straight all day. This helps your posture as well. Looking to mix it up? Squeeze 10 to 15 reps at a time to get that extra burn in your tummy.
  7. Handshake press. Clasp your hands together as if you’re giving yourself with one thumb pointing toward the floor and the other pointing toward the ceiling. Pull for 20 seconds at a time, and repeat until you tire.
  8. Isometric shrug. While sitting, grab the side of your chair as if you’re trying to lift yourself. Hold and contract as if you’re trying to lift the seat of your chair while you’re sitting on it.
  9. Leg raises. While sitting in your chair, lift one leg forward and extend it straight. Hold for 5 seconds, then lower toward the floor without touching the floor. Hold for 5 seconds. Alternate legs. For more of a core exercise, add a crunch.
  10. Back shoulder squeeze. Roll back your shoulders until the shoulder blades are pinched together. Pretend you’re holding a pencil between the scapulas. Hold for 5 or 10 seconds at a time.
  11. Isometric bicep curl. Move your chair close to your desk. Make a fist while your elbow is at a 90-degree angle. Turn your hand as if you’re doing a hammer curl or open your palm. Slide your arms underneath your desk. Push up against the desk with your fist or hand.
  12. Isometric tricep pushdown. Similar to the isometric bicep curl, you’ll want to move your chair close to your desk. Make a fist while your elbow is at a 90-degree angle. Turn your hand as though you’re doing a hammer curl or open your palm. Push down toward the desk and raise your triceps.
  13. Seated ab crunch. With both of your elbows on your thighs, try to curl your chest in toward your legs while resisting the movement with your arms. Hold for 10 seconds at a time, and repeat until you tire.
  14. Twinkle toes. Speedily tap your toes on the floor under your desk.
  15. Arm raises. To work your chest and shoulders, place your hands on the arms of the chair while sitting and slowly lift your bottom up. Lower back down without touching the seat. Hold for 5 seconds at both the top and bottom of the exercise.
  16. Prayer hold. Sitting upright, bring the palms of your hands together in front of the chest and push both hands together powerfully until you feel the arm muscles contract. Hold for 20 seconds at a time and repeat until you tire.
  17. Shoulder shrug. Raise both shoulders up toward your ears. Hold for 5 seconds, then release. Repeat until you tire.
  18. Isometric neck extension, rotation, retraction. To strengthen your neck muscles on one side, place your right hand against the right side of your head and try to push against your right hand. Switch sides. For rotation, place your hands on both sides of your head and try to turn your head to the left and right without letting your head turn. For extension, place both hands behind your head and retract your head backward into your hands.

Of course, workdays can get crazy. To remind yourself to get silently moving while at work, set calendar reminders using Microsoft Outlook or go old-school with some Post-Its around your desk.

Caren Roblin — director of the content for the Sierra Nevada Media Group, which publishes Healthy Beginnings — is a Kaia FIT Sierra coach and NCCPT (National Council for Certified Personal Trainers) and TRX certified personal trainer. Email her at with feedback.