Keeping active with an inactive job

Mark Sisson published an interesting post earlier this week called The Art of Work: Avoiding the Pitfalls of a Sedentary Job.

The central message was that although office work is unavoidable for a lot of us there are things we can do to negate some effects of our sedentary jobs. The main take aways for me were:

“Fifty years ago, over fifty percent of occupations included moderate physical exertion. Today that number has dropped to less than twenty percent.”

“In many ways we’ve engineered physical activity out of our lives, so we’ve got to find ways to put it back into our lives, like taking walks during breaks or having opportunities for activity that are more routine to our daily lives, not just going to the health club.”

“The idea of working out during the workday itself introduces a new angle and may be somewhat of a game changer.”

I’m a big advocate of grabbing little chunks of exercise throughout the day to break up the sitting. It makes me feel better, and on the occasions I don’t move from my desk for a few hours I feel sluggish afterwards. It’s highly unlikely my company will invest in walking workstations anytime soon (although it would be great) so I have to find another way. 

There are a ton of things you can do to bring some activity into your work day. I group them into three categories: subtle, more noticeable and being ‘that guy’. How far along you go depends you and the company you work for. I tend to hover between subtle and more noticeable.


There are plenty of things you can do that are will only be slight adjustments to your current day. Your work colleagues won’t even notice what you’re up to.

  • No lift days – pretty self explanatory, start with one day a week where you only use the stairs and add from there
  • Go and see people instead of phoning or using email – combined with no lift days this can add a nice amount of extra movement to your day. The added bonus is you’ll probably have build work relationships as well.
  • Drink more water – I’ve written about this before. It’s good for you and means more trips to both the kitchen and the loo.
  • Don’t just sit, do toe & heels presses – push your toes into the ground as hard as you can, after a few seconds do the same with your heels, repeat. This can be done at your desk, you’re not moving much but it’ll increase blood flow to your legs.

More noticeable

These are more beneficial but will need you to find a bit of space to get your move on (i.e. an unused meeting room). The possibilities here are near endless. Aim to use exercises that are the reverse of what you do at your desk. For example, when sitting both your hips and upper body are in flexion, stuff at the front is getting tight and stuff at the back is getting sleepy – so do the opposite.

  • Quick & easy anti-flexion circuit – lunge stretch – 30 sec each side, one leg glute bridge – 30 sec each side, squat to overhead reach – 10 reps, some kind of thoracic extension (lying, off end of a table) – 30 sec
  • Finger extensions – get an thick elastic band, double it up if needed, wrap it round your fingers then open them as hard as you can. Do it for time or reps.
  • Do some joint mobility – focus on hips, shoulder and thoracic spine
  • Use a desk for bodyweight rows – these could also be added into a circuit with squats and glute bridges
  • Grease the groove with pistol squats – great for the legs and the GTG technique forces you to do it regularly. I’d avoid adding one arm push ups a la Naked Warrior, they gave me nasty pec/shoulder tightness when GTGing at work.

    Being ‘that guy’

    These are for the truly dedicated and need equipment.

    • Bands – use them for pull aparts, shoulder dislocates and other upper body loveliness
    • Dumbbells/kettlebells under your desk – grab mini workouts during the day
    • Set up a pull up bar at work (this would be amazing)

    These lists are far from exhaustive, experiment with you can fit into your day and enjoy. Most of the work I did in my recent squat experiment was done in small chunks during the day at work.

    Make sure you still get your work done though…….



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