How to find ways to move more when at work

I think that anyone that works at a desk all day and is interested in their health and fitness probably feels they need to move more during the day – I know I do. The nature of a desk job means that, even if you put aside an hour every day to do some exercise, you still spend the bulk of your time not moving.

The average work day for a desk-bound exerciser

If we assume 8 hours sleep (lucky you!), 8 hours sat at your desk (luck you again!) and 1 hour exercise that leaves an additional 7 hours to account for. Let’s be generous and say our average desk-bound exerciser has another 3 hours of random moving during the day from walking to/from the train station and office, cooking, showering etc. We still have 4 extra hours left over, let’s be less generous with those and assume they are taken up by sitting eating, commuting and watching some tv in the evening.

So if we combine the moving, and not moving times we get: Andy’s amazing average desk-bound exerciser movement chart
Desk-bound-exerciser-chart

Oh dear. Obviously even our super-good, super-fit, desk-bound exerciser would be better off with some extra movement in their day.

So what can you do?

As much as it would be lovely to simply reduce the work time and add in more exercise that isn’t feasible. Instead we can look at ways to break up the time spent not moving with bits of moving – genius.

Frank Forencich of Exuberant Animal uses a lovely phrase for this kind of thing: movement snacks. The is exactly what we are looking for, bite-sized bits of movement throughout the day that don’t tire you out but break up the inactivity.

There are a million ways you could do this, but here are a few of my favourites:

  • Take the stairs. I think this is the simplest and most worthwhile of all. I work on the 6th floor so even on a really busy day I know I will get 12 flights up and 12 flights down. Chances are I will go to meetings during the day or head out at lunchtime as well so get a fair bit of extra movement this way. It took some time to get used to but now is second nature.
  • Do some joint mobility every time you go to the toilet. Focus on the bits that get tight when you are sat down – shoulders, upper back, hips – it all helps.
  • Go and see people. I sometimes get instant messages from people that sit a few desks away. If you take the time to get up and see people you will move more, be more social, and probably use the stairs more – winner!
  • Practice squatting. Simply changing the angle your knees are stuck at for a little while has to be good for you. Your hips will be happy too.
  • Do a quick lunchtime workout. I’ve unashamedly stolen this from a post on the Dave Draper forum. It doesn’t even just have to be lunchtime but the idea is to do mini workouts throughout the day. This would be loads easier if you could hang a pull up bar somewhere, or have some weights under your desk, and even easier if you are working at home. Equipment isn’t necessary though, a quick workout that I’m doing at lunctimes is 2-3 rounds of:
      • Push ups x 5-10
      • Wall batwing* x 20-30sec
      • Squat x 5-10
      • Wall batwing* x 20-30sec
  • Sit on the floor. This more of a home than work thing, and isn’t really moving but  making time spent sitting more productive. I can’t remember which Dan John post it was from but the idea was: ‘You can watch as much TV as you want, but sit on the floor while you do’. You basically end up fidgeting and stretching the whole time – good stuff.

There are loads of other options but hopefully this gives an idea. The stairs themselves have plenty of opportunity for variety – take 2/3 at once, go up them backwards, on tip toes etc.

* This is taken from Dan John’s excellent book Intervention. You stand a foot or so away from a wall lean back into it, plank yourself, then push you elbows back into the wall hard. If you are doing it right your rhomboids will say ‘wakey wakey!’

Current training – May 2013

Now we’re getting semi-regular sunshine I’m doing as much of my training outside as possible. Being able to exercise with the sun on your face is a wonderful thing.

I’m doing two types of main session, still loosely on the same framework as last month. The first is a basic strength workout where I do some kettlebell lifts in my garden and then loaded carries up and down the street.

The second is some basic bodyweight exercises in a local park. I’m lucky enough to have a couple of outdoor gyms nearby. Inexplicably most of the equipment is for cardio (think rowers, steppers etc), which has always seemed odd as it makes more sense to me to do cardio by moving around the park. Fortunately there are also dipping stations and some play equipment that is good for pull ups.On the other days I’m enjoying some easy Maffetone style runs, always on Thursdays and sometimes on Tuesdays too – depending how energetic I’m feeling. I’m also running to and from the park for those sessions and including sprinting. Quite a bit of running at the moment.

Saturday – rest

Sunday – home

  • Warm up – Becoming Bulletproof, 16kg Goblet squat & curl, 16kg Windmill
  • A1: TGU – 24kg x 1/1
  • A2: Goblet squat – 24kg x 6-10, 28kg x 5-8
  • B1: KB clean & press – 20kg x 10-20 reps, sets vary
  • B2: Chin up – BW/+5kg/+10kg x 10-20 reps, sets vary
  • C1: KB swing – 24kg x 10, 10, 10
  • D1: Farmers walk – 24-28kg each hand
Monday – park workout
  • Warm up – Becoming Bulletproof, run to the park
  • 3-4 rounds of 5-10 reps:
    • Push ups
    • Pull ups
    • Dips
    • Rows
  • Then:
    • Sprinting/cartwheels/tree climbs (play stuff)
Tuesday – run 4-5km (maybe)
Wednesday – home
  • Warm up – Becoming Bulletproof, 16kg Goblet squat & curl, 16kg Windmill
  • A1: TGU – 24kg x 1/1
  • A2: Goblet squat – 24kg x 6-10, 28kg x 5-8
  • B1: KB clean & press – 20kg x 10-20 reps, sets vary
  • B2: Chin up – BW/+5kg/+10kg x 10-20 reps, sets vary
  • C1: KB swing – 28kg x 8, 8, 8
  • D1: Bear hug/shoulder carry

Thursday – run 6-8km

Friday – park workout

  • Warm up – Becoming Bulletproof, run to the park
  • 3-4 rounds of 5-10 reps:
    • Push ups
    • Pull ups
    • Dips
    • Rows
  • Then:
    • Sprinting/cartwheels/tree climbs (play stuff)

Fitness and Health

I’ve been reading the The Big Book of Endurance Training and Racing by Phil Maffetone recently. I have used his 180 formula when running since August of last year with some nice results, but had never read any of his books before. It’s a really great read and covers far more than simply training for races. He also explains how to improve health at the same time as increasing fitness, rather than compromise health in pursuit of performance.

I think this is an important point that is missed by a lot of people.

If you are competitive athlete, some trade-off between health and performance may be necessary (especially in a contact sport with a high risk of injury). But if you are a hobbiest racer, or average guy trying to get in shape, it starts to make less sense.

Why are we doing this stuff?

This is an important question to ask. If you are not competing in a sport*, then why are you doing this physical activity? The honest answers will be around some measure of health or to improve appearance. So, if that is the goal, why go about it in a way that makes your health worse rather than better?

That means not pushing super hard every run, it means lifting weights even if you just ‘do’ an endurance sport and it means adding some necessary variety to your training so you are fitter for life, rather than just the activity you have decided to pursue.

How do you know if you are healthy or not?

I think you can get a good idea using four measures:

  • BMI – it’s not perfect, but BMI will quickly tell 95% of folks if something is up.***
  • Resting heart rate – 60-70 is good, 50-60 is super-fit
  • Basic movement ability – the sit/stand test will work great for this
  • How often you get a cold (and how quickly you recover if you do catch one)

The first two are general fitness measures that can be screwed up by poor diet or stress, the third is a fitness-for-life test and the fourth one is the most simple measure of general health I can think of.

*Entering a race doesn’t mean you compete. By competing I mean fighting for a podium place or making significant improvements in performance** year on year.

**And by performance I mean race times going down, not distance ‘survived’ going up.

***Other option here are waist to height (waist less than half height), or bodyfat percentage (10-17% men, 18-24% women)