If you struggle to find time to go to the gym or are too tired to exercise after work, consider these easy go-anywhere workouts to hit your daily fitness quota.
Instagram fitness influencers effortlessly cranking out hours of exercise. Twenty-four-hour gyms on every corner. Ads for bootcamps and 12-week programs. The bombardment of high-octane fitness programs can make it feel as though every self-respecting person is sweating it out for an hour before or after work (6am Spin class, anyone?). But while the popularity of formal fitness training and programs is positive in many respects, it can also fuel a sort of all-or-nothing idea that other physical activity is not valuable. Where some of us may once have thought fitting in a lunchtime walk was worthwhile, we may now figure that, unless we’re running on the treadmill for an hour or attending a vigorous Pump class, our exercise efforts are a waste. Which isn’t the case.
In fact, for those of us looking to maintain general health and fitness, there are many ways to meet our weekly activity needs, which according to the National Physical Activity Guidelines, are a minimum of 150 minutes of moderate to vigorous activity per week (or about 30 minutes a day). What’s more, there are many creative ways to sneak some or all of this activity into your workday. And if you’re thinking that a lunchtime workout will disrupt your workflow, think again. Exercising during the workday may boost your productivity and satisfaction at the end of the day according to a UK study. Another study found that workers who completed a single bout of moderate exercise such as 15 minutes of moderately intense cycling on a stationary bike experienced immediate benefits in mental function.
So what are the best exercises or activities to make the most of bits of time during the day? Experts recommend a combination of heart-rate-raising cardio and muscle-strengthening work (ideally in addition to the 30-plus minutes of vigorous activity, on at least two days per week). The good news is that you don’t need to complete your minutes in one go. You might splice together a 20-minute power walk around the local area at lunchtime, 10 minutes of stair running during your afternoon break and a mini upper body workout in the boardroom between meetings. To get around the worry of sweat marks or odours, stash a small gym bag under your desk with your sneakers, sports socks, a small towel, deodorant and a t-shirt to change back into in the office bathroom.
Ready to make the most of your workday? Try these starter ideas.
Office workout 1 (upper body/arms)
What you’ll need: a filled bottle of water.
- Bicep curls: Holding the water bottle, sit or stand with feet hip-width apart and back straight. Bend your elbow, bringing your hand upward toward your shoulder for a bicep curl. At the top of the movement, reverse the movement, bringing your hand back down to waist height. Keep your elbow close to your body throughout. Complete 10 reps and switch arms for another 10.
- Tricep dips: Hold water bottle above your head with your arm straight. Bend your elbow, lowering the bottle behind your head towards your shoulder. Reverse the movement and raise the bottle back up over your head. Complete 10 reps and switch arms for another 10.
- Overhead reaches: Holding the water bottle in one hand, stand with feet hip-width apart and reach arm up and sideways overhead, bending at the waist. Reach far enough to feel a slight stretch. At the top of the movement, return to a straight position and switch sides. Repeat this two-side action 10 times.
- Side leg raises: Face a wall and place hands against it for support. Raise your leg straight out to the side (avoid bringing the leg forward or letting it skew backwards). At the top of the movement, lower with control until your feet are together on the floor. Complete 10 reps and switch legs for another 10.
- Sitting march: While seated, perform a marching action with your legs and feet for two to three minutes. Perform this at intervals throughout the day.
Office workout 2 (lower body/legs)
- Lunges: Stand straight with feet together. Take a large step forward with one leg, balancing yourself by bending the other knee. Once you feel the stretch, hold briefly before pushing up to return to your starting position. Repeat on the other leg. Complete 3 sets of 10 reps.
- Heel raises: Hold onto a stable object (e.g. a chair) and stand with feet hip-width apart. With knees slightly bent, rise up onto toes. Hold briefly and lower, with control, back to starting position. Complete 3 sets of 10 reps.
- Squats: Stand with feet at shoulder width. Bend at the hips and lower into a squatting position. Throughout, maintain a straight back and keep feet flat on the ground, trying to distribute weight through your heels. At the bottom, hold briefly before pushing up and straightening up, with control, to return to your starting position. Complete 3 sets of 10 reps.
- Clamshells: On a mat, lie down on your side with both legs slightly bent and knees and ankles together on top of one another (similar to a foetal position without curling up). Place one arm under your head with your elbow out to the front on the mat and use the other arm to stabilise by placing your palm on the mat in front of you. Keeping your feet together, slowly lift your top knee (it should look like a butterfly flapping its wings). Keep the movement slow and controlled rather than bouncing. At the top, briefly hold and lower, with control, to bring knees back together. During the movement, avoid rolling your hips. To increase the difficulty, use a resistance band to make pulling your knee up more challenging. Complete 3 sets of 10 reps.
- Bridges (if you experience any back or neck pain or have experienced back or neck issues or conditions, seek professional advice before performing this exercise): On a mat, lie on your back. Bend knees so they point to the ceiling with feet flat on the mat. Place arms flat beside your body, palms down. Keeping feet firmly planted, lift your buttocks off the mat to form a straight line through your hips. Hold briefly and lower back down, with control throughout, to the starting position. For greater difficulty, bring heels closer to your buttocks. Complete 3 sets of 10 reps.
Office workout 3 (cardio/stairs)
Tailor your stair climbing work to your level of fitness. If you’re unfit or starting out, begin by simply walking up and down one or more flights of stairs a number of times. You may progress by keeping a similar pace but skipping a step. For those with solid cardio fitness, consider running up and down one or more flights of stairs a number of times and set challenges for personal bests. You can step up the challenge with stair running skipping a step (taking bigger steps) and/or carrying weights. Here are a few ideas to utilise the office facilities.
- Basic ascent and descent: Depending on your level of fitness, walk, jog or run up one or more flights or stairs and walk back down. Repeat as many times as your fitness level accommodates (make a note of your reps and how you felt at the end so you can gauge your progress and set targets). If you need a challenge to keep you interested and motivated, consider seeing how many ascents and descents you can complete in a given time (e.g. 15 minutes) and try to beat your record. To add intensity, carry barbells or small bottles of water. Ensure that weights are not so heavy that they impede balance, which is especially important for descents.
- Intensity ascent and descent: At landings or at the top of your ascent, perform a set of push-ups, burpees or sit-ups before walking down. Perform a set at the bottom before your next ascent. You can also perform on-the-spot sprints or high-knee runs or star jumps to add to the demands.
- .3. Multiple flight shuttle run: If there are multiple flights of stairs with landings, and you are reasonably fit, consider this activity: First, run up to the first landing and immediately run back down. Immediately run up to the second landing and run straight back down. Repeat this for the third landing and subsequent landings until you’re at the top. Repeat as many times as your fitness permits.
If you’re new or returning to vigorous physical activity, consider consulting a physiotherapist, who can evaluate your current fitness and any previous or existing conditions or injuries and make personalised recommendations to help you to reach your goals and prevent pain and injury.