Exercises you can do at your desk

3 Minute Read | Author: Amy Cooper

In a perfect world, we’d all have time to clock up the Australian Federal Government’s recommended two and a half to five hours of exercise each week. But in reality, it seems we’re all increasingly chained to our desks. Even after work, we’re often called back to the screen to pay bills, socialise and pilot our lives. It’s easy to see why ‘sitting is the new smoking,’ has become a catch-cry among health professionals.

In the winter months, with fewer daylight hours and weather that screams Netflix and couch, it’s even harder to get out and active before or after your working day.

But there’s good news for desk jockeys: even small amounts of light exercise can reap huge benefits. A 2015 American study found that just five minutes of light-intensity movement every hour can burn 1,000 additional calories a week, decreasing fat tissue and maintaining or even losing weight. US endurance athlete and fitness coach Christopher Bergland teaches that as little as 15 minutes a day of “just getting the blood moving,” with small amounts of activity can significantly improve your health.

In even cheerier news, exercise of this sort can by performed at, beside and around your workstation – so there’s no excuse. We asked two leading Australian fitness professionals to share their favourite desk-ercises.

Lower-body workstation workout

Ben Lucas is an ex NRL player, sought-after personal trainer and owner/founder of Sydney’s Flow Athletic gym. “There’s no doubt that we’re all busy in this day and age and as a result our fitness routines can fall by the wayside in favour of sleeping in or getting to work early,” he says. “However, you can still keep your health on track, even if you’re chained to your desk for the day.” The more vigorously you power through this resistance routine, the greater the bonus cardio benefits.


Stand up with your chair behind you and your feet shoulder-width apart, then imagine you are about to sit in the chair. Keeping your chest up and abdominals in while breathing normally, slowly pretend to sit down, sticking your butt right out until almost on the seat and then bring yourself back up to a standing position while thrusting your hips forward and squeezing your butt. Repeat. Focus on keeping the weight in your heels. Do three sets of 15 reps and up the intensity if you wish by holding a heavy book with both hands.


Stand up with your feet shoulder-width apart; it helps to imagine you’re standing on railway tracks. Step one foot forward keeping your back straight. Bend both knees, keeping all the weight in your front heel. Your back leg is just there for support and should hold minimal weight. As you bend down, ensure your front knee is not pushing forward over your toes – it’s very important to make sure this movement is straight up and down. Push up through your front heel and repeat. Do three sets of 15 reps on each leg.

Calf Raises

Stand up with your feet shoulder-width apart, and feel free to lightly hold onto your chair or desk for support. You can do these together or one calf at a time. Slowly come up onto your toes and then back down again and repeat three sets of 15 reps. It’s very important to gently stretch your calves out after your session.

Sumo pulsing squats

Stand with your feet wide apart, toes pointing outwards. Slowly bend your knees until you reach a deep squat position then only come half way up and then go back down again. Repeat three sets of 15 reps.


Upper-body workstation workout 

Kim Beach, personal trainer, fitness personality and author of Beach Fit recommends posture-improving ‘desk-ercises’ that work towards lengthening the spine, strengthening the core and counteracting the forward curve that your body tends to adopt during desk time.

Angled push-ups against desk or wall

“This one’s great for strengthening arms, core and abs and therefore overall posture,” says Kim. Position your hands at the edge of your desk, stand with feet hip-width distance apart and suck in your core, so you are essentially in a plank/ push-up standing position. Slowly lower your bodyweight towards your hands by bending at the elbow. Slowly push yourself back up. Contract your core and glutes throughout.

Chair Tricep Dips

Position your hands on the edge of the chair, palms down, knuckles facing outwards. Stretch your legs straight in front or bend your knees, depending on your skill level. Letting your arms take your weight, push yourself up off the chair before lowering your body down near the floor (but don't touch the ground), then push down through your heels and push yourself back up. Keep your core engaged throughout.

Bicep book curls

Grab the heaviest books in your office and hold them in front of you at waist level as you would dumbbells. Stand tall, chest out (although this can be performed seated, too). Move the books up from your waist to your shoulders and back again, keep elbows tucked tight into your side.

Shoulder squeeze

“This one’s great for correcting posture and lengthening spine,” says Kim. Clasp hands together behind your back, and roll your shoulders back to establish a good position. Squeeze your fists downward. Contract your core. Hold for 5-10 seconds, release and then repeat around 8-10 times.