The 10 Best Exercises to Try If You Sit All Day

woman stretching on yoga mat

Stocksy

For those of us who are desk-bound for most of the day, finding time to move around can be challenging. Office workers tend to sit for two-thirds of their waking day, and long periods of sitting can cause problems with your posture and put you more at risk for mental and physical health problems. Breaking up your day with some activity can help, especially if you combat the effects of tight and weak muscles caused by sitting with exercises that stretch and strengthen those areas of the body.

That's why we've tapped Amanda Kassar, Pilates trainer, and owner of Core Club, for some advice on how to combat the adverse effects of sitting. “Sitting for a long period can have an impact on your body, as well as your posture,” she says. Naturally, Kassar recommends Pilates and strength-based movements to remedy tight muscles. “Pilates is a great way to help lengthen and strengthen your muscles. It also helps to build core strength, which combats poor posture and lower back pain. These simple yet, effective workouts can be done anywhere,” she says. 

Keep reading for Kassar’s 10 exercises to help mend and strengthen a desk-bound body.

Meet the Expert

Amanda Kassar is a Pilates trainer, and owner of Core Club

01 of 10

Swimming Pilates

swimming pilates

Pilates by Amanda

“One of the benefits of this move is strengthening the back extensor muscles, which will reduce tension in your neck and shoulders. Also, a great way to improve posture,” explains Kassar.

  • Start by lying face down on your mat. Place your hands flat on the mat on either side of your chest.
  • While pressing your palms and hip bones into the mat, you want to lift your chest, making sure your head doesn’t tilt upwards. Think about lengthening through the crown of the head while keeping no wrinkles in the neck.
  • Once lifted in the chest, lift your palms off that mat and squeeze your shoulder blades. Your glutes should be connected, and your feet should be lifting off the mat.
  • You will want to reach your arms foreword while keeping the shoulders out of the ears.
  • Once the arms and legs are long and active, you will pull the core up away from the mat. You will then draw your elbows back towards your hips as you squeeze your upper back and glute muscles.
  • After the contraction, gently lower down on the mat back in the starting position.
  • Aim for 20 reps
02 of 10

Glute Bridges

glute bridges exercse

Pilates by Amanda

“Glute Bridges are important to strengthen the gluteal muscle group, which is responsible for the movement of the hips. The ability to extend the hips will help take the pressure off your back. The hips are also important as they help to keep your knees and ankles in line,” says Kassar.

  • Lay on a mat with your arms flat by your sides, knees bent, and feet flat on the floor.
  • Push your feet into the floor and lift your hips off the ground until your body reaches a full bridge position.
  • Hold this top position for one count and squeeze your glutes at the top.
  • Lower back to the starting position to complete the repetition.
  • Try 15 to 20 reps.
03 of 10

Side-Line Kick

side line kick

Pilates by Amanda

The hamstrings become weak when we sit all day because they are stretched and not active, leading to postural issues. “This exercise, targeted towards the hamstrings, will both work and stretch the muscle at the same time. Having that hamstring strengthen and stretch will increase flexibility and improve posture,” says Kassar. 

  • Lie on your side, making sure your shoulders and hips are stacked. Stay slightly arched in your back and lift through your bottom waist (think house for the mouse).
  • Your knees should be stacked directly in front of your hips, and your heels should be under your knees. Start by lifting the top leg to hip height and slowly extend the heel straight out. Squeeze your top gluteus muscle once your leg is extended, and then work on slowly bending that top leg back in (hovering directly over the bottom leg). Try to keep the movement slow and controlled.
  • Once finished with the kick, you will keep your top leg extended and then slowly sweep it forward, staying aligned with the hip, and sweep it back. Always focus on moving slowly and connecting through the back of the leg.
  • Aim for 20 reps. 
04 of 10

Side-Line Hydrant

side line hydrant

Pilates by Amanda

“One of the benefits of this exercise is strengthening the hips, increasing mobility, and preventing injuries,” explains Kassar. 

  • Lie on your side, making sure your shoulders and hips are stacked. Stay slightly arched in your back and lift through your bottom waist (think house for the mouse).
  • Your knees should be stacked directly in front of your hips, and your heels should be directly under your knees. Start by lifting the top leg to hip height and holding at the top for 3 seconds with your foot flexed. Try and squeeze the glute muscle at the top and then slowly lower the leg down (hovering directly over the bottom leg).
  • Aim for 20-30 reps.
05 of 10

Single Leg Knee-Up

single leg knee up

Pilates by Amanda

Experts recommend breaking up sitting with breaks for activities such as walking and stair climbing. Kassar recommends taking it one step further with this exercise, saying: “I’m a believer in standing and moving your body if you’re sitting all day. This quick cardio burst will increase your heart rate and blood flow, making you feel more energized.” 

  • Stand on the ground with your feet hip-width apart. Brace your core and your lower back.
  • Drive one knee up towards your chest while swinging your arms.
  • Quickly bring your leg back behind you and continue repeating the movement before switching to the other side.
  • Try 20 reps per side.
06 of 10

Curtsy Lunge

curtsy lunge

Pilates by Amanda

“Curtsy lunges provide lower body strength and are another great way to do a standing exercise. By wrapping one leg behind the other, you are working tiny muscles in your ankle, calves, quads, and core, which will improve balance,” explains Kassar. Another benefit of challenging your balance is activating your core muscles, which become weak when you sit all day. 

  • Stand with your feet hip-width apart and brace your core and back. Clasp your hands in front of your chest or position them on your hips.
  • Take your right foot and step it behind and across your left foot while simultaneously bending your left knee and dropping it towards the ground.
  • Stop when your front right knee is parallel to the ground.
  • Push off the ground with your right foot to return to the starting position.
  • Switch sides and repeat.
  • Try 10 reps per side.
07 of 10

Unilateral Arm Exercise

unilateral arm exercise

Pilates by Amanda

When we work at our desks, we use our dominant arm for a lot of our task work, leading to muscle imbalance. “Working single-arm exercises helps expose muscular imbalances. If you’re on a computer or constantly working on one side of your body, these single movements will help you strengthen each muscle without the support of your other muscle. By doing this it will improve balance and help strengthen your core,” recommends Kassar. Try this tricep extension or other single-arm movements such as a one-arm row, single-arm hammer curl, or single arm lateral raise.

  • Hold a dumbbell with an overhand grip in one arm. Either stand and bend at the hips while bracing your core with a flat back or get on all fours.
  • Once your torso is parallel with the floor, bring your arm with the dumbbell to your side.
  • Push the dumbbell back and behind you until your arm is straight.
  • You should feel a contraction in the back of your arm. Pause here before slowly lowering the dumbbell back to the starting position and repeating.
  • Aim for 10 reps.
08 of 10

Tricep Dip

tricep dips

Pilates by Amanda

“This move strengthens not only the triceps but also the shoulders. Strengthening the shoulders will help with your posture,” explains Kassar. The extra stretch through your chest from this move helps to counteract the tightness that comes from sitting. To level up, try placing your hands on a step or bench.

  • Sit on the floor or on a chair with your hands either next to your hips or slightly under your hips.
  • Lift up onto your hands and bring your hips forward.
  • bend your elbows while lowering your hips down keeping your shoulders down.
  • Push back up but don't lock your elbows.
  • Repeat for 10-15 reps.
09 of 10

Single Leg Deadlift

single leg deadlift

Pilates by Amanda

Another strengthening movement for the back body, single-leg deadlifts, work your glutes and hamstrings, which are weakened during prolonged sitting. “Deadlift recruits most muscles in your legs as well as core and lower back. This will allow for better posture and also improves alignment in your hips, spine, and shoulders,” says Kassar. To level up, add a rowing movement at the top and try using a loop band around your thighs.

  • Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart holding the handles of a resistance band while stepping onto the middle.
  • Brace your core and keep your chest high.
  • Slightly bend your knees and hinge your hips backward, keeping your chest up. This is your starting position.
  • Shift your weight to your right leg while using your left toes for balance.
  • Contract your glutes and drive them forward to return to the standing position.
  • Fully contract your glutes at the top for a pause of one count and then return to the starting position.
10 of 10

Bicep Curl

bicep curl

Pilates by Amanda

Bringing blood flow to your arms can help prevent pain and tension in your hands and wrists if they’ve been elevated while performing computer work and Kassar recommends old-school bicep curls, saying: “If you have been typing on a computer all day, a simple arm exercise that strengthens the upper body is a great way to move your arms with little effort. Sometimes a simple movement is all you need.”

  • Sit on a bench, stand, or get on the floor on your knees. Brace your core and hold dumbbells in each hand with an underhand grip. Keep your back straight and your shoulders back.
  • Your arms should be fully extended with elbows close to your sides. Rotate your palms, so they are facing in to start.
  • Keep your upper arms still and your elbows pinned to your sides while you start to curl the dumbbells towards you in a smooth motion.
  • Rotate your wrists so that your palms face upwards at the end of the movement.
  • Lift the dumbbell until they are at shoulder level and your biceps are fully contracted. Pause here for a count as you squeeze your biceps before returning to the starting position rotating your wrist back to an underhand grip position as you go.
  • Repeat for 8 to 10 reps.
Article Sources
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  1. Daneshmandi H, Choobineh A, Ghaem H, Karimi M. Adverse Effects of Prolonged Sitting Behavior on the General Health of Office WorkersJ Lifestyle Med. 2017;7(2):69-75. doi:10.15280/jlm.2017.7.2.69

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