The Office Corner Workout: A Dozen Quickie Exercises You Can Do In Your Cubicle

No, you didn’t read the headline wrong. This is not the “corner office workout,” for the elite who occupy spacious private offices. This is the “office corner workout” for cubicle-dwelling plebes who occupy space only as wide as our arm-spans, and pop up like prairie dogs to confer with each other.

In our class, there’s often not enough floor space to do a push-up or a crunch without risk of being run over by an oblivious colleague’s office chair. But here, Rick DiScipio, assistant manager of Boston University’s FitRec Center, demonstrates the minimalist glory of the simple but powerful moves we can do at or near our desks. (If, that is, we can also establish a workplace culture that accepts our colleagues’ quiet exertions.)

Why bother? Sitting is the new smoking (sort of). Even dribs and drabs of activity can improve your health. (A study last year suggested even two minutes an hour of light activity can have an effect.) And if you have to be a worker bee, at least you can be a fitter worker bee. More rationales later. First, the workout.

1) The Wall Slide

Fitness expert Rick DiScipio talk WBUR's Clint Cavanaugh through a wall slide. (Robin Lubbock/WBUR)

Fitness expert Rick DiScipio talks WBUR’s Clint Cavanaugh through a wall slide. (Robin Lubbock/WBUR)

Stand against the wall and slide downward until your knees are at a 90-degree angle. Then slide back up again. Two sets of 12.

2) Sit And Stand

Fitness expert Rick DiScipio shows WBUR staff a sit and stand routine. (Robin Lubbock/WBUR)

DiScipio shows WBUR staff a sit and stand routine. (Robin Lubbock/WBUR)

Stand just in front of a chair with feet about shoulder-width apart. Slowly squat until you sit in the chair for a second, then stand back up again. For more challenge, put one foot in front of the other or — if very fit — try it one-legged. Two sets of 12.

3) Leg Extension

Fitness expert Rick DiScipio shows WBUR staff a leg extension. (Robin Lubbock/WBUR)

DiScipio shows WBUR staff a leg extension. (Robin Lubbock/WBUR)

Sit in a chair and fully extend one leg, then the other. Two sets of 12.

[Time at this point: about five minutes.]

4. Wall Push-Up

Fitness expert Rick DiScipio watches as WBUR staff do wall push-ups. (Robin Lubbock/WBUR)

DiScipio watches as WBUR staff do wall push-ups. (Robin Lubbock/WBUR)

Stand at arm’s length from the wall with your arms at shoulder height and your hands flat on the wall. Do a standing push-up, keeping your elbows close to your sides and concentrating on squeezing your shoulders. Two sets of 12. More challenge? Desk push-ups.

5) Reverse Shoulder Flies With Band

Fitness expert Rick DiScipio uses a resistance band to work his shoulders. (Robin Lubbock/WBUR)

DiScipio uses a resistance band to work his shoulders. (Robin Lubbock/WBUR)

Grasp elastic in hands, elbows straight. Move arms away from each other, out to sides. Focus on squeezing the shoulders together. Slowly return to start position. Two sets of 10.

6) Lateral Band Walking

Fitness expert Rick DiScipio demonstrates using a resistance band to work his legs. (Robin Lubbock/WBUR)

DiScipio demonstrates using a resistance band to work his legs. (Robin Lubbock/WBUR)

Keeping the band flat, not bunched, place it just above each ankle and wrapped around both legs. With your feet shoulder-width apart, the band should be taut, but not stretched. Bend your knees slightly and move into a half-squat position while keeping your feet in line with your shoulders, and face forward with your body weight evenly distributed over both feet. Walk laterally eight to 10 steps on each side.

7) Tubing For Biceps

Fitness expert Rick DiScipio uses resistance tubing to work is biceps. (Robin Lubbock/WBUR)

DiScipio uses resistance tubing to work is biceps. (Robin Lubbock/WBUR)

Assume a stand-up position, palms facing forward. Stand firmly on tube with the arch of your foot. Keep elbows stabilized at your sides as you lift hands up toward your shoulders. Return to start position. Two sets of 12.

[Time for this section: three to four minutes.]

8) Wrist Stretch

Fitness expert Rick DiScipio demonstrates a wrist stretch for WBUR staff. (Robin Lubbock/WBUR)

DiScipio demonstrates a wrist stretch for WBUR staff. (Robin Lubbock/WBUR)

Hold your arm out in front, palm up, and grab your fingers with your other hand. Gently pull them towards you, holding for 20 seconds on each side.

9) Hip Flexor Stretch

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DiScipio demonstrates a hip flexor stretch. (Robin Lubbock/WBUR)

Sit on the front edge of your chair, with thighs parallel to the floor and feet below knees. Place foot (between ankle and heel) on your knee and work towards shin being parallel with the ground.
More challenge? bend at the hips and tilt your torso forward. Hold for 20 seconds on each side.

10) Quad Stretch

Fitness expert Rick DiScipio demonstrates a quad stretch. (Robin Lubbock/WBUR)

DiScipio demonstrates a quad stretch. (Robin Lubbock/WBUR)

Stand on one leg and hold on to the back of a chair for balance. Bend your knee and bring your heel towards your buttocks, grabbing your ankle or foot with your hand. Stand up straight and feel a slight pull in the front of your thigh and hip. Hold for 20 seconds on each side.

11) Hamstring Stretch

Fitness expert Rick DiScipio demonstrates a hamstring stretch. (Robin Lubbock/WBUR)

DiScipio demonstrates a hamstring stretch. (Robin Lubbock/WBUR)

Place your heel on your chair, with hips square to the chair, and standing leg straight. Keeping your back straight, lean forward from your hips toward the leg on the chair. Hold for 20 seconds and switch legs.

12) Lower Back Stretch

Fitness expert Rick DiScipio demonstrates a standing back stretch. (Robin Lubbock/WBUR)

DiScipio demonstrates a standing back stretch. (Robin Lubbock/WBUR)

In an upright position, place hands on lower back and slowly lean back. Hold for 10 seconds. Repeat.

[Time used stretching: about four minutes.]

And a reminder from Rick: Nothing beats deep breathing for stress relief.

BONUS: Here’s a short video of three stretches you can quickly do at your desk.

Questions? Skeptical? Professor Carol Ewing Garber, of Teachers College at Columbia University and formerly the president of the American College of Sports Medicine, says the research is clear that breaking up our sitting time throughout the day can have a powerful effect on wellness.

Those breaks don’t negate the standing consensus recommendation to get at least 30 minutes a day of at least moderate exercise, but to make it easier to fit into your day, you can rack up that half hour in blocks as short as 10 minutes, Garber notes.

Have less than 10 minutes? One thing is clear: taking a break from sitting, in and of itself, reduces your risk of disease, Garber says. “And we always know that something is better than nothing — in most cases.”

So, I asked, does it make sense to aim for a workday in which you work for an hour, then stretch for five minutes, then work for an hour, then do a few push-ups, and on throughout the day?

It does make sense, Garber said, not just for health but for concentration and productivity, and to reduce stress.

She warns that of course it’s not a good idea to do a heavy workout without warming up and cooling down, and if you’re stretching, remember that you’re not as flexible when you’re not warmed up.

The goal is mild or moderate-intensity moves, “so they aren’t really going to pose a great risk to anyone, and in fact, the risk is still considerably greater by remaining seated in your chair. So we’re not talking about doing all-out sprinting down your hallway, which I wouldn’t recommend for various reasons — it might be very disruptive, too! But a moderate walk is quite safe for pretty much everybody, even people who have chronic diseases.”

So how might eager employees pitch workplace workouts to a boss? Perhaps a little “fitspot” area to replace a smoking spot?

Garber would emphasize the health benefits, including perhaps fewer sick days, she says, and the cognitive boost.

“It also helps people clear their minds. I would argue that you might meet your deadline more readily because you had a couple of minutes to do some exercise, clear your head, re-focus. And honestly, some of your best ideas come while you’re exercising. (Or in the shower — but your boss may not want you to have a shower in the corner. Though that would be nice, too.)”

Readers, have you figured out how to squeeze a bit of fitness into a tight workplace? Please share.

(If you have questions for Boston University’s FitRec Center‘s Rick DiScipio you can reach him at discipio@bu.edu).

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