At the gym we push, pull, and lift; in the office we sit, think, and talk. Our gym work adds density to our bones, mass to our muscles, mobility to our movements, and perhaps years to our lives. So I’ve often wondered why, in the act of doing that day job of sitting, thinking, and talking, a person can’t also do a little extracurricular pushing, pulling, and lifting?
The short answer is: there’s no reason not to add a workout to your work. Read on to explore four key activities that can challenge your muscles without testing your coworkers’ patience.
Some of the movements I’ve added to my workdays over the years have raised eyebrows (word to the wise: wall sits don’t go over well in some meetings). And if you’re the frequent-flyer type, know that these can be easily done in an airport, and the equipment needed can fit into the tiniest of computer bags or carry-ons.
What You’ll Need
A tennis (or stress) ball, a napkin, a baseball (or lacrosse ball), a small exercise band, and a compact wobble or balance board.
While these exercises will keep your blood flowing and your brain moving, do check with your doctor, trainer, and, of course, HR department before embarking on this course of action.
1. The Napkin, the Baseball, and the Foot
Equipment: Napkin and hard ball
We ask a lot of our feet, which support our entire weight. Building strength in them makes structural sense. While sitting at your desk, slip off a shoe and place a napkin under your foot—preferably not one with pepperoncini still clinging to it—and simply scrunch your toes into it, dragging the napkin toward your heel to perform a modified version of a towel toe curl. Finish off this portion of your cubicle workout with a little relief via a baseball/lacrosse ball roll. Place the ball under your foot and press your body weight into it at various positions. It’s the DIY version of a foot massage.
2. The Wobble Board, Ankle, Calf, and Core
Equipment: Compact wobble board
Sadly, the only surfing most of us do involves the web. However, you can replicate some of the physical gains of surfing (a more muscular core, better balance, and stronger ankles) by taking a wobble board to work. Wobble boards have a flat surface mounted on a rounded base. They come in many sizes, including ones that are compact enough for the office. Balancing on it single-footed will strengthen your core and your lower legs and ankles. Use a chair for extra stability to get started. Next, step off the board to strengthen your calf by doing one-footed standing heel raises. Afterward, stretch your Achilles tendon and calf muscles with a simple runner’s wall stretch at the edge of your desk, placing your toe on a stable vertical structure.
3. Small Resistance Band and the Art of Abduction
Equipment: Resistance band
You can do a lot with a small-diameter resistance band (10–12 inches) in very little space. Hold it around your ankle or thigh (barely visible), then push one leg at a time against it (sideways, backward, forward, even adducting across your body) to build glute strength and stability. If you can take an actual break from the keyboard, holding the band in both hands and pulling in a variety of directions (overhead; in front of your chest; off to one side) will stretch and strengthen your chest, shoulders, and arms.
4. Tennis Balls, Hands, and Heart
Equipment: Tennis or stress ball
Finally, the exercise no cubicle workout should be without: the stress-ball squeeze. Researchers aren’t quite clear on the mechanism that makes stress balls work, but they’ve seen the results: consistent drops in systolic blood pressure. You can use a ball specifically made for this purpose, but the tennis ball you throw to your dog will work just as well—especially if you add in the relaxation benefit of thinking of your best canine friend while squeezing it. Even if you don’t have a loyal pup, picture the plaintive eyes of a golden retriever, pug, or husky waiting for you as you handle the ball; all it wants to do is play. By five o’clock, you may be feeling the same way.
Susan Gerhard is a coach, teacher, and writer living in San Francisco.