The ultimate ‘how to’ video guide of exercises and stretches for office workers

Improve concentration and wellbeing while reducing stress.

About the author:

Office workers spend more than 90% of their working hours sitting at their desks. According to the World Health Organization (WHO)a sedentary lifestyle is leading cause of disease and disability. Apart from the negative effects sitting has on the body, we sometimes become so engaged that we even neglect to breathe correctly which fatigues the brain and slows down the thinking process. Office workers can also experience eye discomfort and vision problems due to looking at their screens for long periods. How do you overcome the negative effects of sitting too long? What are the best exercises and stretches for office workers?

It is important to keep your body and mind healthy. Take the time to move and do office exercises and stretches for ALL parts of your body. In this article and set of videos, we will discuss the best exercises for office workers and even include some deep breathing techniques to improve your mood and reduce stress at work!

Table of Contents

Why sitting is bad for you

Sitting for long periods, and especially poor sitting habits, will cause bad posture. This results in additional stress on your spine, intervertebral discs, and muscles in your lower back, neck and shoulders. What actually happens when you sit?

How much exercise SHOULD you be doing (WHO)?

exercises for office workers can prevent back pain
Exercises for office workers can reduce back pain and other health issues
The dangers of sitting: why sitting is the new smoking (Government of Victoria, Australia)

The WHO and other researchers have found that excessive sitting can raise your risk of heart disease, diabetes, stroke, high blood pressure, and high cholesterol. 

Office exercises and stretches, maintaining a good posture and understanding the importance of how to sit properly, are key to avoiding and managing stress at work. Exercise helps reduce the likelihood of job burnout and being tired at work.

In the following 8 videos we will show you some of the best exercises for office workers. 
You don’t have to do them all – try them out and the select those that work best for you!

Stop exercises if you experience any pain or discomfort.

Consult your healthcare professional if pain or discomfort persists.

1. Neck and shoulder exercises for office workers (2:29min video)

The muscles at the back of the neck commonly feel tight as they overwork to hold the head upright. A simple way to help prevent neck and shoulder pain associated with computer use, is to follow these simple neck and shoulder stretches that can easily be done in the office or at home.

Neck and shoulder exercises for office workers

  • Tilt your neck back slowly.
  • Look upwards towards the ceiling, hold and return to original position.
  • Repeat 10 times.

  • Stand up straight and look straight ahead.
  • Place your right hand on the left hand side of your head and gently pull your head in the direction of your right shoulder until you feel a stretch on the left side of your neck.
  • Return to your original position and repeat the process on the other side.
  • Repeat 5 times on each side.

  • Retract (draw back) your neck.
  • Clasp your hands behind your head and gently pull your head down towards your chest until you feel a stretch in the back of your neck.
  • Return your head to the original position.
  • Repeat 5 times.

  • Turn your head to the side until you feel a stretch on the side of your neck.
  • Hold and repeat on the other side.
  • Repeat 5 times.

  • Gently lift your shoulders.
  • Hold for a few seconds and then drop them slowly. You should feel tension being released as your shoulders drop.
  • Repeat 5 times.

  • Hold one arm across your body.
  • With the other arm, pull your elbow into your chest until you feel a gentle stretch in your shoulder. Hold for 5 seconds.

  • Repeat with the other arm.
  • Repeat 5 times.

2. Upper and lower back exercises for office workers (2:48min video)

Upper and lower back exercises for office workers

Office workers that sit for long periods without any breaks or exercises, often experience some form of back pain. Regular exercises and stretches can strengthen the muscles that support your back, thereby reducing the risk of back pain. In addition, it is essential that your chair is correctly adjusted. 

How to adjust your chair to prevent back pain.

  • Cross your arms and hug your body.
  • Place your right hand on your left shoulder blade and the left hand on your right shoulder blade.
  • Keep your head forward.
  • Rotate your upper body from the waist, turning gently from left to right as far as you feel comfortable.
  • You should feel tension on both sides of your lower back as it stretches out.
  • Repeat 5 times.

  • Wedge you chair against your desk or wall to prevent rolling.
  • Sit on the edge of your chair and place your feet flat on the floor.
  • Lean over and rest your chest on your knees with your arms hanging to the floor.  
  • Relax your head.
  • Bring your hands behind your legs, right hand grasping left elbow and left hand grasping the right elbow.
  • Pull gently and feel the stretch in your upper back.
  • Hold for 5 seconds.
  • Release your hands to the floor again.
  • Repeat 10 times.

  • Sit upright on the edge of your chair with your feet together.
  • Put the palms of your hands into the small of your back.
  • Lean back over your hands with your head forward and chin slightly up, feeling your lower back stretch out.
  • Repeat 5 times.

  • Sit up in your chair, or stand next to your desk.
  • Stretch your arms overhead and interlock your fingers.
  • Turn your palms to the ceiling as you lift your chin up.
  • Tilt your head back and look at the ceiling.
  • Breathe in slowly, hold for 2-3 seconds and exhale. 
  • Repeat 5 times.

  • Hold your arms out straight in front of you, palms facing down.
  • Lower your head in line with your arms.  
  • Round the upper back while looking down towards the floor.
  • Breathe in slowly, hold for 2-3 deep breaths and exhale.
  • Repeat 5 times.

  • Sit on your office chair with your back fully supported by the backrest.
  • Wrap your arms around the backrest of the chair.  
  • Clasp your hands together and pull.
  • Hold for 5 seconds.
  • Repeat 5 times.

3. Leg, hamstring and quad stretches for office workers (2:24min video)

Tight hamstrings (the large muscles in the back of your thighs), is often as a result of too much sitting in the workplace.

What is a good sitting position in the office?

Leg, hamstring and quad stretches for office workers

  • Stand behind a chair and hold onto the back for support.
  • Raise your right arm towards the ceiling and simultaneously stretch your left leg behind you.
  • Hold for 15 seconds.
  • Switch legs and repeat for the right leg.
  • Repeat 10 times.

  • Sit on your desk chair, extend one leg outward and with a flexed foot.
  • Reach towards your toes.
  • Hold for 10 seconds.
  • Switch legs and repeat 5 times each side.

  • Stand behind your chair and hold onto the top of the backrest.
  • Raise your heels off the floor onto the balls of your feet.
  • Slowly lower yourself back to the floor.
  • Repeat 10 times.

  • Lean back in the chair or stand up.
  • Pull one knee at a time towards your chest.
  • Hug your knee against your chest.
  • Breathe in slowly, hold for 2-3 deep breaths and exhale.
  • Release and switch legs.
  • Repeat 5 times.

  • Stand behind your chair and hold onto the top of the backrest.
  • Stand on your left leg with the left knee slightly bent.
  • Bend your right knee behind you and use your hand to bring your heel up to your bottom.
  • Hold for a few seconds.
  • Switch legs and repeat 5 times.

4. Hip stretches and exercises for office workers (1:08min video)

Hip stretches and exercises for office workers

According to an article published in NBC News, sitting for long periods can result in tight hips. This may decrease mobility of the hips and force other muscles (adductors, IT band, foot muscles, etc.), to overwork. Doing exercises and stretches to loosen up your hips is therefore important for office workers.

  • Cross your right ankle over your left knee.
  • Sit up straight and gently lean forward.  You should feel the stretch in your glutes and hip.
  • Switch legs and repeat 5 times.

  • Stand with your back against a wall, with feet slightly apart and approximately 30 cm’s away from the wall.
  • Slowly slide your back down the wall and bend your knees until they are at about a 90-degree angle in an imaginary seated position.
  • Hold for 15 seconds, then slide your back up the wall to return to a standing position with your legs straight.
  • Repeat 5 times.

5. Core exercises for office workers (1:27min video)

Our core connects every part of our body. Sitting for long periods weakens the core so it is essential to build its strength. Doing exercises and stretches for your core while you are in the office, is both quick and easy.

correct work ergonomics can reduce lower back pain
Core exercises for office workers

  • Sit in your chair in a straight upright position with your feet flat on the floor.
  • Position your hands behind your head and interlock your fingers.
  • Lift one knee towards the opposite elbow twisting your body down toward it.
  • Repeat 10 times on each side.

  • Sitting upright in your chair (note you will need a swivel chair).
  • Lift your feet slightly off the floor.
  • Hold onto the edge of your desk.
  • Use your core and swivel the chair from side to side.
  • Repeat 10 times.

6. Wrist and arm stretches for office workers (2:56min video)

Wrist and arm stretches for office workers

Working long hours at the computer every day can place serious strain on your fingers, hands, wrists and arms. Correctly setting up your workspace can prevent muscle strain and other injuries in your fingers, wrists, hands and arms.

Best practices for ergonomics in the workplace

  • Stand up at your desk with arms hanging by your sides.
  • Point your fingers towards the floor with palms facing backwards.
  • With straight arms, pulse your hands backwards.
  • Repeat 20 times.

  • Stand with your feet together.
  • Raise arms horizontally to the floor, palms facing downwards.
  • Make 10 forward circular movements with your arms and 10 backwards circular movements.  
  • Relax your arms and repeat.

  • Place your palms together in front of your chest just below your chin.
  • Keep your hands close to your stomach and your palms together.
  • Slowly lower your hands toward your waistline, until you feel a stretch under your forearms.
  • Hold for 10 seconds and repeat 3 times.

  • Roll your wrists 10 times clockwise and anti-clockwise.
  • This exercise can be repeated hourly.

  • Clasp your hands together in front of your body.
  • Tuck your elbows into your sides.
  • Make a figure eight motion with your hands, rotating your wrists completely. Rotate wrists 10—15 times.
  • Next, stretch your arms forward – keep your elbows straight with your fingers still intertwined and your palms together.
  • Turn your palms outwards whilst keeping your fingers intertwined. You’ll feel a stretch in your fingers, hands, and wrists.
  • Hold the stretch for 20 seconds and relax your arms.
  • Repeat every hour.

  • Extend one arm straight out in front of your body. Make sure your elbow is straight.
  • Turn your palm towards the floor and point your fingers downwards, also towards the floor.
  • With your opposite hand, reach out to the extended hand and pull the extended hand toward you. Hold for 3 seconds. A stretch should be felt in the top of the forearm or back of the wrist.
  • Switch arms.
  • Repeat 5 times.

  • Extend one arm straight out in front of your body. Make sure your elbow is straight.
  • Turn your palm towards the ceiling.
  • With your opposite hand, bend your wrist back so your fingers point down towards the floor. This stretch should be felt in the front of your forearm. Hold for 3 seconds. A stretch should be felt in the front of your forearm.
  • Switch arms and repeat 5 times with each.

7. Deep breathing exercises (0:50 min video)

Diaphragm or deep breathing is easy to learn. You can do it whenever and wherever you want to relax and reduce stress. Other benefits associated with deep breathing include reducing blood pressure, slowing down your heart rate and increasing oxygen in your blood which increases stamina and promotes healing. 

Benefits of deep breathing – Harvard Medical School.

Deep breathing exercises for office workers

  • Sit or stand at your desk in a comfortable position.
  • Breathe in deep and slowly through your nose for 5 seconds.
  • Hold your breath for 3 seconds.  To ensure that you are breathing in correctly, place one hand on your stomach and one hand on your chest.
  • Breathe deeply into your abdomen and make sure your hand on your stomach is rising.
  • Slowly breathe out through pursed lips for 5 seconds.
  • Repeat this breathing exercise 3-5 times initially each morning and evening and at least twice during your work day or when you are feeling anxious and stressed. You can extend the breathing time the more comfortable you get.

8. Exercises for eyes (1:57min video)

Staring at a computer screen all day can put strain on your eyes. Poor lighting, glare on your screen, improper viewing distance and uncorrected vision problems are all factors that contribute to computer-related eyestrain. An incorrect viewing distance and vision problems often lead to a poor sitting posture.

Eye strain may result in work errors, headaches, blurred vision, dry eyes and neck and shoulder pain.

Eye exercises for office workers

  • Blink eyes slightly.
  • Look upwards and downwards – repeat 6 times.
  • Look diagonally right upwards and left downwards – repeat 6 times. Repeat in the opposite direction.
  • Draw a square with your eyes, starting at the left hand corner in a clockwise direction – repeat 3 times then blink a couple of times. Repeat in the opposite direction.
  • Imagine a clock.  Make a circular motion on the clock-face starting on the number 12, then 3, 6, 9 and back to 12 – repeat 3 times then blink. Repeat in the opposite direction.
  • Vertical knot: Trace an imaginary figure 8 with your eyes starting from the top of the knot – repeat 3 times then blink. Repeat in the opposite direction starting from the bottom.
  • Horizontal knot: Imagine the figure 8 in a horizontal position. Trace the figure with your eyes starting from the left hand side – repeat 3 times then blink. Repeat in the opposite direction, starting from the right hand side.

Stop exercises if you experience any pain or discomfort.

Consult your healthcare professional if pain or discomfort persists.

9. Complete video set (all 8 Vlogs)

For your convenience, here is the complete video that includes all 8 of the above Vlogs.

Conclusion

All of these office exercises and stretches can easily be incorporated into your daily workday routine. Improve your mood and general wellbeing by doing these basic exercises at work every day!

By the same author:

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