Fitness Fast: Back Exercises at Work

Workdays sitting at a desk, hours of standing during presentations at work or leaning over the counter in the shop… Such activities do not pose a short-term problem for reasonably fit individuals. In the long term, however, they lead to muscle tension, stiffness and more serious complaints in even the healthiest of us. The solution is variation and balance. The following four exercises will help you to break up a sedentary workday in the office to keep you and your back in good shape.

Back Exercises in the Office

Sitting is not regarded as taxing for the body compared to other forms of activity: this misconception has led to an epidemic of back pain. Indeed, it’s only when an orthopaedist pins back pain to the eight hours we spend at our desk each day that sitting down no longer seems quite so comfortable. The term ‘back pain’ is no longer the prerogative of blue-collar workers such as bricklayers, assembly-line workers and farmers—even office workers are all to familiar with its consequences. But only if they don’t do anything about it. Four simple exercises can help to incorporate some activity into the workday to prevent the possible consequences of our sedentary modern lifestyle.

As is the case with all forms of exercise, only fit and healthy individuals should do these exercises without first consulting a doctor. People who suffer from back problems are advised to consult their general practitioner before including office exercises into their daily routine. In another vein, the prompt to ‘stand up’ precedes most exercises, but you should stand up briefly at least every fifteen minutes at work. Standing up is the simples way of counteracting the effects of extended periods of sitting. A wastepaper bin even a few metres from your desk is reason enough to leave your desk for short periods during the day. Instead of calling your co-workers on the phone, take a short walk to their office and hold the conversation in person. Every bit of movement is good for both body and soul.

Exercise One: Reach for the Skies

Stand up and take a few steps across the room to loosen your muscles. Gently shake your arms and your legs, and then reach towards the ceiling. Imagine trying to reach something that is floating just below the ceiling of the room—to put it more poetically, dare to reach for the skies. Maintain your current position and continue to stretch for the ceiling at short intervals to allow your spine to straighten out. Repeat this exercise five to ten times.

Exercise Two: Small Circles, Big Decrease in Tension

You are not required to stand up for this exercise. You may sit upright at the edge of your office chair (furthest from the backrest). Alternatively, you may stand up and take a few steps in a circle to loosen your muscles. Now start making small circles with your shoulders. Try to carefully draw small circles in the air. Feel your collarbones and then your shoulder blades move as you draw each circle with your shoulders. After making five to ten circles, move your shoulders in the opposite direction (i.e. rotate your shoulders backwards if you were initially rotating them forwards). The key in this exercise is to move your shoulders slowly and carefully. With time, try to create more and more perfect circles. The aim of this exercise is to loosen your neck and shoulder muscles.

Exercise Three: Crossing the Road

You don’t have to leave your desk for this exercise, either. Sit at the edge of your office chair and adopt an upright seating position. If the code of conduct at work permits it, you may prefer to stand up. Now, remember what your parents told you when you went to primary school: before crossing the road, remember to look left and right. Of course, you probably won’t be crossing the road on your office chair. Nevertheless, looking left and right towards your shoulders helps to relieve tension from your neck and upper back. Before you start this exercise, remember that all movements of the head should be performed slowly and carefully. With that in mind, we’re ready to start the exercise. Turn your head 90 degrees to the right and look over your right shoulder. Then turn your head back to the starting position. Now perform the same movement on your left side. Repeat this exercise up to five times on both sides.

Exercise Four: The Headrest

Whether this exercise is done sitting or standing, it will contribute to strengthening your neck muscles. Rest your hand at the back of your head. Now push against your hand with your head and steadily increase the pressure. Once you have reached maximum pressure, hold this position for five seconds and then slowly relax the tension. Repeat this exercise with your other hand and then repeat five times.


Exercises can be spread out at intervals during the day. The maxims that apply to sport also apply in the office: increase the number of repetitions slowly and steadily, listen to your body and don’t overexert yourself. Remember that nobody would think to run a marathon without first having built up their stamina over time. And even if these exercises aren’t exactly a marathon, give your muscles time to build up.

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Fitness Fast: Back Exercises at Home

During work hours, it is important to activate the back muscles with easy-to-to exercises. This is especially important in the longer term. We recently introduced you to four back exercises that fit nicely into the routine of day-to-day work. The following four exercises, on the other hand, are custom tailored for the home environment. They require movements and positions that wouldn’t exactly suit the code of conduct at work. Indeed, the first exercise involves lying down, which probably wouldn’t go towards earning you a promotion. We hope that you have fun and wish you and your back all the best!

Constant Dripping Wears Away the Stone

As with our office exercises, it is more important to repeat each home exercise regularly rather than for a large number of repetitions. It is consistency that counts. If you have difficulty repeating an exercise for the allocated number of repetitions, you might prefer to do one half of the exercise in the morning and the other half at night. It is not sitting in itself that contributes most to back pain but the lack of activity to break up a sedentary lifestyle. For example, three quarters of Germans state that they experience back pain at least once a year. In many cases, this pain is not caused by skeletal or other diseases but by muscle tension or stiffness that can be attributed to insufficient activity.

If you don’t have time for regular exercise, you should at least include some basic back exercises and frequent postural changes into your everyday routine. Doctors generally make reference to the 50/25/25 formula. This denotes that half the workday should be spent sitting down, a quarter standing and a quarter doing some kind of activity. After you’ve clocked off for the day, consider stretching to loosen your muscles. Also, don’t ignore the health benefits of taking the stairs rather than the elevator to integrate some exercise after hours. As with all forms of exercise, stop if and when any exercise causes you discomfort or pain. If you are unsure whether to avoid a particular type of exercise due to a pre-existing condition, consult your general practitioner. The following section provides exercises that require practically no equipment, except a solid floor and perhaps a yoga mat or blanket.

Exercise One: Freestyle on Dry Land

Loosen your muscles by taking a few slow steps across the room. Now lie down flat on your belly. A blanket or yoga mat is a good idea, but it is not a requirement. You are lying flat on the floor with your arms stretched out in front of you. Gently raise your left arm and your right leg off the floor. Keeping your gaze focused on the floor, hold this position for between 15 to 30 seconds. Now relax your left arm and right leg, and raise your right arm and left leg off the floor. Repeat this exercise five times.

Exercise Two: Beetle on Its Back

Roll over onto your back. Make sure that you are lying flat on the floor, but don’t press your spine against the floor either. Now pull your knees towards your chest and create a right angle between your thighs and calves. Hug your shins and lift your head and shoulders off the ground. Hold this tension for ten to fifteen seconds and then take a short break. Repeat this exercise three times in total.

Exercise Three: Ski Jump

Turn back onto your belly and prop yourself up onto your hands and knees. Stretch your arms out straight, your shoulders above your wrists and your knees below your hips. Breathe slowly and gently move your upper body back until your buttocks touch your feet. Your hands remain fixed in their original position during the whole exercise. Try to stretch out your back and feel the tension release. Inhale slowly and return to the starting position. Repeat this exercise three to five times.

Exercise Four: Fly Like Superman!

Lie flat on your belly and stretch your arms out in front of you (like in Exercise One). Breathe in and out gently. As soon as your breathing becomes calm and regular, tense your stomach muscles, back and buttocks. Rest your feet on the ground—your toes should be perpendicular to the floor—and gently raise your upper body. Your head and neck muscles should remain as loose as possible; your gaze should be focused on the floor. Hold the tension for at least ten seconds and then release the tension and lower your upper body to the floor. Repeat this exercise up to ten times.

If you are already working on your fitness through simple exercises at work, heed a word of caution. To start with, too much exercise can be too much of a good thing, and it can give rise to serious muscle soreness. Consider increasing the number of your daily exercises bit by bit and spread them out over the day. And finally, do not overexert yourself by doing too many repetitions. Nobody would think to run a marathon without proper training. Even if the exercises do not appear difficult, give your muscles time to build up.

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