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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