Primal Starter: 5 Exercises To Do At Work Today

Inline_Fitness_Live-Awesome-645x445-02I’ve been in meetings with the woman who did lunges in the corner while the rest of us sat around a conference table. I’ve watched a guy lift a kettlebell he kept under his desk every time he took a phone call. There’s nothing wrong with any of that. But not everyone works in a space where that would realistically fly. That said, frequent movement is one of the best things you can do for yourself. It’s the base of the Primal Blueprint Fitness Pyramid for good reason. So, if you’re stuck in cubicle land all day or can only get away for a few minutes at a time, what are some more “covert” ways to fit in some movement in your work day?

Loaded Stair Ascension

The stairwell (if you have access to one) can become an office gym for simple walking or sprints, but add a little imagination for some extra benefit.

Try walking the stairs while carrying something heavy, like a box of printer paper. If your office has gone exclusively electronic, maybe it’s a box of tablets or something. Or a willing co-worker (or, for a tougher workout, a non-willing co-worker).

Switch it up: Skip a step or two as you climb, turning a simple loaded stair walk into a walking stair lunge. Change how you hold the object, too – overhead with two hands, overhead with one hand, in the front rack position, on either shoulder, out in front of you.

Stair Jumps

Plyometric exercises like box jumps are great, but jumping down from the box as many times as you jump onto it can do a number on your joints if you’re not careful. By using the stairs, you’re never jumping down. You’re always going up. That makes it harder (for your muscles, stamina, etc.) but easier (on your joints and connective tissues).

Switch it up: Try single leg jump, single leg landing; single leg jump, double leg landing.

Faux Sitting

If you’re stuck at a desk for longer stretches of time, you still have options. Engage your glutes and raise yourself up in your chair by about an inch, so you’re just hovering over the chair in a squat position. Hold that squat for as long as you can. Passers-by will just assume you’re furrowing your brow because you’re working so hard. They’ll never suspect that you’re exercising.

Switch it up: Do it single-legged. Lightly, slowly, almost imperceptibly bounce up and down.

Isometric Contractions

Even though it sounds like it wouldn’t work, voluntarily contracting your muscles as hard as you can and holding it can increase strength and size. In a 2013 study, researchers asked trainees to do the following training regimen: hold your elbow at a 90 degree angle and flex your biceps and triceps as hard as you can for four seconds followed by four seconds of rest; do this for 5 sets of 10 contractions, three days a week for 12 weeks. After 12 weeks, trainees had increased extension and flexion strength and added 4% to the size of their biceps and triceps. You don’t have to make this your sole workout routine, but it wouldn’t hurt to do a few contractions during downtime just to keep your muscles primed.

Switch it up: Try doing the same with your legs.

Stand Up

Yep: just stand up. Stand up from your chair and sit back down. Do it a couple more times. Do it again in two minutes. Stand up at least once a minute. There are many ways to do it. The important thing is that you work against gravity on a regular basis. It’s not hard, and you don’t have any real excuses not to. So stand up. Often. It’s probably more effective to do this throughout the day, rather than do a single set of 50 stand ups.

Switch it up: Stand up with one leg, sort of a mini one legged box squat.

Bonus: Resistance Band Shoulder Abductions

This one is obviously an exercise that might elicit attention from those around you, but the results of a recent study were so compelling that I’d say it’s more than worth the gawking of coworkers. Researchers took two groups of office workers with frequent neck and shoulder pain and had one group do resistance band shoulder abductions (video here) for two minutes a day for 10 weeks. The control group merely got health advice for fifteen minutes a day over the same period. In the exercise group, complaints of neck and shoulder pain dropped by 40%, while strength increased by 6%. No such effects were seen in the control group.

Switch it up: No band? Do isometric abduction contractions against the desk using the same arm/shoulder position.

About the Author

Mark Sisson is the founder of Mark’s Daily Apple, godfather to the Primal food and lifestyle movement, and the New York Times bestselling author of The Keto Reset Diet. His latest book is Keto for Life, where he discusses how he combines the keto diet with a Primal lifestyle for optimal health and longevity. Mark is the author of numerous other books as well, including The Primal Blueprint, which was credited with turbocharging the growth of the primal/paleo movement back in 2009. After spending three decades researching and educating folks on why food is the key component to achieving and maintaining optimal wellness, Mark launched Primal Kitchen, a real-food company that creates Primal/paleo, keto, and Whole30-friendly kitchen staples.

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15 thoughts on “Primal Starter: 5 Exercises To Do At Work Today”

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  1. Most people get a lunch break. Use some of it to go for a brisk walk. Take an appropriate pair of shoes to work with you if necessary.

  2. I crack out a set of pushups on my way into the office in the morning, every time I take a coffee/iced tea break, and at lunch. So I usually get in 3-4 sets scattered through day, every workday, which works well for a “grease the groove” protocol. It’s also a great way to oxygenate, energize, and de-stress right before a critical meeting,

    I used to do pushups and hindu-squats in my cubicle but we changed offices and I no longer have a cubicle, so now I do my “micro-workouts” in the corporate courtyard. Nobody complains, and a couple people have asked if they can join the “pushup club”. Best of all, our corporate fitness officer (yes, we have one) is totally supportive.

    1. Love that you’ve inspired others to join you. It’s those little things that can really add up. Just like when your co-workers ask about what you eat. Leading by example is always the best idea.

      1. “.. co-workers ask about what you eat…” — Indeed. I lost a lot of weight on keto, and I’m asked about it regularly. As a result, I’m now in charge of the corporate “paleo/keto” email group.

  3. I first heard about getting up and out of your chair from Christiane Northrup in the book “Goddesses Never Age.” That was the first time I really understood how simple it is to work against gravity, and it’s so easy to do in any workplace. I’m also big on standing on one foot, then the other, because balance is an important (and ofter overlooked) part of fitness.

  4. Great post. I incorporate exercise routines while getting ready for the day and at work too. Great way to stay focused and energized throughout the day. I even do them in elevators, of course when no one else in them…

  5. I just gave up on the desk job, and became a tradesman. Better pay, and I spend my days exercising.

  6. “Stand up”..the last “exercise” was the best because in my mind, it’s the easiest change that most people can make yet they never do. As someone that works from home, you’ve got to move around.

  7. > Try walking the stairs while carrying… a non-willing co-worker

    “Abduction as workout” does, I guess, seem Primal, but this time I’m siding with modernity.

  8. Pro tip: don’t do abdominal isometrics until after your daily BM.

  9. Whenever I go to the bathroom, which I try to do somewhat often by drinking a lot of water, I get to walk all the way from one side of our long office to the other, and then after I wash my hands I try to do as many pushups as I can with good form (I can’t do very many) or 10 lunges each side, or 10 squats, or maybe 10 standing leg abductions to wake up sleepy glutes. and then I return to my desk. (Although I am compelled to note that I wash my hands again after the pushups. It’s a bathroom, after all.)

    Another idea is to not have a personal printer in your office. Our printer is a large copier/scanner, which is not far outside my office. I make it a point to print, walk over, pick up my paper, and go back to my office. I try not to let a ton of paper accumulate there to be a good colleague, but also to move more frequently. It’s a small thing, but I think it’s accumulative. There are so many creative ways to add more movement without making it overly obvious. We are also lucky to have Varidesks.

  10. I’ve been sitting all day in front of my computer, and this faux sitting and stand up would surely work for me. Thumbs up to this interesting piece of article.

  11. Great post for fitness. i get Exercise are necessary in our busy schedule. I like to do Plyometric exercises but I’ve dought about joint pain after a long time.