Today, it’s common knowledge that exercise is crucial to a healthy balanced life. Choosing exercise that promotes muscle balance (strength, flexibility and coordination) can prevent a whole slew of joint issues. Plus, with low back pain being a major societal problem, it has been proven that simple exercise is one of the best ways to treat back pain (and potentially minimize recurrences). Finding time to complete a formal exercise program can be a big limiting factor. However, even if it’s just a few minutes here and there it’s still beneficial: even at work!
Here are some exercises you can complete anywhere by starting with a manageable goal of 10 x 5 seconds holds, 2-3 times per day for each exercise. Then build from there…
1. Transverse Abdominus (TA) activation:
This is a good exercise by itself but is also a good stepping stone for promoting good core strength with all exercise. The TA is a muscle that runs across the abdomen and pelvis horizontally the way that a girdle or back brace would. When these muscles are simply tightened and held, the back is well supported and ready for any movement.
Use of these muscles is easiest lying down with the knees bent (feet approximately hip width and hands in a comfortable spot) so you may start at home unless you have a designated exercise space at work. Otherwise, you should be able to quickly progress to completing it while sitting and standing.
Tighten your stomach and hold. Don’t forget to breath and keep the upper body relatively relaxed. Not sure if you found these muscles? Check out our most recent article about the core here.
2. Pelvic tilts:
A lot of people with back pain end up with poor disassociation between their pelvis and spine, meaning everything moves really stiffly in the back. Being able to differentiate helps with stiffness and promotes circulation to the trunk.
Start by sitting in your seat with your hands resting on your thighs, comfortably rock your pelvis forward and backward while keeping your upper body and head stay relatively still. You can progress to sitting on a yoga ball, hands and knees (if possible at work) and standing as flexibility allows! BONUS: Breath in as you arch back and breath out as you curl forward to promote a relaxing effect.
The rest of the exercises now all build off of the first two with the key of always starting with a tight core and neutral spine. (Not sure what this is? Check out this article.) They’re all done in standing: perfect for taking a break or while working at a standing desk:
3. Heel raises:
Use of the core should be second nature with any movement of the limbs, even something like heel rises. Bringing awareness to how you’re moving with something simple can help ensure you have good control with all your daily tasks while promoting lower body circulation. Find neutral spine, lightly tighten your abdominals like in exercise #1, then lift your heels and come straight up on your toes as high as is comfortable. Imagine you are balancing a book on top of your head so that you don’t lean too far in any direction.
4. Hip abduction
Shift all your weight to one leg without losing your good posture. Then bring the free leg out to the side and back while keeping the toes pointing forward (not out to the side). The range should be manageable and not cause you to lean to the side. Otherwise, make your movement smaller until you have better control. Doing one legged standing will challenge your balance while using the core muscles of the pelvis and hips.
5. Hip extension:
With the same focus as exercise #4, extend one leg back while squeezing the gluts. Don’t let your back arch or body lean forward, this means you went too far. A lot of us tend to be considered “hamstring dominant” with hip extension, which puts a lot of stress of on the low back biomechanically. Focusing on good core activation (particularly the gluts for this specific movement) can help tone up your butt and keep your spine and pelvis happy!
6. Marching in place
This simple exercise can still be hard when focusing on keeping your core tight, bring your hips to at least 90 degrees (parallel with the floor) and pelvis level (no leaning or dropping of the hips). You can mix it up either by alternating legs or burning out one leg at a time. You can progress to no hands to challenge your balance or try more of a twisting motion to target the oblique muscles of your abs (knee toward opposite shoulder). This is a very functional exercise to complete since we all have to walk on a daily basis, with a bonus of promoting good balance and strength since you will bring your thigh higher than when walking!
7. Mini Squats
This is the most challenging to complete while keeping the core strong. Many people squat wrong. The key is keeping your weight through the heels (not in the toes) and knees behind the toes (see pic), all while keeping the core engaged. Start with a small range and build to what is comfortable for you. Good form and control with squatting is another very functional motion for daily activities such as getting on and off desk chairs, toilets, car seats, etc.
Any of these can be progressed with increasing repetitions, hold time, sets, or even with adding weights or bands. These can all be done right at your desk. They are simple but can be challenging with the right focus and attention to form. These are great individually or can be used to start a challenge in the office to see how many times per week it can be completed.
There are so many benefits to exercise at work for productivity and general health that it should be hard to find an excuse why you shouldn’t start these today!