Can I Do Exercises at My Desk that Burn Calories?


10 Exercises to Do at Your Desk
Photo credit – AETNA via

Reader Phillip Watson asks:

“I’m a desk jockey who sits all day at his desk when working. I’ve noticed that I’m gaining weight and that I’m getting sore legs. Is there some desk exercises that I can do?”

Sara Colquhoun – Pilates Instructor

How much space and privacy you have will determine whether you feel like busting out a few squats and push-ups in between emails! However squeezing in a few daily exercises at your desk between deadlines and meetings will make for a higher level of productivity through your day and a healthier body.

Desk Exercising Verses Walking

In order to burn a mass amount of calories you need to be doing some high intensity bursts of movement or a prolonged steady pace of exercise like walking. So it is probably safe to say that most of us are not going to burn a couple of hundred calories when you’re sat at your desk, but don’t be put off! That doesn’t mean we can’t burn a few, which if repeated a couple of times a day at your desk will definitely add up.

Desk Exercising Benefits

There are many amazing benefits you’ll get from starting to add in some simple exercises to your daily desk time. By adding some mindful movement into your day you can:

  • Improve posture
  • Increase blood flow and circulation
  • Decrease the level of stress and anxiety held in the mind/body
  • Release stiffness and general aches and pains
  • Decrease the chance of repetitive stress injuries
  • Relieve neck tension
  • Create a healthier happier mind and body overall

Best Desk Exercises

So what can you do at your desk to start to shed a few calories and work on your overall health?

  1. Sit on the edge of your seat with your feet flat on the floor and your spine as tall as possible. Lifting one heel at a time start to prance the feet and legs doing 30 repetitions on each side. Not only is this good to get the blood flow and circulation going but its great for the muscles in the feet!
  2. To engage the upper body and improve your posture, stay on the edge of your chair with the feet flat. Have the elbows bent and hands resting onto the desk in front of you. Press the hands firmly into your desk then draw the shoulders back and lift the eyes and chin to the sky. Repeat this action 10 times.
  3. Where you can walk. Take time at lunchtime to head out for a short 15-minute stroll to clear your head and get your body moving; and always take the stairs instead of the lift!

It’s safe to say save your big calorie burns for before and after work but absolutely add some mindful movement into your day to shed a couple of extra calories and improve your overall health!


One of the most accomplished Pilates instructors for her age, Sara Colquhoun has been training in Pilates since the age of 14, and teaching since the age of 17. Her clients include elite AFL players and Australian Ballet dancers.

Sara’s background as a performing artist in dance – attending The Victorian College of the Arts after moving from Sydney at the age of 18 – led her to the natural progression of becoming an instructor.

After completing her diploma in dance and performing arts, Sara pursued a career in Pilates under guidance of Pilates International.  She is now owns and manages her own studio Ki Movement Pilates located on Clarendon Street in South Melbourne.

Throughout her teaching career Sara has trained AFL players from the Western Bulldogs, Australian Ballet dancers, VCA students, Musical theatre performers (Jersey Boys, West – “Storytelling is the most powerful way to put ideas into the world today” ~ Robert McKee 2  Side Story), Cirque de Soleil artists, all the way to radio presenters.

Sara’s highlight in her career to date is the recent accolade of winning the international competition to become the next Pilates Anytime instructor. She is one of the youngest instructors to join such an elite group of trainers on the site with direct lineage from founder of the movement, Joseph Pilates. Pilates Anytime is a global platform that has viewers from all around the world who will be watching and performing Sara’s classes.

She has big plans for bringing knowledge of body awareness, general health, well-being and an education of Pilates, along with communicating the benefits it has across all aspects of functional movement to everyday life.

Sigrid de Castella – ‘Half the Woman I Was’ Author, Speaker and Health and Business Coach

It’s no secret in this age of information that we are sitting more, and moving less. If you spend nine or more hours sitting each day then it could be literally shortening your life – even a 60-minute workout won’t counteract the effects of a long day of sitting.

Your body was designed for regular movement. Sitting for extended periods of time causes a reduction in blood flow, leading to organ damage, sluggish digestion, brain damage and a reduction in muscle and bone density – and that’s not to mention the postural issues and reduced calorie burn that comes hand-in-hand with long stints of inactivity, and increased stress levels leading to overeating. Yes your ‘desk job’ is actually making you fat and shortening your life.

Ways to Counteract a Desk Job

However there are several ways to counteract the desk job, and burn valuable calories in the process. These are as follows:

1. Get Up Often
Whether it’s to the photocopier, meeting room, kitchen or even the rest room, set a timer on your computer to ensure you get up and move around for 10 minutes of every hour. Walking around burns 3-5 times the calories that sitting does, so take every opportunity you can to get up and move. This might sound like you’ll get less done, but actually you’ll be refreshed by regular short breaks, think more clearly and be more energised to power through your work more effortlessly. Odds are you’ll be even more productive.

2. Drink Lots
We should be consuming 45mls of fresh filtered water for every kilogram of weight – more if we’re exercising or drinking dehydrating beverages like coffee and alcohol. This may seem like a lot of water to get through in a day but it will counteract the drying effects of office air conditioning and will get you more active with frequent trips to the restroom.

3. Use Ergonomics
Ergonomics used to be limited to ensuring your screen height and chair height were correct and using tools like a foot rest or wrist rest to aid correct posture. More alternative options include using a kneeling chair or a ‘bounce’ ball instead of a regular chair. But research shows that the best ergonomic option is a standing workstation with an ergonomic mat, and these are slowly becoming more popular. And new innovations are continually being developed like a movable height desk and a ‘hamster wheel’ desk that keeps you on the move.

4. Correct Your Posture
Ensuring your posture at your desk is correct is key. But what does this mean? When sitting you should ensure your spine is ‘stacked’ by sticking your bottom out behind you to form a ‘J’ shape – simply wiggle your ‘big booty’ back in the chair and push your coccyx back. It can feel a bit awkward at first and takes a bit of practice and constant self-monitoring, but it’s a much less stressful position, more comfortable and also helps prevent you from slouching or hunching over.

5. Do Desk Exercises
There are literally dozens of exercises you can do at your desk to ensure better blood flow and combat the harsh effects long periods that sitting has on our bodies. These are my top 10 to do hourly, relatively undetected.

  • Deep Breathing – Start with 5 deep breaths, exhaling as much air as possible to void the build-up of carbon dioxide in your lungs
  • Foot Twirl – rotate your feet clockwise for 5 twirls, then anti-clockwise for 5 twirls
  • Full Calf Flex – white seated roll each foot onto your heel, then onto your toe. Repeat 5 times for each leg.
  • Thigh Pump – Simulate a ‘football-style’ run by rapidly tapping your feet on the floor for 30 seconds while seated.
  • Thigh-High – While sitting in your chair, lift your right foot a few inches off of the floor. Keep your knee bent at a 90 degree angle and hold the position for 5-10 seconds each site. Repeat 5 times for each leg.
  • Chair Shrug – Sit upright, grab side of the chair and try to lift yourself off the seat. Pausing at the top of the movement for 5-10 seconds. Repeat 5 times.
  • Desk Biceps Curl – Sit close to the desk, place your open palm under the desk and ensure your elbows are bent at 90 degrees. Push up against the desk pausing at the top of the movement for 5-10 seconds. Repeat 5 times.
  • Desk Triceps Pushdown – Sit close to the desk, place your open palm on top of the desk and ensure your elbows are bent at 90 degrees. Push down against the desk pausing at the top of the movement for 5-10 seconds. Repeat 5 times.
  • Hand Stretch – Tense and relax the muscles in your hands by first making a fist, then opening it and spreading your fingers. Repeat 5 times.
  • Plié Squat – Stand up and point your toes outwards and take a wide stance. Slowly bend your knees in the direction of your toes as far as it comfortable, hold for 5-10 seconds and stand up. Repeat 5 times. While plié squats are more graceful than regular squats, give them a miss if your work attire includes a fitted skirt.

And lastly, get a pedometer or FitbitTM on to ensure you reach at least 10,000 steps a day.

Sigrid In Fat-Pants SMLSigrid de Castella is an internationally published author, speaker, and coach in the fields of health and business. Her book “Half The Woman I Was – How I lost 70kg naturally, reclaimed my life … and how you can too!” has received international acclaim and has been hailed as the most comprehensive weight loss book on the market.

Sigrid has also studied Personal Training with the Fitness Institute Australia and has a keen interest in whole food nutrition, natural therapies and all aspects of physical and mental health. Sigrid and holds a BBA from RMIT University and is a member of both the Australian Institute of Managers and the Australian Society of Authors.

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Disclaimer: The information published in this column is based on each of the author’s own professional and personal knowledge and opinion. This information and opinion is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment of any manner. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding any medical condition and consult a qualified medical professional before beginning any nutritional or exercise program. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on InShape News.

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