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Desk Workouts: Fitness Experts Share Their Favorite Moves – With or Without Equipment! (VIDEO)

Permission to skip the gym: You can do these mini workouts anywhere, anytime!

We all know that we should move a little more – but finding the time and energy to do so can be almost as exhausting as the workout itself. Turns out, we don’t need long sessions in the gym to improve our fitness. Experts agree that desk workouts, easy movements that can be done between tasks or during commercial breaks, can give us a health boost. The short bursts of vigorous activity are study-proven to improve cardiovascular health, improve blood sugar and more. Here, learn the best exercise snacks to incorporate into your day, whether you have equipment or not.

What is a desk workout?

Desk workouts are mini exercise routines that you can do when you have a few minutes to get moving. They’re often referred to as exercise snacks, since they give you a little bite of movement. “Exercise snacks are brief, vigorous bursts of exercise that you do sporadically throughout the day,” explains Jonathan Little, PhD, a leading researcher in exercise, metabolism and health and a professor at the University of British Columbia.

There’s a host of health benefits to these mini workouts (they don’t have to be done at a desk, either!). The goal is to increase your heart rate and get you breathing more heavily. But unlike long sessions at the gym, you don’t need to change into spandex, tie back your hair and break a sweat. The biggest perk of exercise snacks is that they can be done anywhere, anytime, with or without equipment. Whether you’re doing a quick workout before running to the bathroom or while waiting for dinner to finish cooking, there’s an exercise snack for you!

Are desk workouts effective for improving fitness?

We spend an average of 9.5 hours per day not moving, according to the American College of Sports Medicine. That’s why Cleveland Clinic exercise physiologist Katie Lawton, MEd says any exercise you do is better than doing nothing. (Test your current fitness levels with a sit to stand fitness test.)

Why is sitting so bad? “Extended periods of sitting are known to be harmful to our overall health, with our fitness levels and muscle mass taking a hit the longer we are sitting,” says Julie Lohre, a women’s fitness expert and certified personal trainer. That’s why she’s a fan of these shorter workout bursts. “Aside from being a flexible way to include exercise, these shorter bursts get you up multiple times a day.” (Plus, regular exercise wards off sarcopenia, or age-related muscle loss.)

Desk workouts to try

Ready to get started? Here are the top desk workouts and exercise snacks experts recommend.

If you don’t have any equipment…

No problem! Body-weight exercises are effective for building muscle and improving cardiorespiratory fitness. For a quick burst of cardio activity, run up a flight or two of stairs the next time you stand up – it’s a study proven way to lower risk of cardiovascular disease. Looking to build strength? Lohre recommends standing crunches. They’re simple enough that you can do a round or two standing besides your desk. (Planks are a good option, too — and they help gauge your fitness levels.)

Watch Lohre demonstrate how to properly do the movement:

Other equipment-free moves Lohre recommends trying: air squats and hand-release pushups, where you lift your hands off the ground while your chest, abdomen and quads press into the floor at the bottom of the pushup. For an easy desk workout, Lawton suggests going for a walk, pacing or stretching to get moving. (Try this 90-second squat test to help with posture and balance.)

If you have kettlebells…

Kettlebells come in a variety of sizes and weights, so you can easily adapt to your current fitness needs. Lohre explains that they “provide a great strength training option for women who want to improve their strength while increasing flexibility and cardio endurance.” What’s more, a quick kettlebell workout is highly effective at burning calories. Research from the American Council on Exercise (ACE) found that people using kettlebells burned about 20 calories per minute. The ACE recommends 8-15 pound kettlebells for women who are beginners. Stash one by the couch so you can do a set of exercises during a commercial break or at your desk so you can do them on phone calls.

Both Lohre and Lawton say kettlebell swings are a top move to do with the equipment. Here, watch Lohre demonstrate using a dumbbell, which can be used as an alternative if you don’t have a kettlebell:

Kettlebell deadlifts, windmills and chest presses are also top picks for Lohre. These exercises are great for strengthening muscles in the back and upper body that are key for mobility and lifting.

If you have dumbbells…

If you’re going to invest in a piece of equipment, “my number one recommendation is by far a set of dumbbells,” says Lohre. They’re versatile and effective for exercise snacks that engage both your upper and lower body. Strength and resistance training are especially important for older women, notes Lawton. “Sarcopenia, which is the loss of muscle mass associated with aging, can begin as early as 30 and accelerates once we hit 60.”

So next time you get up to grab a snack, pick up a dumbbell and do a few goblet squats. Lohre says that this movement engages the lower body and core. These key muscle areas that are essential for everyday functioning of your body. For added support, do the squats with a seat behind you, touching your rear end to the seat at the bottom of each squat. Lohre shows how to do the movement here:

To get an upper-body workout in, Lohre recommends doing dumbbell lateral raises, rows and renegade rows. You can find videos of these exercises (and so many more!) on Lohre’s Exercise Database. (Or try these exercises for toned arms.)

If you have resistance bands…

Resistance bands are a favorite of exercisers thanks to their versatility. So if you have a set at the ready, try banded good mornings, suggests Lohre. It’s a simple exercise that engages the glutes, low back and hamstrings – an area called the posterior chain that Lohre notes is key for standing and lifting. “Women who spend long amounts of time sitting or in front of a computer will notice the biggest difference when they add these in,” says Lohre. (Resistance training can also help boost weight loss results.)

Here, she demonstrates how to do the move:

To target outer thighs and glutes, try lateral band walks. “The resistance of the band during the side-to-side movement keeps the abductors continuously engaged,” explains Lohre. She’s also a fan of a band pull apart to keep shoulders strong and stable.

Alternative equipment for desk workouts

Looking to make your body-weight exercise snack a little more challenging, but don’t want to invest in equipment quite yet? “Utilizing old milk jugs and filling them with varying levels of water can take the place of dumbbells,” says Lohre. She also suggests using bags of rice or beans as a kettlebell or doing step-ups onto a stable chair. Or you can fill a backpack with heavy items to wear while you do squats and lunges, or use cans of soup as dumbbells, suggests Lawton.

This content is not a substitute for professional medical advice or diagnosis. Always consult your physician before pursuing any treatment plan.

For more ways to improve your fitness, check out these stories:

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Try This 30-Second Plank Test + See How the Results Can Help You Get Stronger

Try This Quick Sit to Stand Fitness Test + See What the Results Say About Your Longevity

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