In our society, sitting down is the standard. Research from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics is continuing to show that -- although there is a push for an increase in physical activity to lower the incidences of preventable diseases such as heart disease -- many people remain sedentary or have jobs where they are sitting down most of the day. Spending a large amount of the day sitting at a desk or sitting in traffic in a car does not have to stop you from doing some basic exercises and focused movements to activate muscles that can also improve functional movement. Here are eight simple exercises that you can do while sitting down. If you're just starting out, you may want to do these moves without weights, but those with more resistance training experience can you anything from 5- to 15-pound weights.
1. Isometric Leg Extensions
This exercise mainly focuses on the quadriceps. Because our legs form our support base to carry our body weight, having strong legs is very important. If you have a leg weight accessible, use one to take this exercise up a notch. HOW TO DO IT: Starting with the leg at a 90-degree angle, extend the leg until it is straight, then squeeze and hold the leg extended for 10 seconds. Slowly lower the leg to the starting position, performing 10 reps with each leg.
2. Scapular Retractions
Many people find themselves slouching over with rounded shoulders while sitting instead of holding themselves upright with their shoulders pulled back. This exercise focuses on engaging those muscles that slouchers never use, the rhomboids, by actively retracting the scapula and preventing rounding of the shoulders. It can help to improve your posture. HOW TO DO IT: Start with both arms extended in front of you and parallel to the floor. Pull back your arms and squeeze the scapula together as if trying to hold a quarter in the middle of your back between your shoulder blades. Squeeze and hold for 10 seconds, then release and repeat 10 times. Do this exercise throughout the day if you find yourself allowing your shoulders to round over while sitting.
3. Isometric Biceps Curls
We use our arms for multiple functional movements, so the strengthening of our biceps can improve those movements and allow us to lift heavier objects. HOW TO DO IT: Start with both arms hanging to your sides. Complete a bicep curl by bending your arms at the elbow, moving your closed hand toward your shoulder. Squeeze the bicep and the top of the movement and hold it for 10 seconds. Perform 10 reps with each arm. You can alternate arms or perform the movement with both arms at the same time.
4. Pelvic Tilt
This exercise can help to relieve pressure from the lower back while also engaging the abdominal muscles. Many people experience low-back pain and may not be aware of how their seated posture can make it worse. HOW TO DO IT: Start by sitting with your back straight against the back of a chair or wall. Rotate the pelvis back, tucking it under and thereby releasing the tension in the lower back and engaging the abdominal muscles. Then tilt the pelvis forward and repeat. Hold the pelvis in each position for three seconds before tilting in the opposite direction. Repeat for 10 reps.
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5. Isometric Adductor Hold
Working the adductors is important in developing the overall strength in the legs. These muscles are usually activated during leg exercises like squats, deadlifts and lunges and are important when it comes to hip flexion and extension. HOW TO DO IT: First, place a small stability ball between your legs. Start with both legs together and bent at a 90-degree angle. Then squeeze legs together and hold for 10 seconds. Repeat for 10 to 15 reps. This exercise can also be performed with a balled-up towel, a different type of ball or another round, soft object that can be squeezed between the legs.
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6. Weighted Calf Raises
Our calf muscles are smaller muscles, and many people don't pay them much attention. This exercise can be completed with the feet in different positions (toes forward, toes turned in or toes turned out) in order to focus on the different muscles in the calves. HOW TO DO IT: Start with your arms crossed and firmly resting your elbows on your knees. Lift your heels and contract your calf muscles. Hold for three seconds and repeat. It is a good idea to stretch your calf muscles after completing this exercise.
7. External Shoulder Rotation
Shoulders are common areas of pain for a large number of people. Our shoulders are involved in so many of our functional movements that many do not realize how important it is to strengthen them until they actually start to experience discomfort. In particular, strengthening the muscles surrounding the rotator cuff can help to improve shoulder function. This exercise focuses on those muscles. HOW TO DO IT: Start with both arms at your sides, bent at a 90-degree angle. Alternating arms, rotate the working arm out to the side keeping the elbow planted into the side. You can also lift your 90-degree bent arm with the upper arm parallel to the floor while rotating the shoulder forward so that your hand is now perpendicular to the floor. Perform this movement 10 times with each arm.
8. Oblique Twists
Having a strong core can improve all types of movement. Much of our functional movement happens while rotating at the waist, yet many of the typical ab exercises like sit-ups are in the sagittal plane; i.e. moving forwards and backwards. By forcing you to rotate from side to side with an engaged core, this move focuses on the side abdominal muscles, or obliques (aka the muffin top). HOW TO DO IT: Start by engaging your abdominal muscles and then crossing and raising your arms in front of you. Rotate at the waist from right to left. That is one repetition. Complete at least 20 repetitions in order to really work those abs.
What Do YOU Think?
Have you ever felt like you did not have time to exercise because you were unable to go to the gym? Have you ever completed an entire exercise routine while sitting at your desk or in your car? After trying these exercises, did you think of others that can be done sitting down? We want to hear from you.
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