Work isn't supposed to be fun -- that's why it's called "work." But what you may not realize is how hard your body's working when you're not even paying attention. Sometimes, you end the day with a sore back, a headache no ibuprofen can touch and a jaw that barely moves.
Of course, some jobs are a bit more physical than others -- a cube monkey generally doesn't have to worry about hazardous materials unless something goes terribly awry. But every occupation takes its toll on your long-suffering tendons, ligaments, muscles and joints. Standing on your feet for a double shift as a server? You're going to be badly in need of some Epsom salts at the end of the night. Kindergarten teacher? Probably not the first time you've ended up with achy knees from bending down to kid level. Data entry specialist? There's no way you don't feel creaky when you've spent eight hours hunched over a laptop.
There's a way to alleviate your aches and pains so you don't feel the need to lie down immediately once you've entered your home. Whether you're a mechanic or an economist, you can find the space and time in your workday to get in at least a small workout. All you need is 15 minutes and a little bit of space. No dumbbells, yoga mat or resistance band required. This is the simplest routine you've ever seen.
We're going to start with the easiest exercise on the planet: the gluteal squeeze. Here's what you do:
- Contract your butt muscles.
See where we're going with this?
Your glutei (there are three of them in each buttock, with the gluteus maximus winning the award for "biggest") serve more of a purpose than filling out the back of your jeans -- they're responsible for helping you sit down and stand up, among other crucial movements. Strengthening them does a body good. Plus, it's fun. You can alternate from cheek to cheek on your conference call, and no one will ever know.
But this squeezing technique doesn't need to start and end at your backside. What do we do when we get stressed (besides swear, get cranky at the wrong people, and eat anything whose label screams sugar)? We tense up, often without knowing it. Because it's an unconscious reaction, you have to consciously remind yourself to relax.
One strategy is to go from toe to head, contracting each and every muscle along the way. Scrunch up your toes as tight as you can for a few seconds, and then let go. Move up to your calves, and then your thighs -- all the way up your body, including your face.
If someone is a pain in the neck, he or she is quite a pain indeed, because neck pain is hard to get rid of. Sometimes, you manage to screw up your muscles just by sleeping funny, but spending your days glued to a screen can also do the trick.
To avoid it, turn your head all the way to the left, so your chin is parallel with your left shoulder. Then, slowly drop your head, letting the weight of it guide you. What you're trying to do is make a half-circle motion, starting at the left, moving downward, and finishing at the right. Feel the pull on your muscles, and continue moving slowly to the right until your chin is parallel to your right shoulder. Head back the other way (no pun intended) and continue moving from shoulder to shoulder until the tension in your neck is released.
But why stop there? Another quick one to try is the shoulder shrug. Lift your shoulders high, up to your ears, and hold for a few seconds, then release. You can also move your shoulders in a circular motion -- first clockwise, then counterclockwise. You should be able to feel them loosen up.
An assembly line worker and an ice cream scooper can both attest to the importance of a good wrist stretch. Many jobs require repetitive motions of the hands and wrists, and anyone who's ever suffered the punishment of writing "I will respect my teacher" 100 times knows the pain of writer's cramp.
Here's what you can do:
- Holding your arms straight out in front of you, flex one wrist upward so that your palm is facing away from you and your fingers are pointed toward the ceiling. Take your other hand and pull the fingers of the flexed hand toward you until you feel the pull on the underside of your forearm. Switch hands and repeat.
- Do the same exercise but with your wrist flexed downward; your other hand should pull on your fingers until you feel the pull in your forearm. Switch hands and repeat.
- Flexing your wrists sharply, rotate your hands in a circular motion, going first clockwise and then counter-clockwise.
Staying on the boss's good side might require some unpleasant duties on your part -- keeping your mouth shut, faking a smile and saying, "Thank you," when you'd rather use a more colorful phrase.
You know who doesn't take any guff from anyone? A boxer.
Take a little inspiration from the ring. Plant your feet about shoulder-width apart and start punching the air, shuffling back and forth while you do it. You can pretend you're raising your fists at the couple who didn't tip or that guy who clips his toenails at his desk -- whatever keeps you moving and gets your heart rate up. Then, pretend you're pummeling a punching bag, moving your fists in a vertical, circular motion.
This one is a little less discreet -- you might have to close the door to your office or head outside -- but it's effective, both for relieving stress and getting in a little cardio.
We're going to go ahead and assume that wherever you work has walls ... or at least some sort of solid, vertical surface that's lean-worthy. Go find one and lean back.
Then, stick your legs out so that your back and head are against the wall but your legs aren't (a foot, 2 feet -- whatever feels comfortable). Bend your legs and slide down the wall until it looks like you're sitting. Hold for a few seconds and then slide back up.
The most important thing to remember about squats: Pay attention to your knees. Knees are fantastically hard-working but tricky joints. Be as careful with them as you would be with a new iPhone. Knees are way more expensive.
They shouldn't be going over your ankles at any point, and if they hurt, stop. Make sure you aren't twisting them at all, and feel free to adjust the angle of your knees to the wall. According to a study from California State University, a knee angle below 50 degrees puts less stress on the joint, so if you're prone to hobbling, keep that in mind.
Is exercising at work widely accepted? Visit Discovery Fit & Health to learn if exercising at work is widely accepted.
- Cunha, John P. "Cauliflower Ear." MedicineNet.com. (Feb. 13, 2011)http://www.medicinenet.com/cauliflower_ear/article.htm.
- Escamilla, RF, et al. "Patellofemoral joint force and stress during the wall squat and one-leg squat." Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise. April 2009. (Feb. 13, 2011)http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/19276845.
- Mayo Clinic. "Pinched Nerve." (Feb. 13, 2011)http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/pinched-nerve/DS00879
- National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke. "Carpal TUNNEL Syndrome Fact Sheet." November 2002. (Feb. 13, 2011) http://www.ninds.nih.gov/disorders/carpal_tunnel/detail_carpal_tunnel.htm