If you have a traditional full-time job, your average work day is likely filled with meetings, deadlines and stress. You know the importance of exercise for your physical and mental well-being, but mornings are already a race against the clock, and most evenings are packed with family obligations or devoid of extra energy. How are you supposed to squeeze in regular workouts in the midst of such a busy schedule?
Enter the lunch hour. In a perfect world, you’d have time to drive to the gym or head outside for a run before taking a shower and putting yourself back together, returning to the office refreshed and ready to tackle the rest of the day. But in most busy workplaces, "lunch hour" means just that: 60 minutes, or sometimes even less.
Getting fit doesn’t always require a gym, fancy equipment or even breaking a sweat. You can get real results by performing quick and easy workouts during even the busiest work days—no shower required. These office-friendly exercise ideas will help you get healthier and stronger without ever having to break a sweat.
Hop on the (Band)wagon
You can build strength by using a portable and inexpensive mini band or tube while on your lunch break. Resistance exercises help to reduce injury and increase strength while improving your range of motion.
Thea Boatswain, fitness specialist and owner of Elan Fitness and Nutrition, recommends this quick mini resistance band routine to stretch your way to your strongest self—without leaving you drenched in sweat:
- Leg Pulses: While sitting in a chair, place the band around your thighs. With knees together, pull your legs out to feel the resistance of the band. Repeat this pulse 20 times.
- Side Squats: Place the band around your ankles, feet together. With one leg, step out to the side and do a squat. Return the feet together before stepping out the side with the other leg and doing a squat. Repeat 10 times on each leg.
- Arm Pulses: Place the band around your wrists, keeping your arms straight ahead of you. (The band should not be on the elbow joint, as this can cause injury.) Pull the band apart with your arms, then pulse them out 20 times.
- Band Twists: Tie the band around something sturdy in your office space, such as a door knob. Standing so your chest is facing the band, extend your arms straight and then twist your body 90 degrees. Your entire body should now be facing away from the band. Repeat 10 times on each side.
Get Fit With a Static Sculpt
Yes, you can still build strength without moving a muscle. Isometric training — which involves static strength exercises where the joint doesn’t move—is a great way to change up your resistance training without ending up soaked in sweat. And, when you hold a single position for a while, it will teach your body how to keep the correct form while also helping your ligaments and tendons build strength. Try doing a static lunge next to your desk, a wall sit behind your workstation or some plank exercises on the office floor (assuming it's clean!).
(Note: If you are recovering from cardiovascular issues, isometric exercises might not be a good choice, as they can raise blood pressure.)
Use Your Own Body Weight
Bodyweight exercises leverage your own weight to sculpt and strengthen your muscles—no dumbbells required. Boatswain suggests starting with these simple yet challenging moves:
30-Second Wall Sit
- Place your hand on your desk and move your feet back so you are at a 45-degree angle.
- Tighten your core so that you are in a straight line from your shoulders to your heels.
- Lower yourself down so your chest touches the edge of the desk, then push yourself back up. Repeat 10 times.
- Place your back flat against a wall.
- Lower yourself so that your knees are at a 90-degree angle.
- Hold this pose for 30 seconds.
- Step forward with one leg, lowering your hips until both knees are bent at about a 90-degree angle. Make sure your front knee is directly above your ankle, not pushed out too far, and make sure your other knee doesn't touch the floor.
- Keep the weight in your heels as you push back up to the starting position.
- Repeat 10 times, then perform 10 leading with the other leg.
- Start by sitting in a sturdy chair. Ease back into a comfortable position, with your hands holding the chair for extra stability.
- Lift both legs up and bend your knees. Make biking motions with your legs.
- Repeat 10 times.
Start Each Hour With a Mini Workout
Don’t have a big chunk of time for a lunch hour workout? Personal trainer Lisa Reed created a custom program with hourly fitness challenges to break up all those hours of sitting. "At the beginning of each hour throughout the day, use the first minute to activate your mind and body by performing exercises that will relieve tension and stress, increase metabolism by using more muscle and boost your concentration," she says. She recommends starting off by doing this workout one or two times per week, and gradually work your way up to doing it every day!
Walk It Off
When pressed for time, simply change into some comfortable shoes and walk, suggests Anthony Dugarte M.D., of Diet Spotlight. "At just three miles per hour, you can cover one mile in 20 minutes, or roughly 2,000 steps," he says, pointing out that getting in 10,000 steps each day can have positive effects on weight loss, blood pressure, blood sugar, energy and concentration.
If a one-mile walk over lunch seems too challenging, start by aiming for 10 minutes and work your way up over time. Listen to your favorite playlist or an audiobook to keep you motivated during exercise, Dugarte suggests. You might also find a workout buddy or form a group to help hold you accountable and ensure you never miss your lunchtime walk.
If the weather permits, take your walk outside to reap the benefits of fresh air. If you’re stuck indoors, utilize staircases and hallways for a cardio boost.
Meditate for Better Health
While it may not be a "workout" in the traditional sense, meditation is a highly effective mental workout that can indirectly lead to better overall health, says Nick Rizzo, training and fitness director at RunRepeat.com. "Practicing meditation is known to help improve the skill of being mindful," he says. "If you are trying to be healthier overall, nothing is more important than your diet, and developing the skill of mindfulness [can] help you to avoid junk food or other bad diet decisions."
Meditation can also help you better cope with stress. Rizzo points out that when you’re able to handle outside stressors with greater grace, you’ll be less likely to "stress eat." Stress can throw your hormones out of whack, which can lead to decreased well-being, higher fat percentages and reduced physical performance.
"Meditation will help you to drive your observations inward, allowing you to become far more in tune with your body," says Rizzo. Whether you have three minutes or 30, meditation is a simple and relaxing practice that anyone can master.
Stretch and Strengthen with Yoga
Innergy Corporate Yoga recommends yoga for people who sit at their desks all day. Even if you can’t commit to an hour or even a half-hour yoga session, performing a few simple stretches at your desk will help you feel less stressed, strengthen your core, help boost your immune system, improve your posture and give you more energy in the middle of your workday—all while staying sweat-free. Get started with these office-friendly moves:
Seated Cat/Cow Pose
Creates a more flexible spine; reduces back, neck and shoulder tension; facilitates deeper breathing; strengthens the back; tones the abdominal muscles and much more.
- Sit on your chair, away from your desk, with your feet flat on the floor and legs at 90 degrees. Sit slightly forward from the back of the chair, so you have room to move through the stretch. Place your hands on your knees.
- Sitting up tall, as you exhale, round your back, pulling your abs into your spine, tucking your tailbone under and tucking your chin into your chest. Be as round as you can be, pushing your mid-back toward the back of the chair behind you (but not actually touching). Arms should be straight.
- As you inhale, allow your belly to move forward, arch your back, send your heart forward and (if your neck is okay) look up to the ceiling. Relax your shoulders and jaw.
- Repeat this motion several times, exhaling back and inhaling forward. Close your eyes if you feel comfortable, taking your attention inwards.
Seated Spinal Twist
Decreases stiffness and increases flexibility in back; reduces stress; increases energy; increases range of motion and more.
- Sit slightly forward on your chair, feet flat on the floor, legs at a 90-degree angle. Contract your abdominal muscles slightly, lift up through your chest and lengthen your spine. Drop your shoulders down your back.
- Cross your right leg over your left and place the back of your left hand to the inside of your left knee. As you inhale, lengthen your spine and reach your right arm straight up. As you exhale, twist to the right. Bend your right arm and place the palm of your right hand either to the back of the chair or on top of it. As you inhale, lengthen, and as you exhale, twist deeper.
- Keep your shoulders relaxed, chest lifted and your breath easy. Twist more with your heart, not your neck. Stay here for five breaths.
- To come out, release your right hand from the chair, and as you inhale, come back to center, reaching straight up with your right hand. As you exhale, release your hand down. Uncross your legs, place both hands on your thighs, then repeat on the other side.
Seated Hip Stretch
Releases tension in hips, buttocks and legs; increases circulation to the lower body, including hips, thighs and buttocks; and provides a deep stretch to the hips.
Not everyone has the luxury of carving out an hour to devote to exercise during the workday, but almost all of us can find a few minutes here and there—especially when there’s no need to shower or change clothes. Try these simple, sweat-free exercises to add more movement to your day.
- Sit slightly forward on your chair, legs at a 90-degree angle, feet flat on the floor. Contract your abdominal muscles, roll your shoulders back and down, and lift your chest up.
- Place your right ankle on top of your left knee and let your right knee relax out to the side.
- As you inhale, sit up tall, and as you exhale, press your heart forward. Continue to inhale as you lengthen, and exhale to move deeper into the stretch. Keep your back flat and spine lengthened as you move deeper. You should feel a deep stretch in your right hip and buttock.
- Stay for three to five breaths. To come out, inhale and sit up straight up again, then release your right foot back to the floor as you exhale.
- Repeat on the other side. Sit quietly with eyes closed for a moment and breathe normally before returning to work.