Gym exercises for office workers and people who sit at a desk all day

5 Gym Hacks for Office Workers/Perennial Sitters

I recently did an online program for someone who works in an office. As part of online programming I find out what training the person is currently doing. The client sent me two training sessions they did every week. Here is a summary of one session:

Warm Up

5 mins on treadmill


20 mins on bike machine

Strength Exercises

  • Bench press
  • Leg press
  • Lat pulldown
  • Dumbbell Chest Press
  • Seated Row
  • Seated dumbbell shoulder press
  • Lying Triceps extension
  • Preacher curl

Aside from a lack of what are known as ‘functional’ movements, the thing that struck me most about this program was that nearly every exercise involved sitting down. The exercises that didn’t involve sitting down, well, they involved lying down!

If you’re sitting down in an office all day, the last thing you should be doing in the gym is taking a seat.


I don’t follow people around in gyms but often I deliberately follow someone in the gym and will see bad posture being exacerbated by poor movement selection. No exercise is inherently good or bad, however, for certain people, certain exercises are going to be more or less beneficial than others.

Smart Selection

Exercise selection is particularly important when dealing with basic postural problems. Generally a good protocol when confronted with a postural issue is:

  1. Identify what’s causing the problem.
  2. Discontinue the cause (if possible)
  3. Avoid anything that makes it worse.
  4. Implement corrective exercises (exercises that will improve the postural dysfunction).

By being smart in the gym you can easily take care of points three and four. By being not so smart in the gym you can solidify and strengthen dysfunction.

General Advice

No two cats are the same and postural problems are often complex and deeply engrained, but, by following five basic basic tips, many people will be able to:

  • Take steps towards offsetting the damaging effects of sitting
  • Avoid exacerbating poor posture/pain
  • Become more aware of what is helping and/or hindering them.

Thus, this article was prompted…

(I don’t follow people around in gyms.)

5 Tips for Office Workers/Perennial Sitters

1. Stand Whenever You Can

You could easily do an entire gym session in a seated position, as the previously mentioned program demonstrates. This doesn’t seem smart.

All of the exercises in the program could be substituted for a movement that would be more beneficial, both in terms of posture and, arguably, overall training effect. For some exercises it’s as simple as doing the same movement in a standing position.

So, using the online client’s workout as an example, switch:

  • Bench press for press ups.
  • Leg press for squats.
  • Lat pull down for chin-ups.
  • Dumbbell chest press for more press ups.
  • Seated row for dumbbell bent over row.
  • Seated dumbbell shoulder press for standing dumbbell shoulder press.
  • Lying triceps extension for standing triceps extension.
  • Preacher curl for standing biceps curl.

2. Horizontal Pulls Instead of Pushes

When seated for long periods of time it’s really difficult to maintain good posture and it’s super easy to hunch over, especially if you’re looking at a computer screen. This can often lead to head chasing posture. Doing lots of horizontal pushing movements (bench press, dumbbell chest press) will exacerbate this as these movements recruit and strengthen the muscles of the chest and the front of the shoulders, which will solidify the rounded and hunched over posture.

However, by working the muscles involved in pulling everything back (mid traps, rhomboids and posterior deltoids) you can offset this and improve your posture.  These muscles are recruited by horizontal pulling movements such as inverted rows, bent over rows  and 1 arm rows

3. Barbell Overhead Press

Overhead Pressing Requires:

  1. Full range shoulder flexion, i.e. you need to be able to lift your arms straight over your head (this might sound easy but it’s suprising how many people struggle to do this).
  2. Good thoracic spine (upper back) mobility and function.
  3. Your scapula to be in a good position.
  4. An ability to stabilise your trunk (brace your core).
  5. The unison of lower and upper body strength and stability. 

When you sit down:

  1. Your shoulders are in the same position and become adaptively short and tightened so they can’t fully flex (reaching straight up over your head becomes difficult if not impossible).
  2. Your upper back rounds and slumps forward into a bad position.
  3. Your scapula protracts (rounds forward into a bad position).
  4. Your trunk musculature switches off.
  5. Your lower body goes to sleep.

As you can see, the overhead press is an antidote for slumped posture. Overhead pressing will help improve the stability and positioning of your upper back and shoulders whilst also being one of the best upper body strength movements there is.

4. Switch Your Legs Back On

When you sit down for a long period of time the musculature of your lower body goes to sleep, it switches off. So, when you’re at the gym it’s a good idea to spend a bit of time switching your legs back on. This is best accomplished through movements such as: deep squats, hip thrusts, single leg hip thrusts and stiff leg deadlifts.

5. Just Keep Moving

Another thing that happens when you sit down for long periods of time is physiological processes, such as your metabolism, can start to slow down. One of the best ways to offset this is movement. So, when you’re in the gym, try and be in constant motion.

An easy way to do this is to incorporate active recovery between exercises and/or sets. This can be as easy as walking around instead of standing still between sets; adding some light cardiovascular exercise such as skipping between exercises or doing some kind of very light warm up movements, such as swinging your arms or shoulder circles, during your rest period.


If you’re smart about your movement selection, gym training can help offset some of the potentially damaging musculoskeletal effects of office life. Make sure you:

  • Stand up whenever possible and avoid seated/lying exercises.
  • Include horizontal pulls (inverted rows, barbell bent over rows) and overhead presses in your training program.
  • Do lots of full range of motion lower body (legs) exercises.
  • Keep on the move between sets and exercises.

Jon Reid is an Edinburgh personal trainer, if you want him to follow you around during your workout then get in touch for personal training in a private personal training studio in central Edinburgh. Take your health and fitness to the next level.

Following people around in gyms is entirely unacceptable but following people on Twitter is encouraged: check out @PantheraJR for articles and tips.