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Upper Body Desk Exercises to Do at Work

If you’re worried about your fitness levels dropping after sitting all day at work, the good news is you don’t have to stay stagnant during your 9-5! Seated desk workouts are a great way to tone muscle groups in your upper body, including the arms, chest, back, and shoulders. They’re also a great way to reduce stress in the workplace, data shows. This information has led to the advent of office-friendly workouts.

Another reason for their popularity is that, apart from being doable in front of a computer screen, these activities are often easy to personalize. You can adjust the strength of the workout by adding a resistance band, dumbbells, or a medicine ball. Without these equipment, however, the exercises are still able to tone your arms, shoulders, and chest. 

While desk exercises aren’t a substitute for standing, compound workouts such as deadlifts, overhead presses, and squats, isometric exercises (holding one pose for an amount of time) has great benefits for one’s posture and can help you build strength to better perform more intense workouts.

Let’s get started!

How Can I Tone My Arms While Sitting at My Desk?

If you’re serious about toning your arms during the workday, one of the best tips you can follow is to invest in a few tools for exercise. Like we mentioned above, these are the resistance band, some dumbbells, and a medicine ball. The resistance band allows you to tone not only your arms but your shoulders as well. Dumbbells are great for building muscle in your arms without having to get up from a seated position.

For the specific workouts that can build upper body strength, let’s move on to the next section: upper body exercises you can do at your table that target your shoulder muscles, arms, and chest. You don’t need a trainer for these, only the commitment to a consistent workout routine and the right form. You may pull up a few exercise videos to get the posture right, but each activity is intuitive and easy enough to follow with little risk. Want to try your hand at them? Let’s get right to it!

What are 5 Upper Body Exercises?

These upper body drills ensure you don’t have to leave your chair to stay toned. All you need is your computer table, chair, or a nearby wall — workout equipment is optional, but recommended. If you’re ready to start your fitness journey, here are 5 exercises you can do in the comfort of your own chair. Perform them the way you like, adding or removing reps as needed:

  • Reverse high-five
  • Goalpost Squeeze
  • Bicep curls
  • Arm circles
  • Overhead tricep extensions

Additionally, we’ve added two bodyweight workouts that require a little more effort but are incredibly beneficial to building strength. Let’s take a look!

Reverse High-Five

This simple workout is usually performed while standing, but it’s also easy enough to replicate while sitting down without hitting the back of your chair. All you have to do is stretch your arms by your side, palms facing the back. Move your hands from back to front while your palms are still faced behind you like you’re giving someone behind you a high-five. Repeat the motion, doing 10 reps or tight pulses for each set. For a more intense stretch and squeeze, hold a medicine ball behind you instead of an open hand.

Goalpost Squeeze

This activity is a great chest opener stretch that can also strengthen your back muscles. Start by sitting straight up in your chair, body facing front. Put your arms in goal post position or bent 90 degrees at the elbow, upper arm at shoulder level. 

Relaxing your shoulders, slowly pull your arms towards the back of the room while your body is still facing front. Imagine you’re squeezing a marble in between the shoulder blades and your back. Release, then repeat for 9 more reps. Make sure your feet are planted firmly on the ground for the duration of each set. To add intensity, use resistance bands and repeat 15 times. This is perfect for keeping your posture and back aligned throughout the day.

Biceps Curl

Start by sitting straight up in your chair, keeping your feet firmly planted on the ground. You can use water bottles if you don’t have weights or dumbbells. Bend your arms at 90 degrees then slowly curl until your upper and lower arms are paralleled. Hold this position for 6-10 seconds. Do six reps during your breaks and add more as needed. You should be able to do around 3 sets.

Arm Circles

Another great exercise that’s easy to do is the arm circle exercise. As the name suggests, you’re going to be moving your arms in a circular motion. Start by extending your arms sideward to shoulder height, making sure they are parallel to the ground. Keep your palms facing downward and your body facing front. Start moving your limbs in a small circular movement, going forward for 30 seconds then repeat in the reverse direction for another 30. Perform 3 sets.

Overhead Tricep Extensions

Triceps makeup the muscles in the back part of our upper arms, so it’s important to add physical activities that target them if we want to be well-rounded. Overhead tricep extensions are a great way to do this without leaving your chair. 

To start, plant your feet firmly on the ground and make sure you’re seated securely on your chair. You must have a pair of weights. You can use dumbbells or a heavy water bottle on both hands. Raise your arms above your head holding your equipment, then slowly bend them to 90 degrees, dropping your weights from the top to behind your head or the back of your chair. Slowly move back to the top position. 

Perform 10 reps or as often as needed, completing 3 sets. You should also feel a slight stretch in your shoulder blades and your back. You may also use a medicine ball for this exercise. Instead of having a ball in each hand, simply grip the device with both of your hands and perform the activity the same way. Make each set include 15 reps.

Alternatively, you can do this with each set focusing solely on a single arm. The movement remains the same: push your hands high up in the air, then move your arm to 90 degrees and slowly lower your weights. Do 10 reps before switching to the next arm. Perform 3 sets.

Tricep Dips

Here’s another workout that targets the triceps area. Now, you’re going to be using your whole bodyweight — no need for dumbbells or a medicine ball. This one requires a little more movement in the lower body, but if you’re keen on getting fit, don’t skip it! 

Ideally, you should be doing this exercise on a stationary chair, not one that has wheels. If your ergonomic chair has wheels, then you may try doing this on your computer table instead.

Start by moving your chair a little away from your table so you get enough clearance. Sit on the very edge of the chair and place your hands on the side by your hips. Make sure your feet are extended outward as far away from your body as possible with your heels planted firmly on the floor and your fingers pointed downwards. Keep your chin up as you slowly slide your body away from the chair. 

Using the strength of each arm together, lower your body down onto the floor until you’re almost sitting on the ground. Your arms should form a 90-degree angle. Keeping your chest out, push yourself back up to the starting position. Repeat 10 times for at least 3 sets. Make sure you feel a stretch in your shoulder blade area, but stop when you feel a sharp pain.

Incline Push Up

Incline push-ups are another wonderful bodyweight exercise, ideal for building strength in the chest, shoulders, and arm muscles. To start, move your chair away from the table. You should also be using a chair without wheels or your table if necessary.

Place your hands on your desk or chair, hip width apart. Move your feet as far away from your body as possible until you’re holding your body 45 degrees away from the floor in an almost push-up-like position. Keeping your knees locked, lower your body using the strength of your arms until your chest is almost touching your table or chair. Push back up until you’re back to the starting pose. Do 10 reps for each set.

And there you have it! Often, we think staying in shape while working is impossible, but the answer is right in front of us. With or without workout equipment, these light physical exertions serve as a great maintenance routine to keep us in shape and not completely sedentary.

Want to try your hand at other office-friendly stretches and workouts? Go ahead and explore different articles on our page for tips in staying office-fit!

Frequently Asked Questions:

How can I exercise at my desk in secret?

Exercising in front of co-workers can make anyone feel self-conscious. However, light physical exertion in front of one’s workstation has become increasingly common, thanks to data in favor of physical activity breaks throughout the workday. Next time you’re in the office, don’t be afraid to stretch out your knees or your chest. You can even do a few simple glute drills or core-strengthening workouts.

How can I lose belly fat while sitting at my desk?

Losing belly fat has more to do with one’s diet, but losing overall body weight can keep that pesky belly away. Aerobic workouts, a.k.a. cardio, is a proven way to lose belly fat. You can do cardio without leaving your workstation by purchasing a stationary mini-bike.

Tricia Montano

Tricia founded Pain Free Working in 2019 due to suffering from degenerative disc disease in her L5-S1 from working an office job for the past 18 years. She and her team strive on finding and reviewing the best office equipment to help fellow pain sufferers find relief and to enable people like her to do their jobs comfortably.