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6 Things I Learned When I Exercised at My Desk for a Month


There exists a paradox within me. On one hand, I love working out. I honestly, truly do—I like to sweat. I feel sudden urges to run for no reason, like I did when I was a kid. I love trying new workouts. I consider, "I felt like I was gonna die," to be a ringing endorsement for a gym class.

But on the other hand? I really, really want to find a way to get super-ripped without actually having to, like, do anything.

I don't know why I feel that way, but I do. I guess it's because I know looking like those bikini models takes discipline. You don't necessarily get there from frenetically trying whatever workout catches your fancy that week, running your butt off, guiltily squeezing in strength-training sessions whenever you think of it, and eating basically whatever you want (read: a lot). It takes a lot of work, and it's not always fun.

My friend sent me an Instagram post today that went something like this: "Body type—not terrible but definitely enjoys pasta." I relate, guys.

Anyway, that paradox probably helps explain, at least a little, why I'm so addicted to those articles about workouts you can do at your desk. Logically, I understand that these moves are more aimed at "don't die from sitting too much" rather than "get Michelle Obama arms", but some part of me hears and hopes for the latter.

So I volunteered to workout at my desk for a few weeks. Whenever I remembered (more on that below), I hoisted a dumbbell overhead and did a few shoulder presses and tricep dips. I mixed in resistance band bicep curls and seated rows when I got bored. In my fantasies, I'd finally have the cut biceps of my dreams. Reality looked a little different though.

It Was a Conversation Topic
I was semi-prepared for this. But in all honesty, I reassured myself, "This is Shape! No one will bat an eye. Everyone will cheer me on, or even join in!" Well, the fitness version of High School Musical didn't end up happening, and I had to explain myself a lot. Weirdly, even though everyone was super-into it once I did fill them in (our social media editor kept threatening to Snapchat me), I felt a tinge of self-consciousness. There were times I thought about picking up the dumbbell but shied away from it, not wanting to have the "It's for a story!" conversation at that moment. And that's in what has to be one of the most fitness-accepting offices around! If I was working anywhere else, I think my concerns about looking silly or righteous somehow would be multiplied by a thousand.

My advice? While I'd love to tell you to just go for it, that's not what I did. Try sticking to moves that don't require you to raise your hands over your head—like seated rows, twists, and bicep curls. (It was only when my cubemates spotted my overhead presses and seated skullcrushers that I got called out.)

It Worked—a Little
Right or wrong, I judge a workout at least in part by how sore I am the next day. The first few days I was doing this experiment, I was a little sore. But by the end of the first week, I stopped really feeling it. When I mentioned this to my coworkers, they all agreed that while my desk circuit may not be the most intense (I really didn't want to sweat all day long), it was probably better than doing nothing

Some other signs that something was happening: I was hungrier and thirstier during the day, the moves got easier as time went on, and—oh yeah—my arms looked slightly more toned when all was said and done. (Win!)

I Got Out What I Put In
I made up my own routine based on the gear I had at my desk and moves I feel comfortable with. I also stuck to a "do it when you feel like it" plan. But as with everything else, I'm confident that if I'd put more effort into creating a full, balanced circuit (and committed to doing it every hour on the hour), I would have gotten more noticeable results. These moves would have been a good start.

It Was Crazy-Easy to Forget
Everyone knows it's hard to build a habit, but I was still surprised by how often I realized at the end of the day that I hadn't touched my workout gear since I sat down that morning. Other times, I simply talked myself into delaying my next set until—oops—it was time to go home.

Luckily, I found a few easy workarounds. Just leaving the dumbbells and resistance band in plain sight on my desk helped jog my memory. I also created little cues to remind myself to workout. For instance, when my fitness band buzzed to tell me I hadn't moved in over an hour, I grabbed a dumbbell before taking a walk to get more water. Setting a phone alarm would have the same result.

It Hurt and Helped My Focus
When I was actively doing the exercises, I couldn't really do much work. I could read emails or articles (scrolling between moves), but that was about it. (No, I didn't write this one-handed.) Still, since each circuit took only a couple minutes, this wasn't a huge problem. And the pros balanced it out: I definitely felt more energy all day long when I was doing the desk workouts, which I attribute to the increased blood flow and the simple fact that I was getting out of my sit-and-stare-at-the-screen routine. It also encouraged me to sit up straighter, and we all know posture has a huge effect on mood and energy levels. (Try this perfect posture workout.)

I'm Not Going to Stop
Okay, so the big reveal: I didn't come out with a six-pack or anything. But my desk routine felt like one of those small steps that, when taken together with other good-for-you moves, had the potential to make a pretty significant difference. And like everyone said, it was at least better than not doing it, right?


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