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One exercise every desk jockey should be doing

Mar 30, 2020 | Fitness

Mom always said…

If there’s one piece of advice Mom gave that I wish I’d listened to, it’s “sit up straight”.

With all the ZOOMing and Teaming and other video-conferencing that’s going on now, I get daily reminders of how crummy my posture is, just by looking at my own video image on my screen.  Now that we’re working a lot more from home, sitting on furniture designed mostly for relaxation and not office work, postures will likely only get worse.

Used to be that only the gray had slumped over, kyphotic postures, but they’ve been joined by the middle-aged, and young adults and teens.

Adult white collar professionals have been working on our slumps for at least a couple of decades now, and a whole new generation’s gotten an early start on their own poor postures with handhelds. We’re all hunched over our electronics, peering into the Matrix.

Our devices aren’t going anywhere. But it’s possible to get rid of our bad posture…or at least fight back (no pun intended)…with one exercise every desk jockey should be doing.

Fight back

Personal trainers everywhere coach something called “packing the shoulders”, which means squeezing them back and down.  For sure, if the shoulders are allowed to sag, posture suffers.  Unfortunately, the shoulder blades aren’t what’s behind slumping.  Here’s why.

Try this: slump over like you would if you’d been working on a report for a couple of hours. Let those shoulder blades sag. Now, without straightening up, just pull your shoulders back. See what I mean? You can still slump over with nicely packed shoulders.

Problem is that the muscles that hold the shoulders back aren’t the ones that keep us upright and tall like new Marine boot camp grads.  The rhomboids (mostly) do the work of retracting the shoulders, and personal trainers everywhere give rhomboid exercises to clients with bad posture and it’s ineffective…and always will be. That’s because…

It’s the erector spinae muscles that keeps our backs straight.  They run from our tailbones all the way up to our neck. They’re visible just above the waists in fit people, then they take a dive underneath other muscles and are never seen from again. Out of sight, out of mind.

Here’s a simple exercise you can do at your desk that takes only a minute to do and won’t attract too much attention…nothing like dropping and doing 20 push-ups.

Seated Back Extensions*

Sit on the edge of your chair. With your torso straight from your waist all the way to your neck, lean forward a few degrees. Cross your arms in front of you just underneath your chin. Slump forward from your mid-back…just like you slump all the time at your desk…and then straighten all the way back up and even try to hyperextend just a bit. Repeat for 20 to 30 repetitions.


One exercise every desk jockey should be doing: Starting position

With back straight, with or without resistance, lean slightly forward.

one exercise every desk jockey should be doing: Flexing forward

Flex your upper back by bending over from just below the shoulder blades.

one exercise every desk jockey should be doing: Finishing position

Straighten up, and hold. Repeat.

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That’s it. If you do them right, and it’s your first time, you may be thinking, “wow, I can definitely feel those”.  I was surprised how challenging they were the first time I did them.  They’re harder than they look.  They will produce a slight lactic acid burn like the one your legs get when you go up a couple of flights of stairs.

Add some resistance

Once 20 reps with just your folded arms feels really easy, add resistance with something like a heavy book.  Simple household objects work fine.  The most in-shape probably shouldn’t use more than 20 or 30 lbs.  Another idea is to use something elastic, like a bicycle inner-tube, or resistance bands or tubing you can get at any sporting goods or fitness store.  Two or three sets should do it.  I hold the ends of a piece of TheraBand(R) that I hold under the balls of my feet.  Use whatever makes for just the right amount of resistance at the top.  Again, this isn’t a weightlifting sport, so no trophies for adding a lot of resistance.

So there you go.  One exercise every desk jockey should be doing.  Hope you try and like these as much as I do.

Now, sit up straight and get back to work!  🙂


*Credit to Doug Brignole and his ground-breaking book, The Physics of Fitness, for introducing me to this incredibly-helpful exercise.