No Pain, No Gain

Office Exercise For The Desk-Ridden White-Collar Worker

11 min read
(Scott Rickson)
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Hey, you frumpy slobs. You overweight, under-perfect nine to fivers. Yeah, we’re talking to you, Dave, and you, too, Britney. It’s time to finally do something about that ever-expanding gut, those unsightly thighs and that excess skin that pours out over those jeans you’d be well-advised not to wear.

You are fat. And nobody buys that it’s congenital, or that you don’t have enough time for physical fitness. Sure, all bodies are different, but all bodies have the ability to be buff. Why not impact your own bottom line instead of only worrying about the company’s? Why not turn your fast-paced work environment into a fast-paced workout environment?

Working out at work isn’t just about warding off sore wrists, poor posture and varicose veins: It’s about finally achieving your total fitness goals, not only increasing your overall health, but improving your alertness, happiness and sexual function, all the while alleviating the tedium of your boring job. In fact, those long office hours will sail by as you simultaneously increase your muscle mass and productivity.

Through “office exercise” you can get that chiseled, defined body you’ve always wanted (and your spouse has always needed) without losing any precious time. From now on, when you get home from work and your wife, husband or same-sex spouse asks you to join them on an evening run, you can tell them, “No thanks, peaches, I got my cardio while checking my e-mail. Now where’s that hobby I like to do so much?” You see, by combining two things you don’t like to do, you’ll have more time to do the things you like.

Getting Started: Entering the Total Fitness Zone

First, avoid parking anywhere near your cubical. The walk to and from work will serve as both a warm-up and cool-down. Second, elevators and escalators were made specifically for the grossly unfit, so take the stairs. Third, you’re not fooling anyone with that Diet Coke, Pam, so get rid of the sugar-laden beverages and replace them with water and black coffee. Water is the fit man’s drink of choice, and coffee will not only help suppress your appetite and act as a diuretic, it will help you pump out those memos faster than you can say “memo.” And while we’re on the topic of drinking, limit liquid lunches to Mondays, Wednesdays, Thursdays and Fridays.

The same caution should be taken with snacks. Work out that mouth with diet-friendly yum yums such as nuts, fruit, raw vegetables, granola bars, yogurt or simply satiate your hunger with a raw egg. Just remember, everything is better in moderation, from food to alcohol to heart attacks.

All right gang, there’s lots to do today. We’ve got some great weight training as well as aerobic exercises lined up for you. As with any exercise, we need to begin with stretches. Let’s get started!

But first, maybe we should get one thing out of the way. Are you totally obese? If you are, consult your doctor before taking our advice. Chances are our plan could be both risky and ineffectual for the massively overweight. Glad that’s out of the way (like a fat person is ever “out of the way”).


Upper Body

In the morning while waiting for your computer to boot, why not pump yourself up? First, cross your scrawny or flabby arm, whatever the case may be, horizontally across your body, using the other arm to hold it in place at the elbow. Next, place your arm behind your head, bend at the elbow, and pull toward you.

Hold both stretches for 10 seconds and repeat with the other arm. Finally, place your arms over your head and lock at the fingers. Push back as far as you can. Repeat by locking your arms behind your back and pushing up. Now that your computer is ready to go you can take a break and get to work (or read one of those hilarious forwards your cousin sent you).


Here’s a great way to stretch your back, neck and waist while fostering some much needed entertainment: When other company employees come to pester you, stand up and face them with your back. Plant your feet firmly shoulder-width apart and, using only your neck, turn your head as far to the right as you can. Now use your back and waist to continue the motion. Once you are facing them, answer their question blankly with a one-syllable response. Repeat on the other side for the next question and so on. A series of 10 or so questions from coworkers will yield a very limber mid-section.

Lower Body

Stretching your body in the workplace, especially your lower body, even if done correctly, could pose a risk of humiliation. So before propping your leg up on the secretary’s desk and bending over, ask yourself some questions: How much do you care about your job? Do you mind alienating coworkers when they encounter your ass in a strange position? If the boss lectures you on appropriate office conduct as a result of your fitness regimen, do you give a shit?

Muscle Training (Anaerobic)

Upper Body

There seems to be no end to the exercises one can do with a bottle of water. For these exercises, you will need one full bottle, the larger the better. Oh, and turn up the tunes on Cool 97 for some soft rock inspiration.

Bicep Curl: Grip the bottle firmly in your right hand and hold it at your waist. With your back straight, purse your lips, furrow your brow and curl the bottle toward your shoulder. When releasing weight back down to your waist, press the top row of teeth onto your bottom lip and blow. Three sets of 16 on each arm should suffice.

Overhead Press: Grip the bottle snuggly in your right hand and hold near your shoulder with elbow bent. Now, triumphantly press the bottle toward the ceiling, as if you’re presenting the gold medal to your home country. Complete three sets of 12 on each arm, and you’ll be the hero of your people.

Front Raise: Grip the bottle tenderly in your right hand and let it hang near your waist. Without bending your elbow (or your iron will), raise the bottle straight out in front of you and hold for two seconds. Now, don’t drop the bottle here like you dropped the ball last week on those progress reports. Lower your arm back to your waist. Three sets of 16 on each arm will do the trick.

These exercises can, of course, be done without leaving the desk, and using just a 16-ounce water bottle should really give you a great pump. If that’s a little too extreme for you, try drinking the water and using the empty container. Hey, we all need to work at our own pace. If you need more resistance in your bicep curl, overhead press or front raise, try replacing the bottle of water with that fake potted plant Cynthia keeps watering.


Some of your more progressive and physically aware coworkers might replace their regular office chair with something called a fit ball. This is simply a large, inflatable, brightly colored rubber ball you can sit on and, as you might have deduced from the name, also use for fitness. The nature of the ball promotes mid-section training as you attempt to balance on the unwieldy toy while answering the phone or organizing a mailing for your very handsome and married boss (shame on you).

If you prefer a more advanced technique, try ridding your office of anything to sit on altogether. Stand with your back straight and lower your buttocks toward the ground until your legs form a 90-degree angle. Hold this position all day. One, prolonged, eight-hour squat behind the desk can really do wonders for your calves, thighs, buttocks, back and abs. Encourage fellow coworkers (or co-workout partners) to squat in front of the conference table during meetings. The example you set will be exciting for everyone, and soon you’ll be the talk of the office. We smell a promotion. Or is that just the smell of sweet sweat from vigorous soul-affirming exercise? Either way, it smells rewarding!

Need to have a drink of refreshing water after such a long day of working out? Here’s a tip: Leave your cup or fun quotable mug (“Behind Every Good Boss There’s a Great Secretary, and Behind Every Great Secretary There’s a Good Boss”) at your desk, and bring the water cooler to it. Wrapping your arms around the water jug, hold firmly and lift with your legs. Next, carry the water cooler to your office, cubicle, desk or “work station” and pour. Bonus points for filling your fellow employees’ cups. And you could use all the points you can get in this game. Because this game is called “your life,” Dan, and it’s time you start winning.

Lower Body

Don’t forget about working those legs. There’s nothing more unattractive than a disproportionate, chicken-legged man. And ladies, you want slim, taut thigh and calf muscles, don’t you? Well,
don’t you ?

The Calf Raise: Any raise in an office is good news, and this one is no exception. You’ll need to stand for this, so maybe try it out when reading your wall calendar or inspirational framed poster of the word “Determination” or “Forethought.” Standing straight with your legs a bit less than shoulder-width apart, place one hand on the wall and lift your heels. Repeat for three sets of 20 while enjoying the view of the labyrinth of cubicles you’ll reveal to yourself once you look over the boundary of your own. Go for the burn.

The Gluteal Squeeze: You type-As are probably already doing this, but for the rest of you here’s a great way to work those hot buns. While seated or standing, squeeze the muscles of your buttocks. Hold for a few seconds and then relax. Repeat until the thought of not getting your way makes you want to puke. Ladies, this is a perfect opportunity to practice those Kegel exercises you’re so excited about. Don’t forget to breath. Heavily.


You’d think it would be difficult to achieve an efficient aerobic workout in the office, but with a little improvisation, you’ll be surprised just how much of a sweat you can work up. For instance, you could take your bi-hourly walk to the copy or fax machine and turn it into a bi-hourly run. The bonus is that everyone will think you’re incredibly busy doing your job, plus they won’t bother you with their asinine questions and irritating requests. Your run can also be elaborated upon with upper-body movement, such as punching the air in front of you or reaching for the sky, depending on whether you’d like to project a tough or sassy image, as you swiftly move about the office. Once you get to your destination, keep running in place saying, “c’mon, c’mon, c’mon,” or do jumping jacks and squat thrusts to keep your heart rate up.

A perfect implement for cardiovascular exercise can be had with just a belt, a bent piece of metal and a punching bag. By simply affixing a punching bag to a pipe and affixing that pipe to a belt and affixing that belt to your waist, you can gain instant boxer training. If anyone asks what you are doing, say, “Just blowing of some steam after closing that big deal,” as you wipe the sweat from your brow. Team players need individual training, too, you know.

Maintaining the Edge

Remember: Office exercise is about improvisation. What else do you see around you that could be used in your training? Those rubber bands could double as elastic-resistance straps. Does your file cabinet need a thorough cleaning? What a great opportunity to do some leg presses. With some paperweights affixed to it, your phone could nicely facilitate iron pumping. Need to change a light bulb? Why don’t you see how fast you can change every light bulb in the whole building? How many fit office studs does it take to change a light bulb?

Just you, Jason. Just you.

Good luck, and don’t forget: Exercising at the office should never be considered goofing off during work hours. After all, physically fit employees are the foundation of a financially fit company. Eye of the tiger, baby. Go get ’em.

Look, Ma—No Wheels!

Cardiovascular exercise can also be achieved with a simple apparatus like this no-wheeled bike (available from, $39.99), which, when placed under your desk, allows you to pedal away all day without going anywhere—a perfect metaphor for your job.

Scott Rickson

Scott Rickson

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