By Wayne L. Westcott & Rita LaRosa Loud
This month my esteemed colleague Rita La Rosa Loud is going to share specific exercise information from her Workout at Work booklet with adaptations for you to do these exercises at home as well as at work.
Quincy – Lack of time is the number one reason most people give for not exercising. I want you to know that although we may find ourselves trapped indoors, or working late at the office, the opportunity to exercise does present itself. I admit, it can be challenging, but it is not impossible to fit regular exercise into our hectic schedules. Busying our days with work, constructive activities and family obligations do play interference. We plug away over job assignments, enroll in classes to improve and learn new skills and run at a moment’s notice to watch over our grandchildren. I hear you! Rest assured, we can build exercise into our everyday life, and truth be told, it doesn’t take that much time to get it in. Nevertheless, you may be asking yourself, “How can I possibly find time to exercise?” Give me a few minutes and I will explain.
Let’s Get Started
When in your office, living room or parlor, try to eliminate exercise obstacles. Turn off your TV or close your office door, and make room to move around. You do not necessarily need special exercise equipment. In fact, you only need your body weight and a few household and workplace items. Certainly there is a wall or counter space available, plus a desk, table, chair, and a few books lying around. You can make exercising even more exciting and enjoyable by listening to your favorite tunes. Hence a radio, iPod, sound dock, or computer will do nicely. I bet you even have suitable apparel handy such as a large, comfy tee-shirt that can be worn over leggings or slacks, as well as a pair of rubberized non-slip shoes or sneakers.
Proper posture and form are paramount when working out. To maintain correct body alignment when standing, kneeling, or seated, keep your upper body erect, shoulders relaxed and abdominals pulled in. To achieve optimal results, use slow, controlled movement speeds and full range of pain-free motion as you lengthen and strengthen your muscles. The flexibility segment should feel good, so when stretching, do not to bounce or force your stretch. To stay hydrated, sip water before, during, and after your workout. Lastly, be sure to breathe normally throughout your entire exercise routine.
It’s important to warm up before you begin exercising as it helps ease your body into your workout by increasing blood flow to your heart, muscles, joints and connective tissues. You can perform the warm-up standing or seated in a chair. Begin by walking or marching in place, stepping side-to-side and incorporating knee lifts. Shoulder shrugs and rolls go a long way to loosen up neck, shoulders and upper back. Smaller to larger rhythmic arm movements (front, side or overhead) gradually increases intensity while the reverse order lowers intensity. This process should only take two-to-three minutes and will prepare you for the following strengthening and stretching exercises.
I have selected several, safe and effective upper, mid, and lower body exercises you can do at-home or at-work. Including the warm-up, this workout should take, at most, 10-15 minutes to complete.
(1) To reduce tension and to strengthen the muscles in your upper back, clasps your hands behind your head and squeeze your shoulder blades together. Hold this isometric contraction for one-second and repeat 10-15 times.
(2) To stretch the upper back, extend your arms in front of your body and clasp your hands. As you round your mid-upper back, pull your arms away from your body and tuck your chin toward your chest. Hold this stretch for a count of 20, breathing throughout.
(1) If you sit or stand a lot, your lower back muscles, tend to shorten. To strengthen these tight muscles, perform the low back extension exercise. Sit at the edge of your seat, legs in a wide stance, feet flat on the floor and clasp your hands behind your head. Next, lean forward from the hips as far as you can go comfortably. As you squeeze your shoulder blades together, slowly raise your trunk (head, neck, shoulders) at about a 45 degree angle to the floor. Repeat 10-15 times.
(2) To stretch your spine, bend over and reach for your toes, or hold onto your thighs or legs. Let your neck and back relax as you tuck your chin in towards your chest. You should feel a pleasurable stretch down the length of your spine. Hold this stretch for 20 seconds then ease back into an upright position.
(1) Opposing muscles of the erector spinae are the abdominals. When strong, they help to support and protect your spine, and prevent low back pain. If you do not have a rug in your office or living room, place a towel or mat on the floor. Lower yourself onto the floor and bring your hips up to the front of your chair or sofa. Next, lift up your legs and with knees bent, rest your legs onto the seat. Keep your back flat on the floor, and place your fingertips on either side of your head, elbows back, away from your face. With shoulder blades squeezing, neck relaxed, slowly lift your head, neck, shoulders as a unit to perform the abdominal crunch. Exhale as you contract your abdominals, pause then lower your torso. Repeat 10-15 times.
(2) If you are unable to get down onto the floor, or this exercise is too difficult, practice a deep breathing exercise in an upright position. To engage the deep abdominal muscles, breathe in through your nose filling your lungs with air, then purse your lips and breathe out to empty your lungs of air. You can do this breathing exercise any time of day.
(3) To stretch your abdominals as you lay on the floor and legs up on your chair, reach overhead, clasp your hands and s t r e t c h. You can mimic this same stretching exercise while seated at the edge of your seat, but be sure to avoid excessively arching your lower back in whichever stretch, and remember to breathe throughout. Release this stretch after a count of 20.
(1) Next is an exercise for your shoulder, called the lateral raise. You can use two-average sized books from your bookcase (thicker books provide more resistance). You may do this exercise seated or standing, but be sure to use good posture throughout. Hold a book in each hand. Begin this exercise with your arms bent, elbows by your sides (palms facing in), and keep wrists flat throughout. Leading with your shoulders, slowly raise your arms by your sides. Stop slightly below shoulder level (palms facing down). Contract your shoulder muscles at the top of the move before slowly lowering your arms back down to your sides. Repeat the shoulder raise (abduction) 10-15 times.
(2) Now stretch each arm one at a time. Place your right hand on your left shoulder, with your left hand underneath your right arm. Gently pull your right arm toward the left side of your body, and relax your shoulder and neck. To increase this stretch, look over your right shoulder. Hold this stretch for 20 seconds then repeat with the opposite arm.
(1) Sitting for long periods of time working on your lap top or computer, or watching your favorite programs, can restrict blood flow to your feet and legs. Running around after your grandkids, or standing after a hard day’s work can also result in achy feet. To increase circulation in your feet and strengthen calf muscles and arches, try this calf raise exercise. Remove your shoes and stand in front of your filing cabinet, fireplace mantle, or kitchen counter and hold on to the top or sides to support yourself. Keep abdominals pulled in and maintain a neutral spine as you stand erect. With legs straight, press your toes against the floor and begin raising your heels and body weight to the balls of your feet. Go as high as you can until you feel your calf muscles contract (do not let your feet roll in or out). Then slowly lower your heels back down. Lift and lower for 10-15 repetitions.
(2) To stretch your calf muscles, lean forward with arms straight supporting your body weight against a cabinet, counter, or mantle. Called a “runner’s stretch”, slide one leg straight back; keep the other knee bent in front. With hips square, back leg straight, heel in line with your foot, press your back foot and heel gently against the floor. You should feel a nice stretch in the back of your lower leg. Hold this stretch for 20 counts and repeat with the other leg.
(3) Seated at your desk at the work place or home, the large muscles of your lower body, are not being fully utilized. The old adage, “if you don’t use it, you’ll lose it!” is true. Yet, the motion of sitting and standing is the precise solution for this predicament. The wall squat exercise will strengthen all these muscles. Find a clear wall space. Stand with your lower, mid- and upper back against the wall. Keep abdominals pulled in, legs hip-width apart, and knees in line with your ankles. Slowly slide down the wall until your knees are parallel with your thighs at a 90-degree angle. Pause then use your thighs to help you slide back up. Repeat bending and extending your legs for 10-15 repetitions.
(4) Sitting and standing is something we do on a regular basis and, certainly a movement pattern worth training. Although performing a chair squat is a bit more challenging than a wall squat as it requires better body balance and awareness, it is quite doable. Place a chair behind you with the seat facing your buttocks. Stand about 6 inches away. Keep your head up and chest lifted as you slowly lower your body onto the chair. With your back straight and abdominals contracted, lead with your hips as you lower onto the chair. As your hips gently brush the edge of the chair (you may sit down if you need to), slowly begin your ascent. As you straighten up, tighten your buttocks.
(5) As you become more confident and proficient with this exercise, you may do the squat without the chair, but be sure not to lower your buttocks below your hips.
(6) If seated, stretch your lower body holding on to the back of your bent thigh, then bend one knee into your chest while the other leg remains on the floor. Be sure to sit upright throughout this stretch.
(7) If lying down, bend one knee into your chest and keep the other leg straight resting on the floor. Exhale as you pull the thigh in towards your chest, keeping abdominals taut and neck and shoulders relaxed. Hold this position for 20 seconds, and remember not hold your breath.
All of these exercises are designed to be performed at-work or at-home. You should discover that as you perform these exercises at various times during the day, your body will respond favorably and work more efficiently. You can improve your posture, restore flexibility, gain muscle tone and even increase your productivity just by taking 10-15 minutes out of your day to strengthen and stretch your body.
If you have any questions about the exercises, feel free to contact me or Dr. Wayne Westcott at (617) 984 – 1716. You may also stop into our Quincy College Community Health and Fitness Center to discuss, observe, or practice any of the exercises. In the meantime, I hope you will take the time to give these exercises a try and experience a reinforcing activity session!
About The Author
Wayne L. Westcott, Ph.D. is professor of Exercise Science at Quincy College and is author of 28 fitness books. Rita LaRosa Loud, holds a B.S. in Exercise Physiology and directs the community Health & Fitness Center at Quincy College.
Always remember to consult with your health care providers to ensure you are healthy enough for a physical activity program.