Take the 2-minute tour ×
Physical Fitness Stack Exchange is a question and answer site for physical fitness professionals, athletes, trainers, and those providing health-related needs. It's 100% free, no registration required.

What exercises are recommended for people, who sit in front of the PC working for long hours?

share

locked by Ivo Flipse Jan 2 '13 at 8:25

closed as not constructive by Ivo Flipse Jan 2 '13 at 8:25

As it currently stands, this question is not a good fit for our Q&A format. We expect answers to be supported by facts, references, or expertise, but this question will likely solicit debate, arguments, polling, or extended discussion. If you feel that this question can be improved and possibly reopened, visit the help center for guidance.If this question can be reworded to fit the rules in the help center, please edit the question.

17  
Finger push ups... just to keep those fingers in top shape :P –  KronoS Mar 1 '11 at 19:59
8  
I know this doesn't answer your question, but I invested in a standing desk to deal with a similar issue –  tzenes Mar 2 '11 at 1:07
3  
mensjournal.com/everything-you-know-about-fitness-is-a-lie/… no matter who you are or what you do! –  Trufa Mar 9 '11 at 19:29
6  
Any exercise. Most programmers I've ever known besides me were out of shape because they do absolutely nothing active in their personal lives. –  Evan Plaice Mar 20 '11 at 20:29
1  
Not exactly an exercise, but a standing desk or balance-ball seat is a great addition to your office which will reduce some of the impacts that these exercises attempt to counteract. –  Kevin Vermeer May 26 '11 at 19:53

27 Answers 27

up vote 87 down vote accepted

Get outdoors. Because you're sitting inside all day, it's great to get some fresh air.

I'd recommend either going jogging/running or cycling, because they're very accessible and you can do it practically everywhere. The big advantage of jogging is that it burns through calories like crazy and you're using a lot of different muscles.

If you have a pool nearby, I would also recommend swimming. During swimming you're using your arms in a totally different way than when working behind the desk. It also strengthens your arm and shoulder muscles, which hopefully let's you bear the stresses of working with stretched out arms all day. Especially focusing on backstroke is good, because when sitting behind the desk, you're 'exercising'/using your breast muscles more, so training the back muscles helps balance that. Furthermore, swimming is like a master-combo of all the arms movements anti-RSI campaigns make you do!

If your commute isn't too long, you could cycle commute. Ride your bike from home to work in the morning and from work to home at the end of the day. This is easiest in the summer when the days are longer and there's less rain, but possible all year. If there's a shower available at or near work you can cycle long and hard and then clean up, but if you go a bit slower you should be able to do it in regular clothes and just change your shirt and fix your hair when you get to work. If you're depending on exercise to get around it's harder to skip it.

Doing a combination of multiple workouts every other day keeps it fun, because you're not constantly doing the same. It takes quite some discipline to do workouts with weights every day and if you're coming from being a couch potato, it's all the more important your doing something fun.

Go join a team or set yourself goals to keep you motivated, because while it's great that you've decided to want to get started, you need to find something you want to keep doing as well.

Take it easy. If you haven't done any exercise for quite some time, chances are your fitness is very low. Doing too much, too fast can cause injuries! Furthermore, working out very hard with a poor physical condition is almost a guarantee of having terrible muscle soreness the next day. If you have to endure that for several weeks: not very motivating! Instead of rushing to get fitter as quickly as possible, focus on getting in better shape gradually. You'll be able to workout much longer or harder in a couple of months, if you rush it, you'll probably not be able to work out at all.

share
2  
+1 I usually go to swim or run during the lunch break; in the afternoon the endorphins are delightful ;) . –  systempuntoout Mar 8 '11 at 22:47
2  
Best possible answer. It applies to any cubicle monkey. –  Anonymous Type Mar 11 '11 at 13:02
2  
Cycling's so accessible that you might be able to bike to work and get your commute and some exercise at the same time. –  freiheit May 25 '11 at 20:32
3  
Cycling to work has been excellent for me. It really refreshes my mind not thinking about programming problems as one is mostly physical and the other is mostly intellectual. –  JoePasq Jul 11 '11 at 18:04
2  
@Ominus I have my lunch break at 13.00, at 13.07 I'm at the gym, at 13.13 I'm outside running, at 13.55/13.57 I'm at the gym again, quick shower and back to work. –  systempuntoout Aug 17 '11 at 14:31

Squats, deadlifts, and bench press. Actually the same exercises that are good for anybody. If you want a real specific answer, I'd say deadlifts for the extra back support. Helps maintain a good posture while sitting all day.

share
3  
This is awesome advice. I used to have back and neck pain because i was spending most of my day in front of the computer. Then i started the stronglifts program (which is basically what Sparafusile is proposing) and the pain just went away in a matter of weeks. DO it! –  tr9sh Aug 17 '11 at 6:41
    
+1. And my experience mirrors @tr9sh's. –  Joshua Carmody Aug 18 '11 at 18:50
1  
Personally I'd swap the bench for a pulling exercise like rows or pull-ups to counteract the Programmer Hunch, but getting into powerlifting is awesome any way you cut it. –  Dave Liepmann Dec 18 '12 at 4:23
    
@Dave Liepmann Deadlifts are a pulling exercise. The say squats work everything below the bar - including the back. The only thing not getting hit hard with those two exercises are tris and chest which is why the press is included. –  Sparafusile Dec 18 '12 at 14:06

For someone who is sitting for long periods of time I would highly recommend doing yoga very often during the week. Here are a small handful of reasons why:

  • Working in a chair means you are mostly sedentary and aren't moving around much. This will cause your muscles to tighten and shorten. Yoga, which involves lots of intense stretching, helps correct any problems caused by sitting for long periods of time.
  • Yoga helps immensely with core strength, posture, and balance. It will reinforce proper body positioning and posture and make it easier for you to sit up straight with proper posture while working in a chair.
  • Yoga is a great stress relief outlet. If you work in a chair/desk all day, chances are you also work in an office environment. Office environments tend to be the most stressful location any one person is in during their day to day lives. Yoga helps your body with stress relief before or after tough days at the office.
share
3  
+1 yoga is fantastic for emotional stability too –  TrojanName Jun 8 '11 at 14:43
1  
Yoga does not focus on proper shoulder alignment, which many programmers need fixed. –  jontyc Dec 18 '12 at 5:17

This page has a number of good quality exercises for eye strain.

It is important to look after your eyes and not just your body as looking at a computer all day puts strain on your eyes and not just on your body.

share
2  
Also try and make the effort to go for a 5 minute walk during your lunch break. This also helps clear the head. Instead of checking your email during your lunch break. –  xiaohouzi79 Mar 2 '11 at 1:04
    
On the topic of eye strain, itf.lux. Get on it. –  XåpplI'-I0llwlg'I - Dec 21 '12 at 9:32

Back extensions, side bends (with or without weights), pointers and plank. Anything that strengthens the back and core muscles. Try sitting on a fitball instead of a chair and do pelvic rocks and circles while you work.

share
    
+1 - Some of my coworkers sit on an exercise ball. –  jmort253 Mar 6 '11 at 7:30

Also, not really exercises, but I've been using this sheet about desk stretches for a couple months now and feels it's helped.

It takes less than 5 minutes to work through all the stretches. I printed the PDF and hung it to my cube wall to use with Work Rave.

share
1  
+1 for the desk stretches - just what I need! –  Ciaocibai Mar 3 '11 at 22:16

I wouldn't go for deadlifts right away. Yes, they are good, but chances are high that your posture has problems, your mobility is reduced and as a result your execution of DLs will suck.

Focus on stretching and try yoga or other activities like that to work on that posture and core strength. Other than that, any regular workout is a good workout for everyone, same rules apply.

share
1  
+1 for yoga. Yoga + strong lifts is most excellent. –  kangax Aug 17 '11 at 15:57
    
On the topic of eye strain, if you sit at a computer all day, I recommend using f.lux. You won't look back. –  XåpplI'-I0llwlg'I - Dec 21 '12 at 9:33

I would recommend good cardio along with the other recommendations that have been made. I find that, after sitting all day (as I too am a developer) my body responds very well to getting blood flowing through it and getting my heart rate up. Not only does it help clear my mind, but it gives me the endurance for sitting those long hours throughout my work week.

Stretching is also important to reduce injury from repetitive motion. You can do many of those right at your desk for arms/hands/fingers. Perform other stretching in the gym for your back, neck, and legs.

share

Here's a brief article on how problems arise from the muscle specialization we form from spending all day in a chair. See the bottom for a short regimen of yoga exercises designed specifically to help compensate.

I haven't tried it myself, yet, just read it 2 minutes ago.

share
    
I can totally agree with the effects our pose has on our posture and muscles, so a little stretching to maintain a healthy ROM is a good advice! –  Ivo Flipse Mar 14 '11 at 12:52

One of the biggest afflictions for programmers is a phenomenon called Programmers Back.

We sit for 8 to 10 hours per day, sometimes longer, which is perhaps the worst thing you can do for your back. Human beings just weren't designed to sit for extended periods of time.

The article I referenced recommends stretching. Specifically, lower back stretching. Sitting puts a lot of pressure on the lower back, reduces blood flow to the legs, and can cause the muscles to shorten and atrophy.

Stretching helps reduce those muscle-weakening issues, helps you gain much-needed flexibility, and gets the blood flowing throughout your body.

I personally try to stretch at least once per day. If I go into work before everyone else, I use about 5 to 10 minutes to do some stretches in the office to help start my day.

In addition, another helpful tip is to use a standing desk. The Speedy Stand and the Ikea Fredrik are two very affordable options. People who use stand-up desks say they feel more active, productive, and alert. In addition, they claim they feel less soreness from being sedentary.

share

With regards to the "programmers hunch" referenced above as "programmer's back" the single most effective exercise to fight it is the KettleBell Swing. Stretching is nice, ,but let's be honest and acknowledge that a strong back resists the hunch.

In fact, if you are limited in available time, and can only devote enough time for one exercise, this is it.

Here is an example video of the KettleBell Swing.

This movement drives the core pretty well as well as serving as an exercise to bring your left and right sides into a better balance. It is also a surprisingly effective. Depending on your current level of fitness start with say a 44 pounder and work up to a 53. This is an exercise you don't need to spend an hour doing. I do mine in a few minutes per day usually every other day - though for 2 days a week I hit them harder for more building.

It is a multi-joint exercise that brings nearly your entire body into the movement. Be warned: you will get out of breath quite quickly - more quickly than you'd normally expect. It will pass.

I don't recommend starting with running or jogging. They really are time sinks (even though I love to run). That said, once you've built up a reasonable KB Swing habit (for example you can do 75 non-stop) you'll find your cardio ceiling raised enough that running or jogging will be less unpleasant - possibly to the point of being pleasant. At that point I'd go for short bursts of speed and build up to running a mile in under 10 minutes then shoot for a 5k if you find you enjoy the running.

Additionally, sitting on a yoga ball for your chair will help with posture and encourage you to move. While you can have a bad sitting posture on a ball the bounciness and low rolling resistance will often have you bouncing or rolling around after sitting a while. This is an indicator your body is ready to move around. So when you find that going on, indulge it and if you can (and you usually can) get up and take a walk, do some "wall pushups" or air squats or something to get the blood pumping. 10 minutes at a time three times a day is a huge bump for us coders.

share

Swim:

After sitting in an office chair for 10 (11? 12? More?) hours each day, swimming is the best thing you can do to your body. Some of the benefits are:

  • Excellent cardio workout. Swimming develops cardio-vascular muscles, improves your endurance, strength, oxygen consumption ratio and flexibility, just to name a few.
  • No stress on your joints. The weightless environment contributes to reduced pressure on your knees, spine, back and everything else you typically use to carry yourself around in day-to-day life.
  • Strengthen muscles you typically don't use. Core, arms, shoulders, legs - you name it.
  • Improve your posture. Unlike cycling or running, swimming forces you to stretch out and activate all the skeletal muscles that are normally hunched over when you work, walk, sit, etc.
  • Enjoy some quiet time. This is a personal favorite - here's a chance to filter out some of the noise we have to live with and just have some time to relax, listen to your inner voice (or a waterproof music player) and just chill or get some thinking done.
share

For a programmer who hasn't exercised in a long while, I would recommend something like the Couch-to-5K running plan, or any similar running plan which gets you running 5 kilometers (3 miles) in two months. As Ivo Flipse pointed out, with running you burn a lot of calories and use a lot of muscles, but you don't want to overdo it as a beginner. Running is something you can do everywhere, all you need is a scheme and good pair of shoes to not injure yourself (the wrong shoes are an important factor in running injuries). Go to a running shop where they can analyse your running style (with a camera) and advise which shoes you need based on that. Personally I find it very motivating to have a running plan on my ipod: some music and a coach saying when to run or walk alternatingly. I have these only in Dutch but maybe there are also English ones to find on the web.

share

I find that walking and biking are 2 good ones. Just getting up from the computer and walking around the office is helpful, and I try to arrange a 30 minute walk outside after lunch (even when it is below freezing).

share

Programmers often get caught up in the urgency of deadlines. That makes it hard to find time to exercise. What are you going to cut from your schedule to make time to move?

I lived 2 miles from work, so the overhead of motorized transport (waiting at the bus stop, parking the car) was a substantial part of the trip. Riding my bike to work only took slightly longer, and gave me some activity each day. I usually took an indirect route to avoid traffic, bringing in up to a whopping 3 miles. That was a lot for me.

A vigorous bike ride followed by a shower was the perfect way to start my day. I found myself jumping in to the work in new ways. My success at work improved in a way that was greater than the time lost to my workouts.

share

Surprised there has been no mention of juggling for fitness yet! Many programmers I have worked with or met already know how to do it, and it's really easy to learn with scarves first. There are also tons of videos on YouTube or other sites to show you how. People don't generally think of it as exercise, but it is:

  • It's an aerobic activity that burns 280 calories an hour just like walking
  • It's easy to do in the office
  • Tones arms and engages core muscles
  • The motion of throwing balls up counteracts the repetitive downward position of the hands while on the computer.
  • It's been shown to grow gray matter in the brain, making it a brain-body exercise

Also, I created a fitness product called Cardio in a Box designed for the office desk. It's loosely based on juggling, and there are easy moves you can do even when on the phone that work the core muscles and arms and give you energy.

Even just standing up during phone calls or meetings will give you more energy and burn extra calories.

share

You can use software like WorkRave to get nagged with different exercises proposals every now and then. ;)

EDIT: It's a application that was designed to prevent RSI. It nags computer user to take breaks and do different excercises while sitting behind the desk. It wont be a good workout, but will make working with computer less health damaging.

share
2  
Can you expand on what this is and how a programmer would use it instead of just providing a link? –  Matt Chan Aug 17 '11 at 12:30

You might want to play EA Sports Active 2 Kinect version. If you want, you can download the kinect SDK and make your own.

The game includes a heart rate monitor so you can watch your heart rate while 'playing'. For starters, it has a 3 week cardio kick start program, which consists of different kinds of exersice and mini games: boxing, dodgeball (my favorate), soccer keeper, etc...

I think a fitness game such as EA Sports Active 2 is great for programmers, because:

  1. Programmers like automation: the game auto arranges the exercise for you, every day, so you don't have to worry about what to do, how many cycles need to do, etc..
  2. Programmers like numbers: it has heart rate monitor so you know how many calories you've burned.
  3. Programmers like achievements: you can actually unlock achievements in the game.
  4. Programmers like tech: kinect is cool, isn't it?
share
    
Would you like to elaborate on what mini-games or physical activities you have to perform in EA Active 2? –  Ivo Flipse Aug 18 '11 at 12:28
    
I just recently started and was doing the Cardio Kick Start program. It has only been 2 weeks but I can definitely feel the difference. I've been sitting in front of the desk for almost 3 years without any regular activities. I'd like to become the code master, but also with a fit body. –  AZ. Aug 18 '11 at 18:55
    
May I suggest you add this and a description of the game to your answer, it does make a lot of difference to the quality. Please note that comments aren't a real part of your answer. –  Ivo Flipse Aug 18 '11 at 19:41
    
Great edit @AZ. thanks for the extra bit of effort :-) –  Ivo Flipse Aug 22 '11 at 10:28

I've been searching for a while on this subject as well and I came across this writeup on reddit and it has some pretty informative stuff in it. reddit.com/r/fitness . It has a bunch of stretches you should be doing every day.

share
3  
Care to elaborate on this in more detail @Magicmarkker? –  Ivo Flipse Mar 3 '11 at 12:00
    
yes please, elaborate. –  SamtheBrand Jan 24 '12 at 22:06

I've been programming for nearly 30 years, almost every day, and used to have serious pains in my wrists. Starting about 8 years or so ago, I began using a little wrist exercise tool called a "Powerball" to help with wrist strain. It's a spinning ball/gyro device which is fun to use and helps build strength and flexibility. I do about 10-15 minutes a day and I have not had problems since.

share

I'm a programmer, after spending roughly the last 5 years without doing exercise. I got the feeling that I really need to start working out. Especially when I tried to put on one of my suits ( which get worn very rarely ) and it didn't fit.

In my teens I used to be quite healthy, I would exercise everyday at home or the gym.

Despite knowing I need to do something about it I never did. I wanted to start swimming, but felt reluctant to spend £30 - £50 per month on a gym membership just to go for a swim.

It was not till yesterday that I broke the trend and it was not by my own accord. My flat mate recently started going to the gym and is quite an active person in general. After a few drinks he trapped me into suggesting I could beat him at a game of squash ( after a game of table tennis down the local pub ).

He called me from work yesterday to tell me he booked a squash court for that evening. Being quite competitive I couldn't wimp out.

By far the best thing I could have done. It's amazing how instantly good you feel even after a short burst of exercise.

The point though is this.

It's hard to motivate yourself to go to the gym after so long without exercise. It's even harder to keep pushing yourself when your there.

A sport however is different, you can't wimp out on other people without spoiling their fun. And you can't wimp out, because you won't let yourself be the wimp. The same goes while playing our natural affliction for being competitive will keep you pushing yourself without you even thinking about it.

I found squash to be a great sport for easing myself back into exercise. It only has two palyers, so you don't feel like not playing for fear of poor performance among a group of piers. It gives an intense exercise but in a different way than jumping on a treadmill. Your using lots of small bursts of energy so you don't feel as fatigued after 10 mins. As said the competitive nature keeps you going. But its also fun, once your playing it doesn't feel like its something your forcing yourself to do.

The problem isn't finding a good exercise to do while sat at your desk, its finding the motivation to go out and exercise.

So find a a fellow programmer or friend and go book yourself a squash or tennis court.

share

Run! It's good for your body and great for your brain. On top of that it also reduces the risk of developing dementia.

“The best advice I can give to keep your brain healthy and young is aerobic exercise,” says Donald Stuss, PhD, a neuropsychologist and director of the Rotman Research Institute at Baycrest Centre for Geriatric Care in Toronto.

share

From personal experience sitting down all day affects the back, neck and shoulders quite a lot. In addition I tend to get wrist problems as well.

I have tried a couple of different things that I can recommend.

Yoga and stretching exercises work well for me if I am feeling tense, I suggest taking a class to learn the basics, and then doing a couple of exercises when you feel you need it. Meditation also makes a nice addition to yoga if you're up for it.

I have recently started kayaking and I can already feel the effect it's having on my lower back and stomach muscles. I am convinced kayaking will help prevent back problems, and give you a more healthy posture when spending all those hours at the desk. I imitate the kayak motion at work using a chair that requires me to move around to stay balanced ..

Finally, as mentioned in other posts, just getting out walking, running or bicycling, getting some fresh air and some exercise will do wonders :)

Enjoy!

share

At the end of the day, sitting is still really bad for you even if you exercise later. Honestly, the best way is to look into a standing desk. They're expensive to buy but cheap to transform some supplies into a standing desk. My boss at work does it. He said the first 2 weeks are hard but you get used to it plus you feel more energetic throughout the day. Lastly, you still keep a chair to relax in every now and then.

share

This is my technique to force myself to take regular breaks at the office (and at home): drink a lot of water.

Follow one of the medically recommended intakes that apply to you (there are several figures): 8x8 (eight eight-ounce glasses), 2 liters, or up even to 3 liters - but don't exceed yourself. The point is, drink plenty of water. Then every hour or so my bladder forces me to take a restroom break. I try to walk to the restroom farthest from my desk. Watch out: never hold your bladder - it's bad for you. It has to work as an alarm, you must get up and leave on the first call. On the way back, I stop by the fountain and drink some more water, or get a refill when I have a bottle with me. I stretch a little, I look out the window, I breathe and relax myself.

I know this is not a real exercise, but it really helps me stretch my knees and relax my eyes and my mind every 50-70 minutes. I also noticed I don't get sleepy anymore thanks to water maintaining electrolyte levels balanced in my body.

ps: and don't replace water with soft drinks, coffee, tea or anything else! Just plain fresh water.

share
1  
I do this too and it's surprising how well it works. Getting regular breaks when sat at a desk is difficult but when you have no choice (unless you have a catheter) it's quite a nice break –  Richard Aug 22 '11 at 16:13

This site (disclaimer: I'm the developer) emails you a daily common sense exercise that can be done at or near your desk.

For instance, today's is lunges.

So, in addition to the great exercises listed here that you can do outside of your work day (swimming, etc.), these exercises can be done at work to alleviate some of the strains that the body experiences while sitting continuously.

The benefit of receiving an exercise by email is that the email will remind you to exercise. Also, there's no need to install additional software.

share

Jay mentioned something extremely important with programmers and exercise, and that's when programmers say they work long hours, they mean long hours, not 10-12 hour days but 14-16.

Often the arms are stationary, not even the mouse is used. The gaze is fixed, the eyes don't even move much.

Stand-up desks are great to solve the constant sitting problem. I started that way.

Treadmill desks are better.

18 months I've been using one, averaging around 80 hours per week.

I can't even remember what back pain feels like now, and I was at a stage where 20 minutes sitting gave me sheer agony when standing back up.

If I'm reading some document, I tend to use the full length of the treadmill, varying my focal distance at least a little bit.

The calories peeled off (and then jumped back on when the treadmill was recently out-of-action for 2 months).

I'd be getting close to having walked 10,000 miles now, without compromising one minute of programming time. In fact, it's made me work even longer hours, as sometimes when I know I've eaten too much, I'll decide to do a few hours walking to work it off.

Another thing that's helped: I find two smaller, 21-24" inch monitors better than a single larger monitor--it makes you move your neck more.

share

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.