After coding sitting at a desk all day, I began to experience a lot of back pain. Thanks to Bron Volney, of BronCoreFitness, my back is now in great shape. Since I'm sure many of you spend time sitting at a computer -- when you're not mobile -- I asked Bron to share the best resistance training exercises we "Desk Pro's" can do to maintain a healthy back. -- James
Every sport has injuries. For baseball players, it’s their shoulder and elbow, for skiers, their knees. But for many of us, the ‘sport’ is desk sitting. I’m joking of course, but from the amount of weaknesses and limitations I see from clients spending gruesome hours at their desk, it might as well be a sporting category!
Are you a desk warrior? Do you have bad posture? Is your neck hurting? How about your back? If so, I have great news! I can help prevent or even stop such pain. The answer is simple: resistance training and stretching! Simple - if you know what to do. That’s why I’m here - to guide desk dwellers through a simple routine of exercises that will lead to better posture and a less painful future.
To start, the biggest problem seen on many people: a rounded upper back and shoulders. You’ll notice this from a lightly hunched upper back and overly relaxed shoulders. The cause? Computers, phones, tablets… all of those electronic devices are posture’s enemies. Many of us sit all day focusing on our screens, leading to slouching. As time goes on, the muscles in your upper back and rear shoulders (deltoids) get too relaxed, become under-active, and lead to weakness. This is also coupled with chest tightness. The solution: strengthen your upper-middle traps, your rear deltoids, and upper back while focusing on stretching your chest (Google these muscle groups to better visualize what we’re working).
Exercises & Stretches
Exercise #1 - Wall Stretch
Repeat 3 sets of 10 repetitions (“reps”) at a slow and controlled pace. You can split these 3 sets throughout the day. The Wall Stretch will primarily focus on your rear deltoids and upper-middle traps, which will help to pull your shoulders back. For some of you this will be surprisingly painful. You might think, “But it looks so easy!” Give it a try and find out!
- Step 1) Stand with your back against a flat wall with no obstructions, making sure your heels touch, butt firmly against the wall. Keep your ‘core’ always engaged by focusing on trying to force your belly button through the wall. This will eliminate the large arch in your lower-back. Push your shoulders against the wall and bring your elbows directly out to the side. Keep your elbows and back of your hands against the wall (palms facing forward) throughout the exercise.
- Step 2) Slide your hands all the way up above your head to the absolute maximum, keeping everything against the wall, until your elbows are locked. Try and touch your hands together.
- Step 3) Slowly return your hands and elbows to their original position.
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Wall Stretch - Step 1[/caption]
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Wall Stretch - Step 2[/caption]
Exercise #2 – Bent Over I-T-Y
This exercise is named I-T-Y because we are creating these letters with our body. The focus will be on weak rear and side shoulder muscles that desk warriors hardly use, and the “Bent Over” part will focus on lower-back strength endurance. Do all 3 letters for 10 repetitions, and repeat 3 times throughout the day.
- Step 1) Use light weights (1-5lbs) in each hand, bend over making sure your upper-torso is held with good posture (slightly curved lower back, “big chest”, and shoulder blades pulled together) and let your hands hang to the floor.
- Step 2) With elbows locked and arms straight, slowly raise your arms forward so that they are directly beside your ears and parallel to each other, making the letter “I”. Hold for a second and then lower slowly back to start position.
- Step 3) With elbows locked and arms straight, slowly raise your arms, but this time directly out to the side, creating the letter “T.” Hold for a second and then lower slowly back to start position.
- Step 4) With elbows locked and arms straight, slowly raise your arms to a 45° angle, making the letter “Y.” Hold for a second and then lower slowly back to start position.
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Bent Over I-T-Y - Starting Position[/caption]
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Bent Over I-T-Y - "I" Position[/caption]
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Bent Over I-T-Y - "T" Position[/caption]
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Bent Over I-T-Y - "Y" Position[/caption]
Exercise #3 - Superman Swimmers
During this exercise you’ll look like superman or superwoman! (minus the flying) Primary muscles worked in this exercise are upper-middle traps, rear deltoids, and lower back. This will help zap that bad posture. Do 3 sets of 10 repetitions throughout your day.
- Step 1) Lie flat on your stomach with your head ‘neutral’ (looking down). Put your elbows out to the sides, bend your forearms 90°, making two L’s.
- Step 2) Lifting just your upper torso off the ground as high as possible, making sure your chest and shoulders are off the ground as much as you can, pull your elbows and hands towards the ceiling.
- Step 3) Slowly reach forward and try locking your elbows, and touch your hands together.
- Step 4) Slowly move elbows back to starting position, and slowly relax to the floor.
- Note: Think about pulling your shoulder blades together during the entire exercise to get best results.
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Superman Swimmer - Step 1[/caption]
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Superman Swimmers - Step 2[/caption]
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Superman Swimmers - Part 3[/caption]
Exercise #4 - Barbell Rhomboid Rows
I love this one, it will leave you wanting more ☺. This focuses on strengthening your upper-back (Latissimus Dorsi), increasing your lower-back strength endurance, and engaging the Rhomboids. Working these 3 muscles will help correct your posture, pulling your shoulder blades back. You’ll look like the king or queen of good posture before you know it! You don’t need much weight- 15-20 lbs for ladies, gentleman 30-40 lbs. Do 3 sets of 10 repetitions.
- Step 1) Bend over making sure your upper torso is held with good posture (slightly curved lower back, “big chest” and shoulder blades pulled together). Hold a barbell (weight of your choice) at a ‘close grip’ position below your chest and arms at full length to the ground.
- Step 2) Pull the barbell up directly beneath your chest while keeping your elbows in and hold for 2 seconds. During this hold, concentrate on retracting and squeezing your shoulder blades together.
- Step 3) Slowly lower to starting position and repeat.
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Barbell Rhomboid Rows - Grip[/caption]
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Barbell Rhomboid Rows - Step 1[/caption]
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Barbell Rhomboid Rows - Step 2[/caption]
Neck pain and lower back pain
We’ve taken care of the obvious bad posture problems, now let’s solve and prevent some everyday pains the desk pro may have. Two complaints I hear every week are lower-back pain and neck tightness. How do we take this pain away? Stretch and strengthen! No need to bore you with more filler. The following exercises are for you!
Exercise #5 - The Plank
To strengthen the core we use one of the most basic total-core exercises out there, the all-mighty plank. As far as movement, the exercise doesn’t look like much- it’s primarily a static exercise. Do this exercise for 20-60 seconds at a time, repeating up to 10 times.
- Step 1) – The only step. If I set a plank of wood across your back, it would be straight and practically parallel with the floor. Refer to the picture below. The forearms are parallel to each other, shoulder width apart. Put your feet together, keep your glutes (butt) tight, abs drawn in toward your spine and shoulders pulled back. Hold yourself off the ground on your toes and forearms.
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Exercise #6 - The Side Plank
This is the sister of the plank and will target more of your oblique muscles, or as some people like to call them, the ‘love handles’.
- Step 1) From the previous plank position, turn to your side and hold your body off the ground on one of your forearms, and lay your feet on top of each another. Place top hand on your hip and hold position while keeping abs tight. Make sure to repeat on the opposite side as well. This will engage the oblique muscles closest to the ground.
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Exercise #7 - Neck Tuck
This exercise will help with tension headaches, neck tightness, and neck pain. Because your neck tends to fall forward all day when concentrating on your computer or device in front of you, these anterior muscles become weak. Practicing the Neck Tuck will strengthen them. Do 10 repetitions for 3 sets throughout the day.
- Step 1) While standing, sitting, or lying down, take your fingers and push on your chin as if to put it back in line with your neck. Hold for about 5 seconds and then return to beginning position. Repeat this for 20 repetitions and do this at least 3 times per day.
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Exercise #8 - The Shoulder Shrug
Sitting at desks all the time reinforces the bad habit of letting your shoulders fall and become too relaxed. The primary muscles that hold your shoulders up are the ‘upper traps’. The shoulder shrug works to isolate these muscles, adding strength and taking some of the pull off your neck.
- Step 1) Begin standing tall with good posture, holding a dumbbell in each hand.
- Step 2) Pull your shoulders up as high as possible, trying to touch your ears.
- Step 3) Slowly return your shoulders to starting position.
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Shoulder Shrug - Step 1[/caption]
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Shoulder Shrug - Step 2[/caption]
Stretching is easily forgotten, however, this can be just as important as strengthening muscles. For some of you, stretching may be the key to relieving your unknown pains. I have provided some pictures of stretches that you can try. Make sure to hold each for 20-30 seconds, twice per day. I also recommend yoga and/or a massage. These are both extremely helpful for anyone who holds tension in their muscles.
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Don’t be fooled by how easy these exercises look, because it’s always ‘easier said than done’. As a trainer, I have found that the hardest part of working out for is just getting in the mind set to actually do it. For some people, this means getting your butt to the gym. For you desk pros, buy a couple of weights for the office, stand up, and do some of these exercises while on lunch. Many clients tell me how much these exercises helped, and how much progress they have made. My goal is for you to say the same thing!
Happy Desk Days from BronCoreFitness
NASM Certified Personal Trainer