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7 Muscle-Building Exercises You Can Do at Your Desk

The do-it-anywhere exercises to get gains without going to the gym.

Surefire muscle builders are commonly standing, compound lifts like squats, deadlifts, and overhead presses. However, there are plenty of ways to get better at these without even getting out of your chair. Whether you do this calisthenics routine at work, while traveling, or at home, the benefits of isometrics (holding at a certain position with minimal movement) include a strong upper body, core, and improved posture. "By doing isometrics you get stronger about 20 degrees above the position you hold the exercise and 20 degrees below, that so you're getting a good range of strength development," says Joe Stankowski, C.P.T. "By reinforcing posture while seated, it makes it easier to move well while training." 

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WORKOUT INSTRUCTIONS

You'll need a desk or solid surface like a bookcase for the isometric biceps curl and triceps pushdown. And a wall or solid surface like a shelf for the horizontal shoulder abduction. Do all isometric exercises at 30% intensity (a third of your maximal effort). 

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THE WORKOUT

Targeted Breathing
Duration: 5-10 reps breathing from lower rib cage, 5-10 reps breathing from mid rib cage, 5-10 breathing from upper rib cage.
Joe says:  While sitting upright in a chair with head retracted back, exhale forcefully, breathing out as much air as you can. To breathe from only your left/right side, push right hand against the right side of rib cage midway up. While breathing, make that part expand, focusing only on that area. Repeat for middle and left side.

Isometric Shrug 
Duration: 6 reps, pausing at the top of the movement for 6-10 seconds. 
Joe says: While sitting upright, grab side of the chair as though you're trying to lift yourself. Do an isometric contraction as if you’re trying to lift the seat of your chair while you’re sitting on it. 

Isometric Biceps Curl
Duration: 
6 reps, pausing at the top of the movement for 6-10 seconds. 
Joe says: Move chair close to desk. Make a fist while elbow is at 90 degrees and turn hand as if you're doing a hammer curl or open your palm. Push up against the desk with fist/hand. If you have an adjustable chair, you can adjust your height and get strength in different ranges of that arc of a normal biceps curl. 

Isometric Triceps Pushdown
Duration: 
6 reps, pausing at the top of the movement for 6-10 seconds. 
Joe says:  Move chair close to desk. Make a fist while elbow is at 90 degrees and turn hand as though you are doing a hammer curl or open your palm. Push down toward desk and raise triceps. 

Single-arm Lateral Raise
Duration:
 6 reps each side, pausing at the top of the movement for 6-10 seconds. 
Joe says: Place chair to the side of a wall or cubicle. Extend left arm straight out to side at shoulder height while keeping spine upright and push out against wall/surface with palm against surface. Repeat on right side.

Horizontal Shoulder Abduction: 45-degree angle
Duration: 
6 reps, pausing at the top of the movement for 6-10 seconds. 
Joe says: Place chair to the side of a wall/cubicle. Turn chair 45 degrees to the right. Extend left arm straight out to side at shoulder height and push out against wall/surface with back of palm against surface. Repeat on right side.

Horizontal Shoulder Abduction: Core Anti-Rotation
Duration:
6 reps each side, pausing at the top of the movement for 6-10 seconds. 
Joe says: Place chair in front of wall/surface so your back faces the wall. Take arm from straight out in front and bring all the way back against the wall that is behind you with back of palms facing wall.

Isometric Neck Extension, Rotation, Retraction
Duration: 6 reps, pausing at the top of the movement for 6-10 seconds. 
Joe says: To strengthen neck muscles on one side, place right hand against the right side of head and try to push against right hand. To work on rotation, put hands on both sides of head, try to turn head to the left and right but don’t let head turn. For extension, put both hands behind head and retract head backward into hands.

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