Ask a Trainer: Fitness at your desk

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Question 1: I sit at a desk all day and as the day goes on my back and neck begin to hurt from sitting for so long. What are some good exercises to improve my posture and relieve the pain? — Rene S.

I get this question a lot, Rene, and it’s one that deserves a lot of attention! When sitting at the desk, our attention is always either forward or down. That elongates our back muscles and shortens our shoulders and chest muscles. Here are some tips and exercises for the office and the gym. Get a small ball, such as a tennis or lacrosse ball, and place it between your back and the chair. Working it around from the lower back to the upper back will loosen some of the muscles that begin to tighten up throughout your day. Rolling a small, firm object, like the ball, around your back will relieve some of the knots that form through excess fluid retention in your muscles.

Also, workouts in the gym that create a habit of better posture are simple. When exercising always make sure your chest is out and your shoulders are back. This will help stretch the chest muscles while also forcing your core muscles into a more consistent contraction. When working out your legs it’s crucial for you to focus on the strength and flexibility within your glutes and hamstrings. Always push through the heel of the foot, because that engages more of those muscles allowing them to receive the attention they so dearly miss when sitting at a desk all day. Additionally, touching your toes and doing hamstring and calf stretches will help improve your posture. Who’d have thought that your legs play a role in your posture?! Some exercises that will work well are hyperextensions, reverse lunges, stiff legged deadlifts, and squats. Back targeting exercises that will help improve posture are cable rows, lat pull-downs, reverse band flyes, and bent over dumbbell rows.

Question 2: I’m trying to increase the weight that I lift with all of my muscle groups, but I’ve hit a plateau. How do I overcome the plateau? — James H.

James, overcoming a plateau can seem like a daunting task, but it can actually be quite simple. Generally our workout programs should only last us from four to six weeks. The body is very smart and will turn something that was once a challenging exercise into a routine movement. So changing your routine should be the first thing you look at. The next thing we need to examine is your form. Form can tend to falter as we begin to challenge and push our bodies into lifting heavier weight. So maintain the best form possible during your exercises. Next, how are you pushing yourself? You make the biggest gains by taking the smallest steps, so start by adding 5 pounds every week or every other week. For example, if you're trying to improve your bench press and want to increase your weight from a 135-pound plateau, increase your weight to 140 pounds for the next week or two. Eventually you will become stable with that weight and make faster gains because you are forcing the muscle to adapt to a heavier weight more frequently. Right before the body has completely adapted to the new weight is the right time for you to increase the weight again.

Nutrition can also play a big role in busting through a plateau. Just as your body can adapt to certain exercises, it can also adapt to food that is a "regular" in your meal plan. If you eat the same salad every day, your body is so smart it will get used to that specific type of green! So challenge yourself not only in the gym, but outside the gym by branching out and rotating through an everlasting color wheel of vegetables and fruits. When it comes to fruit, make it a goal to eat a few colors of the rainbow throughout the week, and eat a range of light greens to dark. Your body will thank you in the end and you will start recreating yourself from the inside out!

Michael Garcia, Certified Personal Trainer, employs diverse training styles that reach a wide range of demographics and fitness goals at Anytime Fitness, Winter Park. He can be reached at 321-972-5833 for both personal and group training. For answers to your health and fitness questions email: