7 Ways Runners Can Offset Sedentary Lifestyles

Regular lunch runs aren’t always enough to offset sedentary office lifestyles. Here’s how to keep in shape without leaving your desk.

We’ve all heard that “sitting is the new smoking”, a warning that applies even if you run regularly. But standing and treadmill desks can be expensive, and installing one isn’t always feasible.

So what can be done to combat the health-harming effects of the typical, scarily sedentary 9 to 5 gig? A lot, actually.

Or rather, a lot of little things.

We turned to experts John Honerkamp, chief coach for the New York Road Runners (NYRR), and Natalie Johnston, a certified running coach and personal trainer, for advice on simple things runners can do to increase fitness and strengthen areas specific to running – all from the comfort (or confines) of a cubicle.

Try these seven mini exercises throughout the workday and set yourself up for a stronger, faster run once you (finally) break free from your desk.

Toe Aerobics

Works: Strengthens your arch, which can help prevent, or reduce pain from, plantar fasciitis, the inflammation of a thick band of tissue that connects the heel bone to the toes and an all-too common injury for runners. It also increases your blood flow and boosts circulation.

To Do: Simply crunch up your toes, hold for a beat and release. Honerkamp advises that it’s best to do this exercise sans-shoes, but if you feel weird about removing your footwear at work, you can leave ‘em on and still reap the benefits. For extra benefits, trying scrunching up a towel or other fabric. Do three sets of 10.

Posture Drill

Works: Builds better posture, which Johnston notes can improve breathing, increase running efficiency and contribute to overall spinal health. Posture building can also help correct protracted (aka rounded) shoulders, which cause many athletes to cross their arms across their bodies when running.

To Do: Get up and stand upright with your feet shoulder-width apart. Place your arms at your sides with your palms facing forward. Push your shoulder blades together while keeping your shoulders down. Keep your head steady – don’t let it jut forward – and keep your chin tucked back. Hold for 10 to 20 seconds. Do five sets of 10 to 20 second holds.

Reverse Shoulder Rolls

Works: Aligns your back and shoulders by combatting “the classic hunch that most of us develop from working on computers all day,” says Honerkamp. It also builds your mental muscle memory of tall posture, which feeds into good running form and can help alleviate back pain.

To Do: Roll shoulders up, back and down. Do three sets of 10.

Heel Swivels

Works: Strengthens both your arch and shins to help prevent plantar fasciitis and shin splints.

To Do: Honerkamp typically performs this move with a towel, but says a stapler – or a similar-sized office accessory, like a tape dispenser or pencil holder – will do the job as well. Grab your object of choice and anchor your heel on the ground with your toes pointed outwards. Place the object on the inside of your foot and swivel your foot inward to push the object along, keeping your heel firmly fixed in place. Reset your foot and the object to their original positions and repeat. Do three sets of 10 on each side of each foot.

Hip Strengthening

Works: Builds the glute medius, a key muscle of the hip joint that helps stabilize us and helps keep the pelvis level when we’re in stance phase (the phase of running where your feet are in contact with the ground). “A lot of runners tend to be weak here, because we are constantly working in the sagittal plane [which divides the body between left and right] and rarely in the frontal plane [which divides us from front to back],” notes Johnston.

To Do: Grab a mini band (consider stashing one at your desk for easy access) and place it below your knees. Externally rotate your legs out to work your outer hips and your glute medius. Do three sets of 10 reps.

If there’s space in your office, you can also try walking in a small circle.

Chair Squats

Works: Builds the gluteus maximus, strengthens legs and builds proper form. “A lot of athletes either lack strength, coordination or mobility when squatting,” observes Johnston.

To Do: Sit upright in your chair with erect posture. Push through your heels and squeeze your glutes to bring yourself upright. Then, keeping your posture upright, push your hips back, squeeze your glutes again and lower yourself back down to the seated position. “Control the motion and don’t allow yourself to just flop right down,” warns Johnston. Do three sets of 10 to 15 reps.


Works: Tightens core, builds posture and engages shoulders, arms, back, glutes and hamstrings.

To Do: Planking solo in your cube may catch your co-workers off guard, so get a group in on it and host a planking contest in an empty conference room. “You can even set up a rewards system or a tracking device to encourage each other and hold each other accountable,” suggests Honerkamp. Start by having everyone hold the classic plank pose for 30 seconds. Repeat three times.

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