It’s 4.30pm. You’ve been sitting at your desk since 9am. It’s been a busy day - so busy you’ve barely had time to get food from the kitchen. You’re trying your hardest to focus on your work, but this damn pain in your lower back is making it so difficult. Sounds familiar?
Now that we’re working from home and skipping out on running for the train in the morning, walking to lunch and our evening commute home, our lifestyles are becoming increasingly sedentary. But moving more doesn’t have to require a lot of effort - if you can work from home, you can work out from home too. Together with personal trainer Sharlynn, we’ve compiled five beginner-friendly, no-equipment exercises that you can do from home. These exercises strengthen certain parts of your body like your upper body, your core and your glutes - all of which are crucial to maintaining good sitting posture and preventing that dreaded neck, shoulder and back pain.
Convinced yet? All you need is 30 minutes, a mat, and to show up.
WHAT IT WORKS: Your core, particularly your lower back. Contrary to popular belief, you core does not just consist of your abs. It involves all the muscles in your trunk that help support your spine. Some of the main core muscles include the lower back, the obliques, the glutes, the pelvic floor and the diaphragm.
BENEFITS: Unfortunately won’t help you fly, but it can help strengthen your lower back, which is part of your core. A strong core keeps your body stabilized, be it during a workout or while sitting and standing. A weak core can lead to poor posture because your spine isn’t getting the support it needs, which, in turn, can cause neck, shoulder and lower back pain.
Start by lying face down on your mat with your legs straight and arms outstretched in front of you, palms on the ground. Keep your neck in a neutral position.
Squeeze your lower back muscles and glutes and lift both your arms and legs off your mat at the same time so that they are a few inches off the mat.
Hold this position for three seconds.
Gently lower your arms and legs back to the starting position. Do 3 sets of 12 reps.
AVOID using momentum to bounce into and out of the movement as this does not engage or work any muscles. Do it slowly and with control instead.
AVOID looking up while doing a Superman as this keeps can lead to neck pain. Keep your neck straight and head relaxed.
2. HIGH PLANK
WHAT IT WORKS: Your entire core
BENEFITS: Standing with good posture involves standing straight and tall with your shoulders back and stomach pulled in. That’s very similar to the position you hold while in a plank. Planks can help you sit and stand with better posture because they condition some of the key muscle groups responsible for holding you upright.
Start with your hands and knees on the ground. Stack your shoulders directly above your wrists, shoulder-width distance apart, like you’re about to do a push-up.
Step your feet back, one at a time. Ensure your feet are about hip-width distance apart.
Squeeze your abs, quads and glutes and HOLD! If you’re new to planks, you can start by holding 3 sets of planks for 30 seconds each. If you’re familiar with planks, go for 3 sets of 1 minute-long planks.
AVOID sinking your hips too low or pushing your hips too high as this does not engage your core muscles. Your tailbone should be tucked so it’s aligned with your spine, not sticking out into the air. Make sure your back is flat and your head and neck are in a neutral position - your body should form a straight diagonal line from your shoulders to your heels.
For an easier variation, drop your knees down to the ground but remember to keep your core engaged!
If you want to work your core more, drop down from your palms to your forearms. Ensure your elbows are shoulder-width distance apart, and that your shoulders are stacked over your elbows. Forearm planks recruit more of your core muscles while the traditional high plank is more challenging for the shoulders and triceps. The forearm plank variation is also suitable for those who cannot put any strain on their wrists.
TIP FOR BEGINNERS: If you’re not sure how to activate your core, all you have to do is ensure you are breathing correctly. Your core gets activated when you exhale properly.
3. SHOULDER SHRUGS
WHAT IT WORKS: Trapezius muscles located on either side of the neck.
BENEFITS: Spending a large part of your day at your desk can take a toll on your neck and shoulder muscles. Shoulder shrugs can help relieve tension in your neck, shoulders and upper back. In addition to this, strengthening your trapezius pulls your shoulders back and helps stabilise your neck and upper back, making it easier to maintain good posture. The best part about this exercise - it can literally be done anywhere.
Start by standing up straight with your feet shoulder-width distance apart and with a dumbbell in each hand. If you don’t have dumbbells, you can use filled water bottles or anything heavy that you can comfortably hold in your hands. Your palms should be facing in towards your body. Relax your shoulders.
Slowly raise your shoulders as high up to your ears as you can while keeping your arms straight.
Once you’ve reached the top position, hold for three seconds and then slowly lower your shoulders back to the starting position. Do 3 sets of 12 reps.
AVOID rolling your shoulders forward or backward. Raise your shoulders up to your ears in a single vertical movement instead.
WHAT IT WORKS: Legs and core
BENEFITS: Our lumbar spine extends when we squat, which stretches the muscles in our lower back. There is little to no compression in the spine as your legs, hips and core are working to stabilize your body. In addition to this, we use our ankle, knee and hip joints when we squat, which can become tight and immobile from underuse that comes with sitting at a desk all day.
Start by standing with your feet shoulder-width distance apart with your toes turned out slightly outward.
Engage your core so it helps stabilise your body when you squat. Keep your spine neutral and your chest out.
Start to shift your weight back into your heels while pushing your hips behind you.
Continue to lower yourself until your thighs are parallel to the ground.
Push through the heels to return to the starting position. Do 3 sets of 12.
AVOID initiating the squat by bending your knees first. Think about pushing your hips back and lowering yourself down to the ground instead. Initiating a squat from the knee generates strain on the wrong muscles (the quadriceps instead of the glutes) while also increasing the risk of knee injury.
AVOID lifting your heels when you squat. Your feet should remain flat on the ground throughout the entire movement.
AVOID rounding your back when you squat. Tighten your core by pulling your belly button into your spine and keeping your chest high during the movement.
5. GLUTE BRIDGES
WHAT IT WORKS: Glutes
BENEFITS: Our glutes also play a part in keeping our bodies upright so we can maintain good posture - they help stabilise our pelvis and our hips. Sitting for a good amount of the day can make our glutes tightened, inactive and weak. Glute bridges can help strengthen our glutes and lower back muscles.
Start in a lying down position on your mat with your knees bent and feet flat on the ground. Ensure that you can touch your ankles with your fingertips. Also ensure that your back is flat on the ground and not arched - you can do this by contracting your abdominal muscles.
Squeeze your glutes and push your hips upwards off the ground. Press your heels into the ground for more stability at the same time.
Slowly lower yourself back to the starting position. Do 3 sets of 12 reps.
AVOID pushing your hips up too high as this can increase the amount of hyperextension (arching) in your lower back. Maintaining abdominal contraction throughout the movement can help avoid excessive arching in your lower back.