When you're completely swamped at work, you can whine about how your leg muscles are atrophying or you can parallel process. Sure, you can probably think of a million ways you'd rather work out your legs -- hiking, biking, hitting the elliptical machine -- but sometimes your schedule just isn't your own. You might be tied to your office chair, but you don't need to forgo your leg workout completely. Give new meaning to the term "seat work" by working out your legs at your desk. Stash some handy resistance toys in your drawer and use them to boost the intensity of your seated workout.
Warm up briefly by marching in place. If you can't stand up to march, sit near the front edge of your chair and straighten your spine. March briskly for three to five minutes, gradually picking up the pace and increasing the height of your knee lift. As you ease into a smooth rhythm with your feet, add arms. Do a light overhead punch with both arms simultaneously or do single punches to the front, alternating your right and left arms.
Continue with a hip flexor exercise. Sit with both feet on the floor in front of you, knees bent at 90 degrees, and grasp the sides of your seat with both hands. Slowly raise your right knee, keeping the knee bent and aligned over the right ankle. When you've raised the knee approximately eight inches above the surface of your seat, hold for a count of one or two and slowly lower the foot to the floor. Repeat 12 to 15 times with the right leg, rest for 30 seconds and repeat up to three times. Switch to your left leg. For greater intensity, press downward on the working thigh with your hands or wear ankle weights.
Progress to single-leg knee extensions for your quadriceps. Keeping your knees level with the surface of your seat, slowly straighten your right leg, extending the knee, tightening the quads and driving the lower leg forward. Hold the extension for a up to five seconds and then bend the leg, slowly returning the foot to the floor. Do 12 to 15 slow, smooth reps, completing one to three sets before switching to your left leg. Wear ankle weights for a greater challenge.
Work your hamstrings with an isometric heel dig. With your feet on the floor in front of you, extend your right leg slightly to the front. Flex the right foot, dig the heel into the floor and contract the back of your right thigh as if you were pulling the leg back. Breathe normally as you hold the contraction for five seconds. Relax briefly and repeat up to three times before switching to your left leg.
Roll up a hand towel -- or your cardigan sweater -- and place it between your thighs. Squeeze your legs and knees firmly together with the towel in between to work your inner thigh and groin muscles. Hold the squeeze for five seconds. Release briefly and repeat 12 to 15 times for a total of one to three sets. Alternatively, squeeze the towel and then pulse your thighs inward for one minute. Keep the movement small and tight. Relax for 30 seconds and repeat one or two more times.
Wrap a moderate-strength resistance band around both thighs, near your knees, and knot it securely. Open your thighs, pressing outward against the band's resistance. Hold for a count of five, relax your legs briefly and repeat the outer thigh press 12 to 15 times for one to three sets. Alternatively, pulse the legs outward for 60 seconds, rest for 30 seconds and repeat once or twice.
Do seated calf raises to work the deep-lying soleus muscle of your calf. Sit with your feet on the floor and a dumbbell -- or heavy book -- on each thigh. Raise your heels off the floor, keeping your insteps over your second and third toes. At the height of the movement, contract your calves and hold for one or two counts. Lower your heels to the floor and repeat for a total of one to three sets of 12 to 15 reps.
Finish off with toe taps to strengthen your shins. Keeping your right heel on the floor, raise the toes and ball of your right foot as high as possible off the floor. Hold for a count of one or two and lower the foot back to the floor. Repeat 12 to 15 times for one to three sets before switching to your left leg.
- If your office chair has wheels or castors, lock them before you exercise to prevent the chair from rolling.
- Maintain proper posture throughout every exercise to prevent lower back injury. Keep your head over your spine, retract your shoulder blades -- pushing them down and slightly back -- and avoid arching or rounding your lower back.
- After you work your legs, take a few minutes to stretch to prevent tightening and soreness.
- The Mayo Clinic points out that there are many health risks associated with excessive sitting. Whenever possible, get up during your work day to move around and stretch. If you're really tied to your desk, rearrange your work station so you can spend part of your workday standing.
- Isometric exercises are not recommended for individuals with high blood pressure or a heart condition.
Judy Fisk has been writing professionally since 2011, specializing in fitness, recreation, culture and the arts. A certified fitness instructor with decades of dance training, she has taught older adults, teens and kids. She has written educational and fundraising material for several non-profit organizations and her work has appeared in numerous major online publications. Fisk holds a Bachelor of Arts in public and international affairs from Princeton University.