December 01, 2011

Can You Work Out Sitting On Your Ass?

Photo: yischon

Sitting and Exercising. Why are these two activities so hard for some of us to put together?

Depressing studies about the negative health consequences of sitting have scared some of us into using treadmill desks or stand-up workstations, but truth is, most of us still manage to spend a substantial amount of time each day on our posteriors. Is there any way we sneak some activity into this overabundance of ass-time?

As it happens, while I have a few resources to offer on this question, I could really use some advice myself an a semi-related Seated Exercise Dilemma, and am hoping a kind reader or two might share their advice or experience.

So want some ideas for sit-down exercise?

Chair Dancing!

I practice a form of this myself in the passenger seat during long car trips. But for the definitive, So Perky You'll Puke Guide to chair dancing, you gotta watch this video (via HuffPo).

Pedal at Your Desk

Studies show health benefits for workers who use those little desk-bike type pedal exercisers. Shockingly, however, the researchers found that people used them less often after the novelty wore off, so be careful before you fork over for one if you're the sort who has a variety of different exercise machines serving as clothes drying racks in your basement already. They seem to come as cheap as $20, but I have no idea if they're crap at this price point. Anyone tried one?

Chair Exercises

So if you have the sort of work environment where you have (a) privacy or (b) open-minded colleagues who won't shun you or call security if they see you deviating from the normal sit-and-slouch-and-slog posture, you may want to experiment with Chair Exercises.

But where to find some?

 Photo: College Candy

Well here's one handy round-up of 3 chair exercise videos. Note: the last one includes a lot of punching, which could be quite useful if you're wanting to cultivate a don't-even-think-about-dumping-any-more-extra-work-on-me-muthaf@#cka-or-you'll-regret-it ambiance around your cubicle.

And if videos don't work for you, here are some written chair exercise suggestions you could check out.

If you're really serious about doing more exercises from your chair, for example if you're elderly or disabled or have issues with standing up on principle, there is the whole Sit and Be Fit empire, complete with a TV program and DVD's for sale etc.

Chairs That Entice You to Move

Some people perch on Swiss balls, and if you're lacking in balance and you don't put it on some sort of stand, then you get the extra exercise bonus of picking yourself up off the floor if you move too suddenly. You can also intentionally lift your feet up off the floor every now and then play with some core/balance work and hope you don't go sprawling across the room just as the boss walks by. Or, if you've got a chair that rocks or swivels, take advantage of it!

And along those lines, there's always the iGallop and Giddyup type riding exercisers. I'm still secretly intrigued by these but have never met anyone who's actually owned one. The chances of mounting one at work and remaining employed are probably low, but wouldn't that make the thought of heading for the office sound much more fun?

And now it's time to...

Help Crabby Figure Out How to Exercise Hard Enough While Seated On A Bike Seat!

So here's my challenge: Being a (sigh) former runner, I've been spending more aerobic and interval time on pedals than I used to. I love the elliptical machine, because as long as I'm sufficiently caffeinated and the music's good, I can "run" along in a fairly low impact way, get my heart rate super high, and even mostly enjoy the process. My glutes and quads and all the other muscles work together in the background and I don't even notice them unless I'm doing intense anaerobic intervals. And then I'm so busy trying to breathe I've got better things to do than notice my muscles complaining.

However, when I go out bicycling, or now that I'm trying spinning classes: I can't get my heart rate up very high unless I'm standing up on the pedals. When I'm sitting on the seat, my leg muscles aren't strong enough (especially on flat roads) to get more than flirting with my aerobic range.

And even this sub-optimal exertion feels awfully unpleasant! I push it for a while but soon find myself both uncomfortably preoccupied with the state of my thighs, and at the same time falling quickly out of my aerobic range. I either need a lot of hills or a spinning class to get aerobic, and even then it ends up being an short interval workout interspersed with a "walking," not a "running," level of exertion.

So, experienced cyclists and spinners, if you have any advice on any of these I'd appreciate it!

Is this a temporary transition issue that will go away if I just suck it up and try harder?

Can you get aerobic without leg burn or is it an inevitable part of your cardio bike work, even when you've been doing it for a long time?

What's the best way to get stronger leg muscles for cycling: separate strength training? (If so, which are the best exercises?) Go for a lot of hills on the bike? Endurance? Seated intervals? What worked for you?

I think I'd like to try THIS bike workout!
Photo by kharied

So, any thoughts on exercise while seated, or any helpful advice for Crabby on her bike? Or hey, just stop by and say hi!


  1. The chair dancing video was wonderful. I watched in fascination. While it appears it would finally let me dance without falling down ( theoretically) it still requires a sense of rhythm should others be in eyeshot. Or not.
    Meanwhile, I did try one of those pedal thingies years ago. It was cheap as I wanted a tryout only. It was a reasonable facsimile of biking while watching television. It fell apart after a few tries, if memory serves.

  2. Thought 1: We keep talking about doing a chair tap routine. Our teacher often choreographs while sitting which can lead to...interesting combinations (you know, when gravity/balance isn't an issue).

    Thought 2: Bring your bike and come visit. We'll bike the 100 mile Mickelson Trail. It will certainly get your heart rate up AND make your legs burn.

    Thought 3: I've been thinking about converting to a ball for a chair. But more for may posture. Because the current arrangement is definitely conducive to slumping. But that gallop thing? Never. I'd much prefer to go ride a real horse. (No really. I love horseback riding but don't get to do it often enough.)

  3. Ya, my ass starts to hurt if I sit too much. I'll stand and work quite a bit.
    The biking uses different muscles than running. Hills are great thigh burners. Ask my friend who came and biked with me ONCE. I live 1 mile up a hill, we biked 35 miles then to my house. She was in tears, literally.
    I'm a former runner too. Age sucks!!

  4. The pedal thing looks like something you should buy cheap at first, to see if you will do it. If you continue to like it, invest in a sturdier one.

    Years ago i read that stationary bikes are terrible for exercise because the body tends to pedal with only the quads, and so it doesn't give a good workout, aerobically or for exercising all the major leg muscles. Don't know if that applies to real bikes, too, but it sounds like it from what you say.

    Thanks for the links, too.

  5. To pick up the question posed in thte title: In my opinion, you do fitness or sit at a desk and work.

    If you try to combine the two, you won't be able to fully concentrate on either.

  6. Your ship has come in, Crabby!

  7. Here is another one:

  8. I was with DR. J! I had seen these over a year ago on a program... I am not a bicycle person, even in the gym so I got nothing! I hate the lifecycle & biking so it will not be part of my program unless I have NO OTHER CHOICE! ;-)

    On that little pedal thing, I just saw that recently but can't remember where & they were suggesting it for an obese person that could not really move that much to help her get activity until she lost more weight...

    I bet Lori from Finding Radiance can help you!

    Love that video! :-)

  9. Can you imagine the laughter that would ensue if all of us were doing something like chair dancing or pedaling at our desk jobs, just laughing that hard all day would burn calories...I can see it now, as you are on the phone with a customer, pedaling away, wearing your sweat band on your head, pedometer on your sneakers and richard simons in the background crying.

  10. I looked into getting one of those little foot pedal things - but the reviews on Amazon put me off. The impression I got was that they were poor quality, and/or made for people who didn't generally do much exercise and therefore designed to be used at a low level of intensity. I didn't bother in the end.

  11. I laugh I did (do? tomato tomaaato) covet those sit and pedal thingies forever and WISHED THEM TO WORK.

  12. I'm the wrong person to ask advice from regarding exercise! If you ever need to know how to ruin your health with cigarettes and beer in 10 easy lessons, I'm your gal. (Well, okay, it probably shouldn't take 10 lessons, but I like round numbers.)

  13. I've been struggling with a badly sprained ankle since mid-summer. About the only exercise it can handle right now is walking.. and not a lot of it so a chair exercise is intriguing but that video was just too.. amusing. Speaking of which.. there's also this:

  14. You guys crack me up and I'm loving the links!

    I notice that the foot pedal thing they used in the study was a $129 model; I suspect they're probably less likely to disintegrate than the $20 kind. But don't know anyone that has one!

  15. we had one of the originals of the pedal things way back in the late '60's, maybe early '70's. I don't remember if it worked, but I do remember that we got bored with it in no time flat.

  16. The pedals on the floor thing is the first thing I did after my sprained knee. (I think my physical therapist probably paid more than $20 for it.) She had me try a real exercise bike first and I love that she paid attention when I said "EEEoww!" on the first try.

    Mary Anne in Kentucky

  17. I sure like the idea of chair dancing. Looks like a lot of fun. I really like the idea of using a Swedish ball at my desk to improve posture and engage core muscles but I haven't gotten around to trying it.

  18. As long as you are physically able to stand up, there is really no reason to chair dance! You certainly won't get any work done while chair dancing at work anyway! You might as well go for a walk or take an actual dance class.


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