Strengthening Exercises for Weak Muscles from Prolonged Sitting

Strengthening Exercises for Weak Muscles from Prolonged Sitting

If you sit for prolonged periods of time in your daily life, regularly performing exercises intended to strengthen muscles that are weakened from this sedentary lifestyle can be beneficial and is recommended!

Muscles that are commonly weakened by prolonged sitting are those of the back, back of shoulders, core, and glutes. Generally speaking, one who regularly sits for long periods of time needs to strengthen the muscles of the back side of the body and stretch the muscles of the front side of the body.

In planning and selecting strengthening exercises, is important to incorporate basic, diverse movements so all exercises aren’t being performed in the same plane of motion. Examples include elements of pushing, pulling, rotating, and moving sideways (laterally), which can help reduce the risk of imbalances.

I’ve put together some exercises to get you started below through my illustrations and descriptions! Keeping simplicity and accessibility in mind for the novice/beginner to resistance training (and perhaps even a regular exercise routine), and to help provide a base to build from, these exercises consist of utilizing body weight and light resistance bands, and can really be done anywhere! (Seriously, anywhere! I traveled around the world with a resistance band and Figure 8 Tubing in my backpack and worked out in a variety of creative places.) In a couple of exercises, I’ve incorporated a Bender Ball or Gliding Discs as options to progress with intensity/challenge.

(Please note: While these exercises are appropriate for the general population, it is advised to consult with your physician with any concerns before beginning any type of exercise program and listen to your own body to avoid pain and/or injury. If you experience any pain, stop immediately.)

Keep these things in mind before you begin:

  • Bilateral means both sides at the same time; unilateral means one side at a time. The exercises illustrated and described below that are on one side of the body should be repeated on the other side of the body to promote proper muscle balance.
  • Start with performing 8-12 repetitions for each exercise (1 set) and progress with time.
  • Exhale on the exertion (hardest work) phase of each exercise (e.g. exhale as you extend the arm at the elbow for triceps extensions, inhale back to your starting position).
  • Move at a controlled pace (i.e. not too fast; a count of two for the direction of the exertion, and two for the direction of the release, for exercises where this is applicable, is great to start with).
  • As a general modification option, reduce the range of motion of the exercises to make them even more accessible if needed.
  • Wear comfortable, breathable clothing. Because these exercises are not weight-bearing, you can perform them barefoot, with socks (I’m wearing my Barre Sox personally in the photos below — I love the grip they have on the bottom), or with athletic shoes (I recommend cross-trainers).
  • If you are performing these exercises on carpet, a mat is not necessary but you are welcome to use one if you prefer. If you are going to be working out on a hard surface (e.g. hardwood floor, tile, concrete, etc.), you’ll want to use a mat specifically for the floor exercises, to provide some padding/support (especially when on or above your knees).
  • Keep a glass/bottle of water nearby so you can sip on it throughout the workout to stay hydrated.

Exercise #1: Seated High Rows (Bilateral)

*Muscles worked: Upper/mid-back (trapezius, rhomboids), back of shoulders (posterior deltoids), front of upper arms (biceps)*

In a seated position, on your sits bones and sitting tall, outstretch your legs and wrap a resistance band evenly around the balls of your feet. Grab on near each of the ends, palms facing down.
Exhale back as you pull your shoulder blades together, elbows out. Inhale as you release back to starting position, controlling the speed of the resistance band.

Exercise #1 (Alternative Option): Reverse Flys (Bilateral)

*Muscles worked: Upper/mid-back (trapezius, rhomboids), back of shoulders (posterior deltoids)*

With feet shoulder width apart and knees slightly bent, hinge forward at the hips with a flat back. Start holding the resistance band with palms facing down, with enough resistance and even on both sides.
Exhale as you bring the shoulder blades together, inhale as you bring the arms to starting position.

Exercise #2: Lateral Raises (Unilateral)

*Muscles worked: Middle of shoulders (medial deltoids), upper/mid-back (trapezius)*

In a staggered stance, knees slightly bent, step onto the resistance band and grab on towards an end with one hand so there is enough resistance between. Shoulders are down and away from the ears.
With the arm mostly straight (slight bend in the elbow), raise the arm (palm facing down, neutral wrist) no higher than shoulder height. Exhale up, inhale down.

Exercise #3: Lat Pull-Downs (Unilateral or Bilateral)

*Muscles worked: Large back muscle (latissimus dorsi), small chest muscle (pectoralis minor), rhomboids, biceps*

With feet shoulder width apart and knees slightly bent, raise arms overhead with resistance band in hands (even on both sides).
Exhale as you pull the resistance band (with arms out) down towards the chest, inhale as you release to starting position.

Those with shoulder issues where it is not advised (or possible) to raise the arms over the shoulders without pain can perform standing bent-over rows (unilateral).

Exercise #3 (Alternative Option): Bent-Over Rows (Unilateral)

*Muscles worked: Latissimus dorsi, teres major (one of rotator cuff muscles), biceps*

In a long lunge (back leg mostly straight, front knee in line with front ankle, weight over top of front thigh), step onto the resistance band and grab on towards an end with one hand so there is enough resistance between. Arm is mostly straight, gaze is in front of front foot, hinge forward from the hips and keep the back straight.
Exhale as you pull the arm back, bending at the elbow, and inhale as you release to starting position.
Bent-over rows (side view)

Exercise #4: External Rotation (Unilateral)

*Muscles worked: Rotator cuff (infraspinatus, teres minor)*

With feet about shoulder width apart and knees slightly bent, step onto the resistance band and grab on towards an end with one hand so there is enough resistance between. Elbow is bent, palm is facing up.
Exhale as you rotate the arm (from the shoulder) out to the side, inhale as you return to starting position.

Exercise #5: Tricep Kickbacks (Unilateral or Bilateral)

*Muscles worked: Back of upper arms (triceps)*

In a long lunge (back leg mostly straight, front knee in line with front ankle, weight over top of front thigh), step onto the resistance band and grab on towards an end with one hand so there is enough resistance between (same arm, same leg). Palm is facing towards you, arm is bent at the elbow and held up between a 45- and 90-degree angle, gaze is in front of the front foot, hinge forward from the hips and keep the back straight.
Exhale as you extend from the elbow and press back with your hand.
Extend until arm is mostly straight (slight bend remains in elbow as to not hyperextend the elbow), inhale as you release to starting position.
Bilateral option
Bilateral option

Exercise #6: Standing Side Crunches (Unilateral)

*Muscles worked: Core/low back (quadratus lumborum — used for spinal lateral flexion)*

With feet shoulder width apart and knees slightly bent, raise and outstretch arms in front of you with resistance band in hands (even on both sides).
Exhale as you lift one leg laterally with knee bent and rotate the tubing to one side vertically. Inhale to starting position. Exhale and repeat on other side.

Exercise #7: Bicycle Crunches (Unilateral)

*Muscles worked: Core (obliques)*

Starting in tabletop position
Exhale as you bring one knee towards the opposite elbow as you twist from the core to face that opposite knee. Extend the opposite leg out. Imagine there is a ball or apple between your chin and chest to help remind you to keep open space there. Let your fingertips gently rest behind your head and keep your elbows out, chest and front of shoulders nice and open.
Inhale center then repeat on the opposite side.
Option: You can start in this position instead of tabletop and keep one leg on the floor at all times (as opposed to keeping one leg lifted and extended as you bend the opposite knee towards the opposite elbow).

Exercise #8: Moving Plank (Unilateral or Bilateral)

*Muscles worked: Core stability, maintaining neutral spinal and scapular muscles*

Above the knees, stack hands underneath the shoulders and gaze ahead onto the floor, straight line from above the knees to top of head. Alternate moving hands in an “out, out, in, in” pattern.
Option: Take your plank to the balls of your feet. You can move your hands in the “out, out, in, in” pattern, or your feet, or alternate one set for hands with one set for the feet.
“Out, out” illustrated here
Gliding Discs option – Move feet/legs out (one at a time or both at the same time)
Gliding Discs option – Then move feet/legs together (one at a time or both at the same time)
Option: Secure a lower body resistance band at your ankles and move your legs/feet in the “out, out, in, in” pattern to engage your outer thighs.

Exercise #9: Bridge (Bilateral)

*Muscles worked: Booty (glutes), upper back of legs (hamstrings), lower back of legs (calves) – (optional with raises)*

Laying on your back with feet about hip distance apart, knees bent, arms at your sides, exhale as you lift your hips to create a line from your knees to your shoulders. Inhale to release into starting position with your back pressed into the floor or mat.
Option: Raise onto the balls of your feet to engage your calves.
As you lift your hips into bridge, you can simultaneously lift the arms up.
As you lift your hips into bridge, you can simultaneously raise your arms overhead.
You can place a Bender Ball between your thighs to engage the inner thighs as you lift and lower in and out of bridge. This may also be a great tool to help keep your knees and hips in proper alignment while performing this exercise.

Exercise #10: Quadruped/Bird Dog (Unilateral)

*Muscles worked: Core stability, maintaining neutral spinal and scapular muscles*

Starting on all fours, with knees stacked under the hips and hands stacked under the shoulders, back flat, gaze on the floor above the hands, exhale as you lift one leg and the opposite arm. With a flexed foot and open hand, extend the outstretched hand, arm, leg, and foot away from the body in opposite directions. Inhale as you return to starting position and switch sides.

Exercise #11: Prone Back Extension (Bilateral)

*Muscles worked: Low back (Erector spinae)*

Lay prone with one cheek resting on the mat, arms by sides, palms facing up.
Exhale as you squeeze your glutes and raise your legs and arms, chest and head from the ground. Inhale as you lower to starting position.

Exercise #11 (Alternaive Option): Superman (Bilateral)

*Muscles worked: Low back (Erector spinae)*

Slight variation: Lift the hands, palms facing towards the ground.

This is not intended to be an exhaustive list/library, as there are so many effective exercises out there to choose from that address all sorts of muscle groups of the body. But I hope this gives you some ideas and education surrounding how to get started in your journey of considering and implementing your own resistance training routine, based on your individual interests, needs, and goals.

For additional information, check out these related resources below:

I purchased my yellow resistance band pictured (equivalent to 6 lbs) online from Resistance Bands Only. It is a resistance band that contains latex (current latex resistance bands on their site are 3-10.2 lbs). They have latex-free resistance bands available with weight equivalent options of 3-11 lbs. They also have ankle resistance bands available with weight equivalent options of 6.6-40 lbs. (Please note: I am not affiliated with RB Only. I have purchased their products for use personally and with my clients.)

Target also sells resistance bands. These latex resistance bands come in a 3-pack of light, medium, and heavy (equivalent to up to 20-50 lbs max). (Please note: I am not affiliated with Target. I have, however, purchased these resistance bands for personal use.)

If you are looking for options to regress (modify or make less intense/challenging) or progress (make more intense/challenging) the exercises I’ve illustrated and explained within this blog post, I’m happy to be a resource!

Cross-training and implementing healthy habits for a balanced, active lifestyle are so important. Check out my Simple Stretching for Wellness blog post to nicely compliment the content in this blog post.

More (relevant) reading material:

https://www.acefitness.org/education-and-resources/professional/expert-articles/6326/5-lower-back-bodyweight-exercises-to-ward-off-low-back-pain

https://www.acefitness.org/education-and-resources/professional/prosource/january-2016/5756/a-workout-to-counteract-the-effects-of-prolonged-sitting

https://www.acefitness.org/education-and-resources/lifestyle/blog/5930/six-things-to-know-about-muscle-imbalances 

Finally, if you want to work with me personally to help you reach your health, fitness, and wellness goals, I offer online personal training services as well as virtual bootcamp program sessions individually and in small groups. (My next Tabata Bootcamp™ Virtual Bootcamp program session starts in January 2019 and registration is open now!)

Feel free to reach out to me anytime with questions or comments at workinitwithelena@gmail.com.

Cheers!
Elena 🙂

My sources: I’ve relied upon my education and experience within the fitness industry to put together this blog post. I hold certifications through the American Council on Exercise (ACE) and the Athletics & Fitness Association of America (AFAA), which are both accredited by the National Commission of Certified Agencies (NCCA). You can learn more about me as a fitness professional here!

I created this blog post as an additional resource that relates to my conversation with Brittany of the BHooked podcast, as she invited me on her show as a featured guest for her 90th episode to talk about Setting Up an Ergonomic and Healthy Lifestyle. I recommend listening to that podcast episode for even more information on workstation ergonomics, stretching and strengthening targeted muscles, and healthy living!

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