By Lynne Robinson

Pilates – a great way to help guard against desk hunch.

Think you haven’t got enough time to do pilates, think again! Whilst it’s great to do an hour’s class, you can get real benefits from doing a few minutes a day….even at your desk. Here are my top tips on what moves are the most effective for staying in shape (whilst taking a break from the computer screen).

To keep yourself feeling fit and healthy, why not set yourself the goal of doing 5 minutes pilates at your desk whenever you get a break? If you’ve time for coffee, you’ve time for pilates!

Even though you are only doing 5 minutes, you need to focus, and do the exercises mindfully. Then try to retain what you’ve learnt with you as you move around the office.”

1. Hand Press

This simple action is incredibly useful as it can be done discreetly any time and anywhere (as long as you are sitting down). It will help you find the axial length of your spine.

Starting Position

Sit tall on your chair. Weight even on both sitting bones, spine long with its natural curves. Feet hip-width apart and parallel (if your feet do not comfortably reach the floor then use a few books/step under them). Place the back of each hand on the top of each thigh, fingers pointing inwards.

Use your core connection (internal zip) as, when and if you need it to control your alignment and movements.


1. Breathe in wide to expand the lower ribcage

2. Breathe out as you gently squeeze your back passage as if trying to prevent passing wind and bring this feeling forward to your pubic bone. Then gently draw these muscles up inside like an internal zip. This action engages your deep core muscles, which support your spine. As you do this gently but firmly, press down through the back of each hand and lengthen up and away through your spine.

3. Breathe in and hold this lengthened position

4. Breathe out and relax but do not collapse

Repeat up to 8 times


  • Keep your collarbones wide and open as you press down.
  • Do not arch your back.

2. The Dumb Waiter with Neck Turn

Great for opening the front of the chest if you have been hunched over your computer. Of course, this can also be done standing.

Starting Position

Sit or stand tall. Hold your arms as if you are holding a tray, palms facing upwards and your elbows close into your waist.

Use your core connection (internal zip) as, when and if you need it to control your alignment and movements.


1. Breathe in wide and lengthen up through the spine. Now take your right hand out to the side, keeping the upper part of the arm close into your side. Simultaneously turn your head to the left.

2. Breathe out as you bring the arm and head back to centre.

Repeat five times to each side.


  • Rotate the arm outwards, initiating the movement from the top of the upper arm.
  • Do not pinch the shoulder blades together.
  • Keep the distance between the ears and the shoulders
  • Keep the hand in line with the wrist in line with the elbow…do not drop the tray.
  • Turn the head on a central axis. If you keep your eye line on the same level as you turn, you should avoid tipping the head back, forward or sideways!

3. Seated Side Reach

Stretches and works the waist muscles.

Starting Position

Sit tall on your chair, near the front of the seat, with your feet firmly placed hip-width apart on the floor. Feel evenly balanced on both sitting bones.

Use your core connection (internal zip) as, when and if you need it to control your alignment and movements.


1. Breathe in and raise one arm out to the side and above your head. The arm stays slightly in front of you. Ensure that you do not hunch the shoulder up.

2. Breathe out and lengthen through the crown of the head to reach to the upper corner of the room, laterally bending the spine. Keep anchoring through both sitting bones.

3. Breathe in to the sides of your ribcage, focusing on the side you have stretched.

4. As you breathe out, close down that side of the ribcage, reach up, up, up, as you lengthen back to upright.

5. Lower the arm.

Repeat four times on each side.


  • Ensure that you have moved in one plane only and not bent forward or back – it’s as if you are sliding between two planes of glass.
  • Think up and over to avoid collapsing at the waist.
  • Your head moves naturally as part of the spine, so do not twist it any further. Your gaze remains forwards.
  • Keep your pelvis grounded and feel equal weight through both feet.

4. Twister

A fabulous exercise for the spine, this will also work your waist.

For this exercise to work at your desk, you need to be sitting on a swivel chair.

Starting Position

Sit tall on your swivel chair, with your weight evenly balanced on both sitting bones. If feasible, place your feet together resting on the legs of the chair (this will depend on the type of chair … you may have to improvise and hold your feet together just off the floor … if this is the case, you will have to use your abdominals more). Hold the desk in front of you with your hands just wider than shoulder-width apart, palms down.

Use your core connection (internal zip) as, when and if you need it to control your alignment and movements.


1. Breathe into the ribcage and lengthen up through the spine.

2. Breathe out keeping your upper body still and facing the front, rotate your lower body with the chair. You may twist as far as you are comfortable, as long as your upper body remains squarely facing forwards.

3. Breathe in and slowly, with control, twist back to the starting position.

Repeat five times each way.


  • Rotate around your central axis – imagine your spine from the tailbone to the crown of your head as a long pole which will keep its natural curves but which is fully lengthened.
  • Keep the distance between your shoulders and your ears, shoulder staying open and own.
  • Keep the inner thighs together.

5. Seated Knee Crosses

We are targeting the hip joints here, mobilising them gently. In normal circumstances we would not advocate sitting with your legs crossed but this is an exception! The key here is to stay upright and not sink down as your knee crosses over.

Starting Position

Sit tall in the middle of a sturdy chair, feet planted firmly hip-width apart. Check that your weight is evenly balanced on both your sitting bones.

Use your core connection (internal zip) as, when and if you need it to control your alignment and movements.


1. Breathe in to prepare and lengthen up through the spine.

2. Breathe out as you lift your right leg and cross it over your left leg, without twisting the pelvis.

3. Breathe in as you uncross your leg, still sitting tall.

4. Repeat with the other leg.

Repeat 8 times


  • Do not collapse in the spine.
  • Try to keep the weight even on both sitting bones.

For more information go to

desk pilates
Lynne Robinson

Lynne Robinson is co-founder and director of Body Control Pilates Education (for whom she lectures on training courses for new teachers and on specialist courses for qualified teachers) and of the Body Control PilatesAssociation, Europe’s largest professional body for Pilates teachers. Alongside her teaching responsibilities in the UK and abroad, Lynne is always busy writing new courses for Body Control Pilates Education. Her latest book (Pilates for Life) was published in the UK in 2014 by Kyle Books, while the Pilates Bible continues to retain its position as the world’s best-selling Pilates book.

Last Updated on January 31, 2023 by Editorial Staff

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