Exercises for writers: Keeping healthy at your desk

Writing is a surprisingly physical experience. When you’re caught in the middle of a story, hours can pass while you tap at your keyboard or scratch away at your notebook. When inspiration catches you, time becomes irrelevant. And when you finally step away from your desk, you may find that your hands are cramped, your back sore, and your body just exhausted.

For anyone working at a desk, taking time to tend to your body is vitally important. And yet we so often overlook it! Just because you’re sitting down doesn’t mean that your muscles aren’t working hard. It’s important to stretch your limbs regularly and also to get your heart rate up.

As well as the obvious benefits to your body, studies show that physical exercise is great for stimulating the imagination and helping us sort out mental stumbling blocks. It can also boost your memory and improve your concentration.

It’s not easy to remember to look after yourself – we know the struggle is all too real – so we’ve put together a list of simple exercises you can do to keep yourself healthy and inspired as a writer.

Basic exercises

There are a number of basic exercises you can do throughout the day to help relieve tension in your body. 

Desk pushups
Don’t be afraid to be a complete dag in your office with a couple of desk pushups. It’s exactly what it sounds like. Place your hands on your desk (make sure it’s secure!), walk your legs out so your body is at a 45 degree angle, and up and down you go. A few of those will get your blood pumping and give your upper body some tone as well.

Calf raises
This is a super simple exercise with great benefits for your lower legs. Stand up straight with your feet together. Take a breath and then slowly stand up on your tippy-toes, hold at the top, and slowly release your heels back down. So easy, so good for you.

Squats
You won’t make any friends in your office doing burpees even if you’re only sharing your office with your pet. But you can do a few squats each day. Stand up with your chair just behind you. Slowly drop your hips down as though you’re going to sit down, but stop and let your bum hover over the seat. Contract your bum and thigh muscles as you lift yourself back up to standing. Repeat a few times to really feel the burn.

Basic stretches

If you don’t want to get your heart rate up but just need to relieve some tension, stretching is the way to go.

Neck stretches and shoulder rolls should be your best friends. And not just once or twice a day, but several times an hour. Take time out to stretch your wrists both up and downwards and round in circles. Make fists with your fingers and then stretch them out into stars as wide as you can. 

Hand, arm, neck and wrist health is so important for anyone who spends a long time at a computer. Look after those guys – you want to make sure you can keep writing pain-free for years to come.

Finally, give yourself a big hug. Hug yourself nice and tight and then stretch your arms out as wide as they will go and squeeze your shoulder blades together. Give yourself another hug, this time with the other arm on top. And as you hug yourself, don’t forget to say the magic words: “I am awesome.”

Pomodoros

Pomodoros are a great technique for writers. Pomodoros are timed periods of activity, followed by a break. The key is to work solidly for the work period without distraction and then relax your brain.

The most common pomodoro is 25 minutes of work with a five minute break. So, for example, set yourself a timer and bash away at your manuscript for 25 minutes. When the timer goes off, grab yourself a glass of water, and do some exercises. During each break, you can do different exercises, alternating between squats, pushups and calf raises. And don’t forget your stretches! 

When break time is over, you can return refreshed and refocused, ready to work again.

There are loads of apps that can help you stick to pomodoros with timers already built in. Search for pomodoro on the Apple or Android stores on your phone to find the most popular, or check out this list here.

Yoga

Yoga comes in many shapes and forms. It is not just for people who are already flexible. You can start any time at a level that suits your needs and ability. And the best part is, you don’t need to have an expensive gym membership. There are loads of resources on YouTube to get you started on a simple, quick and free home or office practice.

At the Australian Writers’ Centre, we’re big fans of Yoga With Adriene. She has a very approachable style and often you can meet her puppy Benji. Naww!

Check out Yoga at Your Desk, Office Break Yoga, and  Yoga For Healthy Wrists. We especially like Adriene’s advice to sway like a zombie, if that feels good. Brains!

 

Need to strengthen your fiction writing too? Our Short Story Essentials course will take your skills to the next level. Learn the key style techniques for a gripping story, including how to power up your pace, and create unexpected twists and turns along the way. Plus it includes a professional assessment at the end to help you keep up the momentum. Perfect training for short story competitions, or to add punch to your long-form fiction. 


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