How to build strength at your desk without sweating

Getting stronger at your desk without sweating is tough, especially in business attire. It's easy to sneak in a little stretching or movement as a break from the monotony of office life without sweating, but it is hard to actually make progress via these movements.

The challenge is that building strength involves a concept known as progressive overload. Progressive overload just means that you continually increase the difficulty of the exercises you do, to ensure that you continually build strength.

Increasing difficulty can be accomplished a number of ways, you can increase the weight you use, increase the number of repetitions you do, you could do the exercises with less rest or the movements with a slower tempo. No matter what you do to achieve progressive overload, sweat always comes with it. Sweat is the unavoidable consequence of building strength, and sweat has no place to go in your office except into the clothes you have to wear the remainder of the day.

Thus the question, how can you build strength at your desk without sweating?  

The answer, increase muscle recruitment and strengthen your forearms. Luckily, we can accomplish both goals with the same exercises!

Muscle Recruitment:

Let's start with muscle recruitment because it is the more abstract solution, the concept of muscle recruitment is best illustrated by aggressively squeezing someone's hand.  If you don't have a friend willing to try this with you use any decently thick object that you can squeeze. When you squeeze gently you can feel your forearms activate, when you squeeze a little harder your biceps will start to flex, and lastly when you squeeze with all your might you'll feel your chest get involved. Basically, the little muscles in your forearms are like "we need help to squeeze harder", and your biceps come to their rescue, the process repeats until it reaches your chest which are the largest muscles your forearms can play telephone with.

Recruiting larger muscles allows you to lift more weight, and it one of the reasons beginner weightlifters see so much improvement at the start of their program. They aren't suddenly building tons of muscle in the first month of training; they are subconsciously learning how to recruit more muscles during a lift. Bringing consciousness to muscle recruitment through practice will increase your ability to lift heavy weight quickly. 

Tip: during every exercise you do concentrate on the muscles you are working.  

Strengthen your forearms:

Weak forearms are a limiting factor for most people who lift weights; it affects everyone from newbies to advanced lifters. Some newbies can't do a lot of beneficial exercises because they cannot hang from a bar and a lot of advanced lifters use straps to help them hold weights because their big muscles have progressed past the strength of their forearms. They want to deadlift more weight but they simply cannot hold the bar with their max weight.  Let's be honest, if you cannot pick up a weight without the assistance of straps can you really pick up that weight?

The only solution is to strengthen your forearms. In the office, there are two movements to accomplish that.

Squeeze something for your flexors

I would grab a little forearm exerciser, I'm sure you've seen the classic ones before but there are some newer products that I prefer because they are softer and feel nicer on your hands. These products have the added bonus of being one-hand products so you can do this while doing almost anything, and they can even help decrease your road rage.

Twist something for your extensors

I am a huge fan of the Theraband for strengthening your forearms, most forearm strengthening products only allow you to train your flexors while this one allows you to train your extensors as well. Unfortunately, you cannot really use this product while multitasking unless you take your phone calls on a Bluetooth headset.  

Before doing any forearm training it is still necessary to warm up, start by simply opening and closing your hands a few times and stretching out your fingers. Here is a little mini program you can try with your new toys.

*Note that a lot of forearm products usually start pretty stiff and get easier.

Warm up:

Make a fist and then open your hand as wide as possible 20 times

Stretch your fingers back one by one for 10 seconds each  


1) Squeezes of a forearm strengthening device 3x10 reps each hand

2) Slowly untwisting Theraband for extensor 3x 10seconds each hand

3) Squeeze forearm strengthening device and hold close 3x 15 seconds each hand

Cool down:

Stretch your forearms again             

For more helpful tips for staying healthy at your desk look out for Do it at your Desk the book which will be available starting April 2019.