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by Terry Heggy

May 24, 2016

2-minute habits for productive daily work breaks

We make a firm commitment to our swim practices and dryland exercise, and we work hard to improve ourselves during those sessions. But if we’re not careful, our other daily activities (or lack thereof) can completely undo what we accomplish during our workouts. We need a strategy to overcome the negative effects of commuting, sitting at desks, and mindlessly slaving away to satisfy the whims of our cruel corporate overlords.

Here are some quick and easy activities that break up the workday monotony while providing physical and mental benefits to help us swim better.

Get Up!

The number one most important weapon in combatting workplace entropy is to simply get out of your chair. Even if you don’t have a stand-up desk like they do at the USMS National Office, you can get on your feet while talking on the phone, walk an extra lap around the office when you take your bathroom breaks, and stand up during meetings.

  • Set an alarm on your computer or phone to remind you to get up once every hour. There are dozens of apps that not only remind you, but also suggest activities.
  • Place your water bottle or coffee cup across the room so you’ll be forced to get up to get a drink.
  • Make a mobility pact with coworkers. Support each other with verticality reminders.

Get Some Air

Whether you get up or not, you can take a moment to breathe deeply. When we sit at desks, we tend to hunch forward and compress the chest cavity, limiting oxygen supply. By lifting our heads and straightening our backs to ensure a full range of motion for the diaphragm as we inhale, we can ensure good air supply for higher energy and increased lung function. Place your hands on your stomach and lower ribcage to feel how much more fully you can expand your lungs.

Stretch and Move

Computer work is especially damaging for swimmers. Your normal dryland program should include exercises for shoulder strength and flexibility to overcome this. But habitually taking a few breaks of a minute or two during the workday to interrupt and counteract the repetitive stresses of office life can pay big dividends over time. You don’t need to get sweaty and you don’t need a lot of room. Stretching against the door or against a desk works well. And it’s easy to add a little resistance to remind the muscles how you want them to behave. Get a lightweight resistance band to keep in your drawer. (Many corporate wellness centers or insurance carriers provide them for free! Ask your HR or health rep.)

The best exercises to counteract desk posture are those that strengthen the rotator cuff, shoulders, triceps, and upper back. As you perform each exercise, keep your spine straight and bring your shoulder blades toward each other by contracting the center of your back. (These exercises can be done with or without resistance.)

  • Outward forearm rotation. Keep your elbows close to your side and your forearms parallel to the ground.
  • Shoulder lift. Keeping your arm straight or slightly bent at the elbow, raise your hand from beside your leg to over your head, at a 45° angle away from your body.
  • Straight arm rotation. Start with hands in front of the shoulders and move them outward until fully extended to the side. Focus on the muscles in the back rather than the shoulders.
  • Triceps extensions. Triceps can be worked from a standing position (starting with the hand over or behind your head and raising it up) or from a bent-over posture (the hand starts below your chest and extends directly backwards).
  • Band stretches. Use light resistance to gently stretch the muscles of the chest by holding the band behind your back.

These ideas are not meant to replace your gym workouts, but are suggested as a way to remind your muscles that they need to stay loose and strong.

Snack Well

Remember that your body is a performance engine, and runs best on quality fuel. You may find that if you eat a small, healthy snack (fruit, salad, smoothie, etc.) a couple of hours before mealtime, you’ll be more energized for work while simultaneously managing your appetite to prevent overeating during your lunch or dinner. Snacks should be planned, not impulse purchases. Don’t fuel your body with hunger-driven decisions made in front of a vending machine.


Mental breaks are also important. Sometimes you just need to smell the flowers, watch a cat video, or stare out the window at the mountains. Waiting for a meeting to start, walking from one office to another, or sitting in a traffic jam are perfect opportunities to review the mental aspects of your swimming.

  • Visualize your swimming technique (catch, pull, alignment, turns, breathing, etc.) and imagine yourself swimming with the perfect form you’d like to achieve.
  • Think about your goals for your next workout. Are there specific times or splits you want to hit, or techniques you want to work on?
  • Develop a list of things to talk about with your coach. Are there race strategies you’d like to discuss? Drills that you don’t completely understand?

These are just a few suggestions for ensuring your daily life isn’t harming your swimming—I’m sure you can think of many more. The point is that incorporating good habits into the nonaquatic part of your day can be fast, simple, and fun!


  • Technique and Training


  • Drylands
  • Stretches