Normalizing Movement in the Workplace

Just imagine it. An office full of cubicles and everyone, in their seats, typing away at their computers. Then one person stands, raises their hands above their heads and reaches to the sky. Another person stands and chooses to reach for their toes. Another person stands and goes for a walk around the building. Nothing seems strange, and for 5-15 minutes, everyone moves their bodies.


Whether we realize it or not, we have expected norms for how people move and use specific spaces. Deviations outside of these norms can be thought of as “odd” or “uncomfortable” to perform in spaces where those actions or movements are unfamiliar.

It is common in communal workspaces for stillness and lack of movement to be the expected behavior. Some of these accepted norms may be:

  • Sitting upright
  • Being still in long meetings
  • Arms down and in front of us
  • Standing up for brief periods
  • Brief walks outside of workspaces

Unfortunately these norms are not actually “normal” for our bodies. Our bodies need varied movement to prevent damage from repetitive movement or long stagnation. The workplace already demands repetitive movement for the completion of our work duties. How we behave in between task completion and on breaks should not reinforce the same restricted movement patterns. So let’s mix it up and make some moves towards challenging the movement norms!


One of the easiest, but sometimes the most alarming can be arm movements. Moving our hands in the air, above our heads or using walls to open our chests can be new. Simply stretching our legs by sitting on the floor (oh my!) may strike up a conversation or two at first. It’s part of normalizing. Before long you will have changed the norm, and may have even struck interest for others as your body begins to recover better from your work day.


In order to bring variety into your “normal” movement patterns, try focusing on various body movements through the day. Spine, hips, arms, chest, legs all need variety. So stretch to the sky, to the ground; use walls and desks. 

Be sure to change the demand on the specific muscle groups to counteract the repetitive nature of staying still, or sitting still to type or do computer work. Focus on range of motion changes, like squats, for any muscle group that holds a position for long periods of time, or does the same motion through the day.

As you are exploring your movements, spinal movements and leg stretches are often the most socially tolerated by using a dedicated space to avoid distractions, but we can also have a towel or mat at our desk to use on the floor.

Beyond making small changes for ourselves, wide changes have to come from the top down. It is necessary for leadership to provide the necessary wellness tools, space, and incentives to bring sweeping changes to “normal” movements in the workspace. 

Some basic suggestions on how to normalize healthier movements from the top down:

  • ROM movements like squats throughout the workday
  • Encourage healthy footwear when not client facing
  • Scheduling time for 5-15min walks or even normalizing taking walking meetings
  • Scheduling company-wide stretch breaks throughout the day
  • Providing company-branded yoga mats, lacrosse balls, and foam rollers for employees to keep at their desks