Nine easy chair exercises

Siski Green / 12 January 2016

Being chair-bound doesn't mean being unfit. There's plenty of exercises you can do seated. Here are nine easy chair exercises to improve your health.



Whether you’re stuck in a sedentary job, can’t do standing exercises because of your joints, are in a wheelchair, an illness or accident, or simply spend a lot of time seated, there’s no reason not to enjoy regular exercise. You can boost your heart health and overall cardiovascular fitness, as well as strengthen your muscles with chair exercises.

As with all exercise, it’s important to start with what you’re comfortable and work up to a higher level of fitness, so as to avoid injury. For this reason, we’ve given you a goal to work towards with each chair exercise.

This goal is not meant for you to aim for immediately but rather for you to work slowly towards. So start with one set daily to begin with for each exercise and increase the number once you feel it’s too easy.

You can do the chair exercises three or four times a week to feel results but if you’re sitting a lot, it’s ideal to try to do them every day. 

Related: Easy ways to get fit at home

Arms: chair push-up

You can use your arms to do bodyweight exercise in the chair. Move forward so you are on the edge of your seat and simply place your hands on the seat of the chair to push down as though lifting yourself out of the chair.

You don’t need to go the whole way and lift yourself off the chair just until you can feel your muscles working. 

Goal: three sets of 10-12 repetitions.

Cardio: jumping jacks

Jumping while seated might sound like a stretch and it is – for this you’re not jumping, but you do the same movements as you would if you were doing a jumping jack while on your feet.

Raise your arms and at the same time open your legs raising them off the floor, as though you are a giant pair of scissors opening and closing. Do this rapidly and you’ll get a good cardio workout. 

Goal: three sets of 10-12 repetitions at speed. 

Abs, hips and thighs: leg raises

Shift to the front of your chair and support yourself by holding on to the edge of the seat. Now raise one of your legs, keeping it straight. Hold for a count of five, breathing in and out as you do so, then slowly lower your leg. This not only targets your leg muscles but your abdominals too.

To work your legs even further as you do this move, you can also try flexing your foot (the one that remains on the floor) so that only the heel is still touching it. This will work your lower leg muscles in that leg at the same time as working the large leg muscles of the raised leg, giving you a good lower-body workout. 

Goal: three sets of 6-8 repetitions.

Chest, shoulder and upper arms: curls and overhead curls

You can use dumbbells while sitting in a chair so there’s no excuse for not maintaining strength in your chest, shoulder and upper arm muscles. However, if you’re still working on building strength simply do the exercises without any weights. 

Curls: With your arms out in front of you, resting on your knee, raise your dumbbell towards your shoulder keeping your elbow in line with your body (your upper arm vertical). 

Overhead curls: With your arm straight above your head, lower your lower arm until your elbow is bent and your hand is level with your shoulder (your elbow should be level with the top of your head), now raise your arm again. Repeat with the other arm. 

Goal: two sets of 10-12 repetitions of each move.

Abdominals: double leg raise

This is tough to do well, so go easy on yourself when you first try it. Moving forward in your seat, and keeping your legs together, raise them an inch or so off the floor. Hold the position, counting to five, then slowly lower your legs without losing control.

Once you feel you can do a set of 10 or 12 of those easily, add an inch; then once you can do that easily add another inch and so on. 

Goal: three sets of 10-12 repetitions raising your legs so that they are parallel with the floor. 

Shoulders and neck: arm circles

Your shoulders and neck muscles often suffer when you’re seated for long periods of time, so make sure you give them a good workout to build strength and support.

For this, put your arms out to the sides and first make large circles with your arms, gradually decreasing the size of the circle until you’re nearly ‘circling’ on the spot. Start slowly and build up speed as you decrease the circle size.

Be aware that this is also a cardiovascular exercise so you may get out of breath. 

Goal: three sets of 10-12 repetitions. 

What can’t you do in a chair?

There isn’t a muscle that can’t be worked on while seated. That said, working on your glutes, the muscles in your backside, is a lot more difficult as you’re sitting on them, obviously.

But you can still ‘squeeze’ your bottom cheeks together and isolate the muscles on one cheek, squeeze, then the other, to give them a mini workout. 

Nb: If you aren't used to exercise, see your GP before you start. They'll be able to tell you the right type of exercise for you, and give advice on starting slowly and building up gently.

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