These 10 Chair Exercises Will Challenge Your Entire Body, No Matter Your Fitness Level

No matter your abilities, experience level, or goals, these cardio and strengthening chair exercises deserve a spot in your workout routine.

Chair Workouts
Getty Images.

When you're halfway through a long road trip in a cramped car seat or five hours into a work day spent parked in an uncomfortable desk chair, you might crave nothing more than simply moving your body. Without the ability to go for a walk or any equipment to wake up your muscles, however, you might think that wish will have to remain a fantasy.

Your solution: chair exercises, movements that help you build strength, get your heart pumping, and can be done with just, well, a chair. 

But a lack of workout gear isn’t the only reason you should give chair exercises a shot, says Alyssa Gialamas, a two-time Paralympic swimmer and the founder of AMG Fitness, a non-profit helping to elevate fitness resources for people with disabilities through at-home workouts. Movements that call on just a chair can be beneficial for folks who struggle with balance, for example, and the unconventional piece of equipment can also be used for functional exercises that improve your everyday movement patterns (think: bending over to pick up something off the floor, reaching to grab a box of cereal off the top of the fridge), says Gialamas. Plus, chair exercises make fitness more accessible to folks with mobility limitations, individuals with disabilities, and people who are brand-new to exercise.

Simply put, “As someone who works with all kinds of abilities, [I think] everyone would benefit from chair exercises,” says Gialamas. “From people who work at a desk all day to seniors who need more safe options for getting moving, [chair workouts] can be for anyone.”

10 Exercises for a Quick Chair Workout Circuit

Looking to boost your daily functioning and health? Try the chair exercises below, recommended and demonstrated by Gialamas, and combine your favorites into a quick circuit workout that challenges your muscles and improves your cardiovascular fitness. Throughout the workout, remember to keep your feet planted on the floor to maintain proper form and core engagement. So if you're on the shorter side or are using a tall chair, you may need to sit closer to the edge of your seat. As you tackle the moves, continue to listen to your body, and stop the activity if it feels painful or too strenuous, says Gialamas.

How it works: Choose four of the chair exercises below that match up with your goals, abilities, and needs. Perform each move for 30 seconds, taking little to no rest in between exercises. Then, take a 60- to 90-second rest break and repeat the circuit for a total of three to five rounds.

What you’ll need: a stable chair

Adapted Burpee

This seated variation of a burpee gives you similar cardiovascular benefits as the traditional exercise. But, you’ll have a lower risk of injury by skipping the jumping component, says Gialamas.

A. Sit in a chair with feet planted on the floor hip-width apart and arms at sides.

B. Engage core, lift arms above head, and draw shoulders down and back. Quickly lower arms to sides, then hinge at hips to lower chest to thighs, simultaneously reaching arms toward the floor in front of shins. If mobility allows, quickly touch the floor with fingertips.

C. Quickly reverse the movement to return to the starting position.

Seated Superhuman

If lying on the floor isn’t in the cards for you, try a seated superhuman. “[This exercise] helps stretch out hips and shoulders, especially if you sit most of the day or have a tight back,” says Gialamas. Since the chair workout move calls on your back and core muscles, it can also improve your posture and breathing, as Shape previously reported. 

A. Sit in a chair with feet planted on the floor hip-width apart and arms at sides.

B. Engage core, lift arms above head, and draw shoulders down and back, gazing forward.

C. Pause, then slowly lower arms back to sides to return to the starting position.

Seated Marches

Though they look relatively simple, seated marches can increase your heart rate and target your major muscle groups throughout your lower and upper body, says Gialamas. Marching with your legs, specifically, targets your hip flexors and quads, according to the National Health Service

A. Sit in a chair with feet planted on the floor hip-width apart and arms at sides.

B. Engage core, draw shoulders down and back, and bend elbows to 90-degree angles. Quickly swing right arm forward, bringing right elbow up to shoulder height while driving left arm back, left hand next to ribs. If able to do so, simultaneously drive left knee up toward the ceiling, lifting left foot a few inches off the floor.

C. Repeat on opposite side, swinging left arm forward, driving right arm back, and driving right knee up toward the ceiling.

Glute Kickback

As you can probably tell by the name, this chair exercise helps build strength throughout the gluteus maximus and gluteus medius, as Shape previously reported. Since the glute kickback is a unilateral (aka one-sided) exercise, it helps pinpoint and correct muscle imbalances, which can ultimately lead to compensated movement patterns and injury. (Just remember to repeat the movement on both sides of your body.) You’ll hold onto the chair to keep your body stable as you balance on one leg, says Gialamas.

A. Stand facing the back of a chair with feet hip-width apart and hands resting shoulder-width apart on top of the chair backing.

B. Engage core, then slowly kick left leg back behind body, raising left foot as high off the floor as possible. Keep hips square with the chair and keep core engaged to prevent back from excessively arching.

C. Pause, then slowly drive left leg forward to return to the starting position.

Elevated Push-Up to Standing

Elevating your hands, such as by placing them on a chair, bench, or plyo box, makes push-ups more accessible to folks with strength limitations and individuals who aren't able to comfortably come down to the floor, as Shape previously reported. That said, the chair exercise still gives puts the muscles in your arms, chest, and shoulders to the test. And returning to standing after each rep helps to engage your lower body and challenge your balance, says Gialamas.

A. Start in a high plank position with hands placed on the seat of the chair directly in line with shoulders, legs extended, and feet hip-width apart. Body should form a straight line from head to heels.

B. Engage core by tucking tailbone and drawing navel in toward spine. Lock in lats by drawing shoulders down and away from ears. Engage glutes and quads. Push elbows out so arms form a 45-degree angle to body.

C. Look down and slightly forward to keep neck neutral. Slowly bend at elbows to lower body, stopping about 3 inches above the chair.

D. Push away from the floor to return to the starting position, then step legs forward one at a time to come to standing. That's one rep.

Invisible Medicine Ball Slam

Just because you’re ditching the medicine ball doesn’t mean this exercise is “easy.” In fact, the movement still challenges you to generate downward, explosive power from your core, just like the original move, as Shape previously reported

A. Sit in a chair with feet planted on the floor hip-width apart and arms at sides.

B. Engage core, lift arms above head, and draw shoulders down and back, gazing forward. Explosively lower arms down to thighs as if throwing a medicine ball toward the ground.

C. Quickly raise arms back over head and begin the next rep.

Arm Circles

This chair exercise, which can be done seated or standing, gets your blood flowing and increases your heart rate, says Gialamas. By the end of your set, your shoulders will surely feel like they’re on fire. 

A. Sit in a chair with feet planted on the floor hip-width apart and arms at sides.

B. Engage core, lift arms out at sides to shoulder height, and gaze forward.

C. Keeping core engaged and arms raised, quickly drive arms forward in a circular motion. If shoulder mobility allows, reverse the motion halfway through the set.

Cross-Body Crunch with High Elbows

This chair exercise will challenge your entire core, particularly your obliques — muscles that run along the sides of your abdomen and help rotate your trunk. Plus, you’ll build up strength in your erector spinae, a group of muscles that runs vertically along both sides of the spine and allow you to extend your trunk according to the American Council on Exercise.

A. Sit in a chair with feet planted on the floor hip-width apart and arms at sides.

B. Engage core, lift arms out at sides to shoulder height, and gaze forward. Bend elbows to bring hands to ears and touch sides of head gently.

C. Slowly hinge at hips and rotate trunk to the left to lower right elbow to left knee. Pause, then reverse the movement to return to the starting position. Repeat on the opposite side.

Seated Twist

Just like the cross-body crunch, this chair-based version of a Russian twist will put your obliques through the wringer, says Gialamas. Plus, the exercise works your body in the transverse plane of motion, a direction of movement that's often overlooked in training and, when incorporated into your routine, can help you move more efficiently and fend off injury, as Shape previously reported.

A. Sit in a chair with feet planted on the floor hip-width apart and arms at sides.

B. Engage core and bring hands up to center of chest, keeping elbows tucked at sides. Interlace fingers and gaze forward.

C. Keeping hips square and core engaged, slowly rotate trunk to the right as far as is comfortable. Pause, then reverse the movement to return to the starting position. Repeat on the opposite side.

Seated Toe Touch

While toe touches are commonly performed on the floor, the core-strengthening move, which targets your obliques, can also be done while seated. 

A. Sit in a chair with feet planted on the floor hip-width apart and arms at sides.

B. Engage core, lift arms above head, and draw shoulders down and back, gazing forward.

C. Slowly hinge at hips to lower chest to thighs while rotating trunk to the right and reaching left arm toward right foot. Keep right arm raised toward the ceiling and allow to reach behind body while lowering chest to thighs. If mobility allows, quickly touch right foot with left fingertips.

D. Quickly reverse the movement to return to the starting position. Repeat on the opposite side.

Was this page helpful?
Related Articles