If you find yourself spending much of your day in a sitting position—whether it’s because you are working from home, have limited mobility, or are fighting an illness or injury—exercise might not be the first thing you think about every morning. However, regular movement is critical to your health and mental well-being. Simple chair exercises can improve your range of movement, increase your strength, and even boost your mood.
When you spend a large portion of your day in a chair, you’re more likely to gain weight, weaken your bones and muscles, and raise your blood pressure while decreasing your strength, endurance, and flexibility. A sedentary lifestyle leads to poor circulation, but just a bit of movement can revive it.
Discover how you can exercise safely and securely, and regain your sense of YOU with simple chair exercises, stretches, and tips.
What Are Seated Exercises?
Exercise doesn’t have to include cardio or complicated gym equipment. Simple chair exercises can help retain (and even build) muscle. They can also improve circulation, range of motion, balance, and mental health. Exercising from your chair brings the benefits of traditional exercise with added stability and reduced bodily stress.
If you haven’t exercised in a while, you may worry that you’ll have a hard time getting into a workout. Ease yourself gradually into a routine that makes you feel better inside and out.
The simple chair exercises in this article can help you do just that. Here are some tips to keep in mind as you get started:
- Always stretch before exercising, as it warms up your muscles and can prevent you from pulling one.
- Start with moves that are gentler and easy to follow.
- Choose a stable chair that will not slide around on you—ideally, one that has adjustable armrests (like this one, which also features two securely-locking wheels that keep it reliably in-place as you exercise).
- Keep your feet flat on the floor and chin parallel with the floor, maintain a good posture (engage your back and core), and bend your knees at a 90-degree angle when you aren’t using your legs in a given exercise. When you are engaging your legs, return to this position.
- Wear comfortable clothing and keep water within reach.
- If possible, aim to do these moves at least twice per week. Increase repetitions over time as you build up your strength for optimal results.
Benefits of Seated Exercises
Some people assume they won’t get much out of a seated exercise routine. They may feel that by not doing traditional standing exercises, they’re somehow cheating and not getting in a full workout. But to their surprise, many people find that they actually do feel stronger and more fulfilled after doing simple chair exercises.
You can do a lot in a seated position, and chair exercises are much safer and less stressful for you and your loved ones. Using a chair during workouts can prevent falls and help you improve your mobility at the same time—it’s a win-win scenario.
Believe it or not, low impact simple chair exercises —also referred to as Chairobics—can make you sweat. On average, people tend to burn between 120 and 250 calories during chair aerobic workouts (and you can burn even more if you add resistance to the equation). Additionally, simple chair exercises have been reported to help ward off diseases such as type 2 diabetes and alleviate cramps, aches, and joint pain.
Let’s go over some envigorating seated exercises that can help you take back power in your health and wellness journey.
Simple Chair Exercises to Try at Home or Work
Disclaimer: To avoid injury, please consult your doctor before trying any new exercise (even simple chair exercises), as every condition and body comes with its own unique needs.
Let’s start with arms! These moves are simple and, dare we say—fun.
Seated Bicep Curls
To do seated bicep curls, sit with your back, head, shoulders, and backside against the backrest and ensure your feet are firmly on the ground for leverage and balance. Take two lightweight dumbbells and, with a closed fist (thumbs wrapped around the handles and palms facing up), let your arms hang straight down by your sides.
Keep your arms close to your body. Exhale and bend your elbows so that you’re bringing the weights up toward your chest. Bring the dumbbells back down to their starting position. Inhale and gently lower both weights at the same time—one in each fist, respectively.
Modifications if you do not have or cannot use dumbbells:
- Try using a can of soup or another weighty household object.
- For the equipment-free version, mimic the normal exercise without the weights, while still activating the same muscles.
Seated Tricep Extension
Sit with your backside pressed against a backrest (like in the previous exercise). Hold a dumbbell in each hand and extend your arms straight up over your head. Then, bend at your elbows and slowly lower the weights behind your head. Just before the dumbbells touch your neck, stop and raise them back up to the original overhead lift position. Repeat.
Safety Note: We recommend lessening the weight by using an alternate item instead of a dumbbell (ie. resistance band or lighter household object that still has some weight)—or even cutting out the weighted aspect and going equipment-free—if you have limited strength or mobility.
Seated Shoulder Raise
Hold a dumbbell in each hand with your palms facing inward toward your body and your thumbs wrapped around the handles. Keep your shoulders as fixed as possible and your legs shoulder-width apart. Exhale and raise your weights out to the sides, just below shoulder height. Think of your arms like wings—keep them parallel to the ground. To return to your initial position, inhale and lower your arms back down slowly and carefully.
These next simple chair exercises will focus on strengthening your legs to help regain some mobility—and thus, independence and freedom.
Seated Leg Raise
You don’t need weights for this one—although, resistance can be added as you get more advanced and comfortable.
To do a seated leg raise, press your back against a backrest like in the other simple chair exercises you’ve read about here. Look straight ahead and keep your palms on your knees. Gently point your toes and lift one leg straight out in front of you. Come up as close to hip-height as you can, then slowly lower back down until both feet are flat on the floor. Switch legs and repeat.
Seated Hip March
For seated hip “marching,” scoot your body forward slightly, so you are over the front of the chair. Keep your knees bent and raise a leg as high as you can without putting too much stress on yourself (if you’re in an Independence Chair, make sure your chair is fully locked into place. You can also use the anterior seat tilt to angle your seat and make it more comfortable for this exercise than in a traditional office chair). Slowly lower your foot in a controlled manner. Switch sides and repeat.
You’ll notice this feels like marching (hence the name). Go as slowly as needed and for as long as you can!
Seated Scissor Kick
First, grab the sides of your chair for leverage and balance—you’ll be lifting and moving both legs at once. You can also lean back, so your weight is further from the front of the seat. Don’t worry about maintaining a straight posture for this one—leaning will actually help you.
Put both of your legs straight out in front of you and move your feet apart from one another. Then, bring them back in as if they’re going to meet each other, but instead, swing your right foot over the left. Move your legs apart to make a “V” again, then switch, so your left foot is over the right. Repeat.
You will know you’re doing this exercise correctly when your legs are making a bit of an “X” shape during each rep.
It’s very important to strengthen your abdominal region, as it supports the rest of your body. Here are some ways to work out your core.
Seated Skater Switch
This move will involve your arms, legs, and abs. Extend your arms straight out in front of you. Next, extend your right leg and reach down with your right arm to try and touch your left foot (if you can’t reach all the way to your foot, try to reach as close as you can. If it’s harder to raise your leg, mimic what it feels like and reach as if you were raising your leg). While doing so, reach your left arm straight back behind you. Go back to a seated position with both feet on the floor and both arms extended forward. Next, extend your left leg and reach for your right foot. Repeat.
Each time you switch sides, you should get a good abdominal twist.
Seated Hinge and Cross
This one is great for your core, and you should feel a bit of a burn if you’re doing it right!
Sit up as straight as you can. Begin with your knees bent, thighs squeezed together lightly, and toes pointed (but still touching the ground). Put your hands behind your head and bend backward until your shoulder blades are gently touching the back of your chair. Next, bring your body forward and cross your right elbow over to the outside of your left knee. Return to the starting position and do the same, this time crossing your left elbow to the outside of your right knee. Repeat.
Getting in a daily (or even weekly) dose of cardio will make movement easier, improve the way your heart and lungs work together, and even lower your risk of developing chronic health conditions like type 2 diabetes and heart disease.
Seated Jumping Jacks
A seated jumping jack is just like a regular jumping jack—without the jump. For this simple chair exercise, your arms will be doing most of the work. Start with your arms down at your sides and lift them up over your head until your thumbs meet. Your palms should be facing outward in front of you, away from your face. Lower them back down and repeat.
Seated Tap Dance
Sit with your knees bent and extend one leg. Gently tap that heel to the ground, then point your toes and lightly touch them to the ground. Flex your foot and tap your heel to the ground once again, then return the active leg to the starting position. Repeat this move with the opposite leg, and keep alternating legs to mimic a tap dance for a few minutes.
Seated Kick and Clap
The seated kick and clap will get both your arms and legs working together to help you break a bit of a sweat. Start by extending one leg out in front of you in a smooth, straight, and controlled kick. At the same time, you will clap your hands at approximately shoulder height. Repeat with your opposite leg and continue to alternate.
While you do this exercise, think about what your thigh muscles are doing. When you concentrate on a muscle group, you’re more likely to work them out correctly and maintain the right form.
As mentioned earlier, stretching is crucial both before and after a workout to ensure you don’t pull any muscles. Skipping stretches can lead to more soreness after exercising, so make sure you add this step to the beginning and end of your routine. This is especially beneficial if you sit for long periods, so try to stretch a bit here and there throughout the day for added health and flexibility!
Wrist and Shoulder Stretch
Sit tall with both of your feet flat on the ground and your back moved forward, slightly away from the chair. Interlock your fingers and flip your palms outward so your thumbs are facing downward. Next, raise your arms to chest-height and push them straight out in front of you. Press forward until you feel the stretch across your shoulder blades and have completed three deep breaths. Relax.
This one is simple, but we love it. Take a relaxing, deep breath in and stretch your arms up toward the ceiling. Then, upon exhale, bring your arms back down slowly to your sides or with your palms resting on your thighs. Repeat as many times as you’d like!
Without collapsing your upper torso, keep your core engaged and slowly lean over to one side. Then, recenter. Simply repeat on the other side and continue as needed.
Movement Therapy Devices
You may want to supplement your simple chair exercises with movement therapy using these high tech devices:
MOTOmed Loop provides passive and active training for upper and lower extremities. Passive users don’t use pedals. For active users, training is motor-assisted partially or completely, depending on your mobility level. You can benefit from this exercise even if you don’t have movement ability in your upper or lower extremities.
RehaMove is an FES technology bike system that enables exercise for weak or paralyzed limbs. It features eight channels to stimulate up to eight muscles with attached electrodes—flexible, sticky pads that you place over the muscles you want to activate. A stimulator then sends a safe and controlled amount of electrical stimulation to each muscle, enabling it to contract.
The system detects the position of your foot pedal (or hand crank) and stimulates the correct muscles to produce fluid movement. The bike also senses your needs and assists you with motor power.
You can use either of those devices with the Independence Chair—it’s a perfect fit to be seated at the MOTOmed and stay locked into place. The Independence Chair’s height adjustment feature and adjustable armrests enable you to easily transfer in and out of other seating you use for workouts.
Tools to Help You Carry Out These Simple Chair Exercises
Now that you have plenty of exercises to start doing at home or at work, you may be wondering what kind of chair will help you do all of this.
Not all chairs are designed for simple chair exercises. Some movements are easier to execute in a chair with a sturdy back and no armrests (or fully adjustable armrests). For other exercises, it’s best to use a chair with locking wheels that keep it from sliding out from underneath you when you tilt a certain way or shift your weight forward.
If these are some of your concerns, the Independence Chair™ by VELA could come in handy. Download our Independence Chair™ infographic to learn the many ways that this special activity chair can be customized and adjusted to accommodate different movements, all while remaining safe and secure. This could be your new best friend in achieving greater independence!