Easy Exercises to Do in a Chair

If you’re an older adult, you might find that a chair provides the extra support you need to exercise confidently. If you spend all day sitting a desk, you might find that you’re developing little aches and pains and a bit of a stomach caused by a sedentary lifestyle. On February 23, 2010, the New York Times published a review of studies that found that being seated and inactive actually sends your body into a hibernation mode that slows your metabolism, causing you to store even more calories as fat. There are some exercises you can do with just a sturdy chair and maybe a pair of dumbbells that will help keep you fit and thin.


Hold a dumbbell in each hand and let them hang down by your side, palms facing forward. Bending your arms at the elbows, slowly raise your hands until they are at a level just under your chin. Squeeze for a tight contraction in the bicep, then release and lower the weight back down in a controlled manner. Even if you have to use lighter weight than you’d like, the contraction at the top can fully activate your bicep regardless of the weight. In “Strength Training Anatomy,” Frederic Delavier suggests several different grips that can work different muscles. Hold the dumbbells with your thumbs facing each other, to work your wrist extensors. Hold the dumbbells palms in, towards your thighs, to perform a hammer curl, which emphasizes the brachioradialis muscles on your forearms.

Hip Abductor Contractions

This exercise isometrically works your inner thighs. Sitting straight up in your chair, place a fist or a tennis ball between your knees. Squeeze your legs together for five seconds. Release and rest for five seconds. Try to increase your repetitions as you gain endurance. Once you get to 10 reps, break them into sets.

Leg Extensions

This exercise works the quadriceps, the big muscles on the front of your thigh. Sit straight up in your chair. Place your feet flat on the floor. Grip the sides of the seat if possible. First, tense your core muscles, then flex at the right knee, holding your right leg parallel to the ground. Hold for five seconds, then slowly return your foot to the ground. Repeat with your left leg. Start out performing 10 repetitions for each leg, but try to add repetitions as you get stronger. Once you get to 20 reps, break them into sets. If you’re strong enough to do this with both legs at once, it more fully activates your core and front hip flexors, but you need a sturdy chair.

Shoulder Press

The shoulder press is one of the very best upper-body exercises there is. Plant your feet solidly on the ground and sit with a strong, upright posture. Take a dumbbell in each hand. Lift them to chin level and turn your hands palm-forward. Press them up towards the ceiling, touching them together at the top if you like. Lower them back down in a controlled fashion. In a version Arnold Schwarzenegger invented appropriately called the Arnold press, at the bottom of the movement you turn your palms in towards your shoulders and rotate your arms slightly forward, bringing your arms lower than you’d otherwise be able to. This allows you to build strength through a greater range of motion. Perform 15 to 20 reps for two to three sets.

Lateral Raises

If you’re exercising in your cubicle and want to get a shoulder workout without waving dumbbells around over your cubicle wall as you might during shoulder presses, try lateral raises. Hold a dumbbell in each hand, hanging your arms at your sides with your palms facing in. Plant your feet on the floor and engage your core abdominal muscles. Keep your arms straight as you lift the dumbbells until your entire arms are parallel to the floor. This will work your deltoid muscles, which lift your arms, and your trapezius muscles, which shrug your shoulders. Perform sets of 15 to 20 reps.

Chair Squats

You may be strong enough to perform a squat, but not quite have the balance or confidence. Squatting over a chair will give you confidence, since you know that if you aren’t strong enough to stand all the way back up, you can just sit down. Sit in your chair with your feet planted shoulder-width apart. Stand upright, then lean slightly forward as you lower yourself down to the chair. Try to just touch it with your butt before standing up again. Perform this movement in a slow, controlled fashion. If you can’t stand back up, don’t panic, just sit down. If you have a bad back or knees, you may want to talk to your doctor before performing this exercise.

About this Author

Jeffrey Rice became an ACE-accredited personal trainer in 2007, and began writing about fitness to support his business. Soon, however, he found himself writing more than training, and has since written health, fitness and supplement articles for numerous websites. He holds a M.F.A. in creative writing from Cleveland State University.