7 exercises from a chair to increase your fitness

Doing exercises from a chair can help you to increase and maintain fitness, strength, and flexibility. Here’s how

Woman doing chair exercises
(Image credit: Getty)

Doing exercises from a chair can help you to boost your fitness, increase strength and flexibility in your joints, and improve your overall core stability, leading to fewer falls and accidents. 

Doing a simple routine of chair-based exercises from home can be a safe way to improve your physical fitness.  All you need is a firm, sturdy chair. Perhaps you’re already taking the best supplements for joints and are looking for other low-impact to help keep your body feeling good. Either way, chair exercises can be a great place to start. 

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (opens in new tab), all adults aged 65 and over should aim to have:

  • at least 150 minutes a week of moderate-intensity activity
  • engage in activities that strengthen muscles at least two days a week
  • engage in activities to improve balance around three days a week

We’ll take a look at how effective chair exercises can be for strengthening the body and boosting the flexibility of the joints. Plus, these seven chair exercises will help you to:

  • improve your upper and lower body strength
  • increase flexibility in the knees, elbows, and torso
  • improve balance and coordination

Woman doing chair exercises

(Image credit: Getty)

Are chair exercises effective?

According to the British Heart Foundation (opens in new tab), having difficulty standing or walking needn’t affect your ability to exercise. Registered physiotherapist and founder of Physio Fast Online (opens in new tab), Katie Knapton, agrees. “For those less mobile or chair bound, chair exercises are a great way to improve fitness, strength, and potentially mobility.

“By engaging in chair exercises, even people with a significant disability can improve their strength and enhance their quality of life. These exercises can lead to increased strength in both the upper and lower body, thus improving the ability to be more independent.”

However, it’s always a good idea to check with your doctor or healthcare provider before you embark on any kind of physical exercise, especially if you haven’t been active in a while. If you have a chronic condition, such as a heart condition, you may need to follow specific exercises from a specialist.

According to the Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans (opens in new tab), regular physical activity can provide important health benefits for people with disabilities and people with chronic conditions. It can improve cardiovascular and muscle fitness, brain health, and increase the ability to do daily tasks.

Recent research points to the efficacy of chair-based exercise for older people. A 2021 systematic review and meta-analysis (opens in new tab) found that just two weeks of chair exercises in adults aged over 50 boosted their upper strength, including handgrip strength, and lower body strength. It also improved their ability to rise from a chair unaided. 

Another systematic review (opens in new tab) into chair-based exercise interventions in nursing home residents found that it improved physical and cognitive health, increased mobility, and was safe and easy to engage in. 

Chair exercises are also good for your mental health. A 2021 study (opens in new tab) into the effects of exercise in older women found that their subjective levels of happiness rose, and stress perception fell, as a result of chair-based exercises. The authors of the study concluded that such interventions could help improve the physical and mental health of older people. 

Katie’s tip? Keep it simple. You don’t need to feel like you’re working up a sweat to have an impact. “Exercises do not need to be complicated or require gym equipment (you can use a tin of beans instead of a dumbbell, for example) but once they become easier it would be good to increase repetitions and resistance.

“If exercises are performed regularly over a period of six weeks, there are likely to be some significant gains. This is true whether you are nine or 90 years old.”

Woman doing chair exercises

(Image credit: Getty)

7 exercises you can do from a chair

The following exercises are all designed to be done in the safety and comfort of your own home. All you need is a sturdy, stable chair and, in some instances, a small weight. 

Make sure you leave enough space around your chair so that it’s comfortable for you to walk around it without any obstacles in your way. Wear loose, comfortable clothing.

Chair squat

Strengthens hips, thighs, and buttocks.

  1. Standing in front of the chair with feet shoulder-width apart, place your weight on the balls of your feet.
  2. Bend the knees and lower the buttocks to the chair in a slow and controlled motion.
  3. Pause, then slowly rise up again to a standing position, keeping the knees over the ankles and the back straight.
  4. Repeat 10 times.

Toe stands

Strengthens calves and ankles, increasing stability and balance.

  1. Stand behind the chair with feet shoulder-width apart. Hold onto the back of the chair for balance.
  2. Slowly push up on the balls of the feet as high as you can and hold for 2-4 seconds.
  3. Slowly lower the heels to the floor.
  4. Repeat 10 times.

Side bend

Increases flexibility in the torso

  1. Sitting in your chair, raise your arms so your hands interlink behind your head.
  2. Slowly bend over to one side, squeezing the muscles at the side of your torso as you bend. 
  3. Hold the position for 5 seconds.
  4. Slowly come back to the center starting position, then repeat on the other side.
  5. Repeat 5 times on each side.

Seated knee straightening

Improves knee flexibility and strengthens thighs and calves.

  1. Sit on the chair with your back straight.
  2. Slowly straighten one leg, extending it upwards as far as you can.
  3. Return the leg to its original position, slowly.
  4. Repeat on the other leg.
  5. Repeat 5 times on each side.

Hip raises

Improves hip flexibility and balance

  1. Stand behind your chair, holding on to the back of it for stability and support.
  2. Slowly raise the leg out and behind, stretching it up as far as you can.
  3. Lower the leg slowly back to its original position.
  4. Repeat with the other leg.
  5. Repeat 5 times on each side.

Dumbbell curls

Increases strength in the arms and improves handgrip.

  1. Sitting in your chair, hold a light dumbbell or a similar weight in each hand, with the elbows in a 90-degree angle.
  2. Bend the elbows, slowly bringing both weights towards the shoulders. Keep the elbows pressed into the sides.
  3. Return the weights back to their starting position.
  4. Repeat 10 times.

Tricep dips

Strengthens the muscles at the back of upper arms.

  1. Perch at the edge of your chair with your hands on the seat or arms, in a slightly flexed position. Slowly lift your body off the seat by straightening your elbows.
  2. Lower yourself back to your starting position.
  3. Repeat 10 times.

For more low-impact exercises, read about walking to lose weight and check out these 6 exercises for knee pain

Joanne Lewsley is a freelance health and lifestyle writer who specializes in evidence-based content. She is a regular contributor to Live Science, Medical News Today, and Fit&Well.

Joanne has worked for some of the web’s biggest brands, including BabyCentre UK, BBC and Lastminute.com. She has also worked with ITV, Sky and Channel 5 in launching flagship TV websites to support broadcaster content.

Previously UK editor at parenting site BabyCentre UK, Joanne led a team of editors and freelance writers to create award-winning health content.

Moving to freelance has allowed Joanne to explore and develop her passion and expertise in creating health, wellness and lifestyle content that is clear, easy to read and based on solid evidence.

She also regularly reviews health and wellness gadgets and tech for a fleet of websites, including Top Ten Reviews and LiveScience.

As well as creating long-form content, Joanne has a keen news sub-editor’s eye, creating compelling news headlines and packages for breaking news on the AOL and Yahoo websites.

In her spare time, she loves visiting the Norfolk Broads close to her home in Norwich, trying to break the 5k barrier on her running, and indulging in her love of live music.