The Best Chair Exercises for a Cardio and Strength Workout

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

When you're mid-way through a tiresome journey in a cramped vehicle or several hours into a workday spent in an uncomfortable office chair, your primary desire may be to simply stretch and move your body. However, without the luxury of walking freely or access to exercise equipment, this wish may appear unattainable. The solution: Chair-based exercises. These are movements designed to build strength and elevate your heart rate, all while using nothing more than a chair. The beauty of chair exercises goes beyond their lack of requirement for fancy workout apparatus, states Alyssa Gialamas, a two-time Paralympic swimmer and the founder of AMG Fitness, a non-profit dedicated to improving fitness resources for individuals with disabilities via home workouts. For instance, chair exercises can be particularly beneficial for those who have issues with balance. Moreover, this unconventional piece of 'equipment' can also serve as a tool for functional exercises that enhance everyday movements such as bending down to pick up something or reaching out to grab a box from a high shelf, explains Gialamas. Furthermore, chair exercises make fitness more approachable for people with mobility restrictions, disabled individuals, and those who are just starting off with exercising. In essence, "As an individual working with various abilities, I believe chair exercises can benefit everyone," says Gialamas. "From desk-bound workers to seniors seeking safer options for physical activity, chair workouts can be suitable for anyone."

10 Exercises for a Quick Chair Workout Circuit

Are you seeking a way to enhance your everyday health and performance? Consider the following chair exercises, endorsed and shown by Gialamas. Combine your preferred routines into a quick circuit workout. This will not only test your muscles but also boost your cardiovascular health. Throughout the workout, ensure your feet are firmly grounded on the floor for perfect form and core engagement. If you're petite or employing a high chair, you might need to sit nearer to your seat's edge. As per Gialamas, be attentive to your body's response during these exercises, and halt them if they become too difficult or painful.How it works: Select four of the chair exercises from below that align with your objectives, capabilities, and requirements. Carry out each action for 30 seconds, without rest in between each exercise. Following this, take a break for 60 to 90 seconds, then repeat the circuit three to five times.What you'll require: a sturdy chair.

Adapted Burpee

This is a variant of the traditional burpee exercise that can be performed while seated. The cardiovascular benefits are similar but without the jumping component, the risk of injury is significantly reduced, according to Gialamas.A. Start by sitting on a chair with feet firmly placed hip-width apart on the ground and arms at your sides.B. Move into an engaged core position, raise your arms over your head, and make sure your shoulders are down and back. Rapidly return your arms to your sides and hinge at your hips to bring your chest towards your thighs, reaching your arms towards the floor in front of your shins along the way. If your mobility allows for it, you should quickly touch the floor with your fingertips.C. Quickly reverse your movements to go back to the starting position. This workout variation reduces the chance of injuries typically associated with the high-impact aspects of standard burpees.

Seated Superhuman

If you're unable to lie flat, the seated superhuman is a perfect alternative. According to Gialamas, this exercise stretches out your hips and shoulders - an ideal solution if you spend most of your day sitting or have back stiffness. The seated superhuman also engages your back and core muscles, which can lead to improved posture and breathing as previously reported by Shape Magazine.

Here's how you do it: Sit with your feet firmly on the ground about hip-width apart and your arms resting at your sides. Engage your core and raise your arms over your head while pulling your shoulders down and back, eyes forward. Hold for a moment, then slowly lower your arms back to your sides to return to the initial position.

Seated Marches

Gialamas advocates for seated marches, a seemingly straightforward exercise that can drive up your heart rate while working your upper and lower body's primary muscles. These movements are particularly beneficial for your hip flexors and quads, as per the National Health Service's findings. 
A. Position yourself in a chair, ensuring your feet are flat on the floor with a hip-width gap between them. Your arms should rest at your sides.
B. Keep your core engaged, maintain your shoulders pressed down and back, and bend your elbows at a 90-degree angle. Swiftly propel your right arm ahead of you, raising your right elbow to shoulder height while pushing your left arm backward so your left hand is adjacent to your ribs. If possible, simultaneously lift your left knee towards the ceiling, raising your left foot a few inches off the ground.
C. Repeat this process on the other side; move your left arm forward, push your right arm backward, and raise your right knee towards the ceiling.

Glute Kickback

As evident from its name, the glute kickback exercise concentrates on strengthening the gluteus maximus and gluteus medius muscles as stated previously by Shape. The glute kickback is a unilateral exercise (i.e., focusing on one side) that targets and corrects muscular imbalances that could potentially lead to injury due to compensatory movement patterns. Don't forget to perform the same exercise on both sides of your body. During this exercise, you will rely on the chair for stability while standing on one leg, explains Gialamas. A. Start by standing in front of the back end of a chair, maintaining a shoulder-width gap between your feet and resting your hands on the top part of the chair's rear end. B. Engage your core and slowly elevate your left leg behind your body, lifting your left foot as high above the ground as possible. Keeping your hips squared with the chair and continuing to engage your core will prevent excessive arching of your back. C. Hold this position briefly then gradually bring your left leg forward to return to your initial posture.

Elevated Push-Up to Standing

Initiate the workout by positioning yourself into a high plank posture. Your hands should be resting on the chair's seat, and they should be aligned directly with your shoulders. Your body should form a perfect line from your head to your heels, with your legs extended and set apart at the hip-width. Tighten your core by contracting your abdominal muscles, drawing your navel in towards your spine and tucking in your tailbone. Activate your lats by pulling your shoulders down and away from your ears. Your glutes and quads should be engaged too. Ensure that your arms form a 45-degree angle with your body by pressing your elbows outwards. Maintain a neutral neck position by looking down and slightly ahead. Gradually bend your elbows to lower your body. Pause when you are approximately 3 inches above the chair. Now, exert force against the floor to elevate your body back to the starting position. Finally, step forward with each leg one after the other, to rise to a standing position. This completes one rep.

Invisible Medicine Ball Slam

Retaining the strength and agility training of the traditional medicine ball slam, this equipment-free variant is anything but simple. This movement still demands you to summon explosive power from your core, similar to the original exercise, said Shape in a previous report.

  1. Start by seating yourself on a chair, positioning your feet hip-width apart on the floor with your arms resting at your sides.
  2. Tighten your core, raise your arms over your head, pulling your shoulders down and back while keeping your gaze straight ahead.
  3. Swiftly lower your arms towards your thighs as if you're throwing an imaginary medicine ball towards the ground.
  4. Immediately lift your arms back above your head to start the next repetition.

Arm Circles

You can perform this fitness exercise either seated or standing, according to Gialamas. You'll surely feel a burning sensation in your shoulders by the end of your set as it effectively gets your blood circulating and heart pumping.

 A. Position yourself on a chair with your feet firmly on the ground, hip-width apart, and arms resting at your sides.

B. Focus on engaging your core, elevate your arms to shoulder height and look straight ahead.

C. Maintain your engaged core and raised arms, swiftly move your arms forward in a circular pattern. If your shoulder's flexibility permits, reverse the direction halfway through your set.

Cross-Body Crunch with High Elbows

This seated workout will target your whole core, with a particular focus on your obliques — the muscles found on either side of your abdomen that are integral to trunk rotation. In addition, you'll increase the strength of your erector spinae, a muscle group that runs vertically along both sides of your spine and aids in trunk extension as per the American Council on Exercise.

Start by positioning yourself in a chair, ensuring that your feet are flat on the ground and set hip-width apart, your arms resting at your sides. Next, engage your core and lift your arms out to each side until they're level with your shoulders, fixing your gaze straight ahead. Bend at the elbows so that your hands touch your ears lightly.

Proceed to slowly hinge at your hips and rotate your torso to the left so that your right elbow meets your left knee. Take a pause, then reverse your movements until you return to your original position. Repeat this process on the opposite side.

Seated Twist

Like the seated cross-crunch, this chair-oriented take on a Russian twist puts your oblique muscles to the test according to Gialamas. What's more, it gets your body moving in the transverse plane of motion. This is an often-overlooked direction in training that can help improve your efficiency of movement and reduce injury risk when included regularly in your routine.

A. To start, sit down on a chair with your feet placed hip-width apart on the ground and your arms at your sides.
B. Engage your core and bring your hands up to the center of your chest, keeping your elbows close to your body. Interlock your fingers and gaze straight ahead.
C. While keeping your hips still and your core engaged, slowly turn your upper body to the right as far as you feel comfortable. Pause for a moment, then reverse the movement to return to your starting position. Repeat the exercise on your left side.

Seated Toe Touch

In a seated position with feet placed hip-width apart on the floor and arms resting at your sides, engage your core muscles. Lift your arms overhead while ensuring your shoulders are drawn down and back, maintaining a forward gaze. Hinge gently at your hips, lowering your torso towards your thighs while concurrently rotating your body to the right. Extend your left arm towards your right foot while keeping your right arm elevated towards the ceiling, allowing it to reach behind your body as you lower your chest to your thighs. If your mobility allows, swiftly touch your right foot with your left fingertips. Promptly reverse this movement to return to your original position. This exercise can then be repeated on the opposite side.

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