Chair-based exercises: What they are, and why you should give them a try

Regular exercise is good for your health and wellbeing, but it can be challenging if you have limited mobility or are out of practice. If you spend a lot of time sitting down day-to-day, a chair exercise routine is an excellent place to start.

Why carry out chair exercise?

Chair-based exercises can help you maintain and develop your fitness, strength, balance, and mobility. Exercising while sitting on a chair can be especially useful if you have balance problems, muscle weakness, or are at risk of falls.

Benefits of chair-based exercises

Exercise can help tackle pain and stiffness from sitting for long periods, or poor posture, while maintaining your strength and flexibility. You can get all of the same benefits from chair exercise as you will from regular exercise.

Staying safe during seated exercise

Staying safe while exercising is important, and chair exercises need to be approached with the same care as any other kind of exercise. This will help you to avoid injury or strains. Once you’re ready to get started, taking just a few precautions can help you exercise comfortably and safely.

What to wear

Tight clothing can restrict your movement, and make you feel uncomfortable. By wearing loose, comfortable clothing, you can ensure freedom of movement, and also prevent overheating.

Choosing the right chair

Choose a stable, strong chair—something without wheels. This will stop your chair from moving about while you’re exercising. Avoid chairs with armrests, as these may get in the way of your movements.

You should be able to sit in a chair with your feet flat on the floor, and your knees bent at right-angles. If your feet don’t quite reach the floor, or your thighs are sloping downwards, then your seat may be too high for you to exercise comfortably.

Know your limits

It’s best to start slow and steady with any new exercise programme. The chair exercises in this article are suitable for most people, but you must carry them out in a safe way, and only if you feel well enough. If you suffer from pain due to a health condition, your doctor can advise you on what is appropriate for you.

If you start to feel unwell, stop exercising immediately. Feeling sick, dizzy, or excessively tired are all signs to stop exercising. Know your limits when deciding if a new chair exercise is appropriate for you, and stop when you’ve had enough.

The importance of stretching

Warming up your muscles by stretching helps get you ready for exercise. It raises your heart rate, increasing blood flow and helping oxygen reach your muscles. Warming up also gets the connections between your nerves and muscles ready for moving in the most efficient way possible.

Gentle stretches are also a great way to start exercising if you’re not currently doing it. They can help you find ways to move gently and comfortably, without over-exerting yourself. Over time, regular stretching can also improve your flexibility and range of motion.

Seated stretches

Plenty of stretches can be done just as effectively sitting down, including:

Calf stretch

This stretch is great for helping ensure that you lift your toes normally when walking, and can get your shoes and socks on more comfortably.

  1. Sitting forwards in your chair, straighten one leg and place your heel on the floor.
  2. Push your toes up towards the ceiling, feeling the stretch in your calf.
  3. Hold the stretch for 10-20 seconds, then repeat on the other leg.

Chest stretch

This stretch helps improve your posture.

  1. Sit up tall, with your back away from the support of your chair.
  2. Reach down behind with both arms and hold the back of the chair.
  3. Press your chest upwards and forwards until you feel a gentle stretch across your chest.
  4. Hold for 10-20 seconds.

Neck stretch

This stretch helps ease tight neck muscles.

  1. Sit tall, and look straight ahead.
  2. Using your right hand, hold your left shoulder down gently.
  3. Slowly tilt your head to the right while continuing to hold your left shoulder down.
  4. Hold for five seconds.
  5. Repeat on the other side, and then repeat the whole process again twice.

Spend some time carrying out these seated stretches, preferably at least a couple of times a week, until you feel ready to try the following exercises.

Chair exercises for legs

If you’re ready, and able, you can now move on to chair-based exercises for your legs.

Calf raises

This chair-based exercise works your calf muscles at the back of your lower legs.

  1. Sit tall in your chair.
  2. Keeping your toes on the floor, lift your heels off the ground as high as is comfortable.
  3. Slowly lower your heels back down to the floor.
  4. Repeat three times for each leg.

Knee extensions

This exercise is great for working your thigh muscles.

  1. Sit up tall, with your shoulders down.
  2. Lift your lower leg up by extending it at the knee. Your whole leg should now be in a straight line.
  3. Hold your leg still in this raised position for a moment, squeezing the muscles on the top of your thigh.
  4. Slowly lower your leg back down to the floor, ensuring the movement is controlled.
  5. Now do the same with your right leg.
  6. Repeat the process three times.

Seated march

This exercise should feel like you are marching at a brisk pace. It helps to strengthen the muscles on the front of your hip, making it easier to lift your legs when walking and climbing stairs.

  1. Sit up tall and hold on to the sides of the seat of your chair.
  2. Keeping your leg bent at the knee, lift your left leg as far as is comfortable.
  3. Lower your leg back to the floor.
  4. Repeat with your other leg, controlling the motion of lifting and lowering.
  5. Continue alternating legs, aiming for 5 lifts each.
  6. For more of a challenge, swing your opposite arm up at the same time as you raise your leg.

Chair exercises for the upper body

Upper body chair-based exercises help to improve your mobility and make it easier for you to reach everyday objects, such as high cabinets.

Arm raises

This exercise builds shoulder strength.

  1. Sit tall with your arms by your sides.
  2. With your palms facing forwards and arms straight, raise both arms out to the sides. Lift them as far as is comfortable—this might be shoulder height, or even above your head.
  3. Lower your arms back to your sides slowly.
  4. Breathe out as you raise your arms, and in as you lower them.
  5. Repeat the process five times.

Neck rotation

This stretch is good for improving neck mobility and flexibility.

  1. Sit tall with your shoulders down and relaxed.
  2. Look straight ahead.
  3. Slowly turn your head towards your left shoulder as far as is comfortable.
  4. Hold the position for five seconds.
  5. Slowly turn your head back to the front.
  6. Repeat on the other side.
  7. Repeat three times on each side.

Support your back with correct seated posture

Chair based exercises can help improve your strength and balance in your daily life, and improve your posture when sitting too. Relaxing in a supportive armchair is another way to alleviate pain and stiffness. Find out more about how the right armchair can support your independence in our riser recliner buying guide.