Exercises You Can Do Right In Your Chair

Do you find yourself trapped in your chair for hours on end, just about every day? If so, you’re not alone. Most people realize that it’s not healthy, but what can you do? After all, there’s work to be done! 

Fortunately, there is something you can do. In fact, it’s easier than you might think to get in some exercise without ever having to get out of your chair.

In the infographic below, we’ll illustrate a few simple, effective exercises you can start doing today that can improve your health, give you more energy, and help make you feel better. Let’s take a look.

Infographic Illustration of Exercise You Can Do in a Chair

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Why Chair-Based Exercises Are So Important

Although the latest scientific research debunks the notion that sitting is the new smoking – it really isn’t; in fact, it’s not even close, with smoking being about a thousand times deadlier--it’s undoubtedly true that sitting for extended periods of time doesn’t do your body any favors.

Unfortunately, many of us are desk-bound for several hours a day, and by the time we finally finish with the day’s work, most of us are too tired to hit the gym. We’ve barely got the energy to drag ourselves home, have something to eat and spend an hour unwinding, which almost always involves more sitting, before falling into bed so we can get up the next morning to do it all over again.

The simple truth is that even a modest amount of activity, like the exercises we outlined in the infographic above, can have tremendous positive health benefits. Even better, the exercises we talk about on this page can be done with no fancy equipment. So there’s nothing to buy, and no need for a gym membership.

Although, it’s also true that if you have a bit of money to spend, you can make many of the exercises we outlined that much more effective. Best of all, tension bands and the like don’t cost a ton of money, which means you can increase their effectiveness for next to nothing.

Other Things You Can Do

In addition to these chair-based exercises, there are a few other simple tactics you can use in and around the office to give yourself an even better workout. These include:

  • Take a “health break” every time a smoker would typically take a smoke break and spend ten minutes walking around the office or the outside of the building at a brisk pace.
  • Park in the back corner of the parking lot to give yourself farther to walk to get to your desk in the morning and when you leave.
  • Consider taking the stairs, rather than the elevator if you work on anything other than the ground floor.

Will a strenuous workout at the gym provide more benefit?  Sure, but that means having to schedule the time to do it, pay for the gym membership, and then make yourself go.

Many, if not most people would rather sit through a root canal surgery without anesthetic than endure that, which means that these exercises are a lot more likely to be used than that expensive gym membership, and at the end of the day, that’s what matters more. Exercise doesn’t provide any benefit unless you do it, and these examples are fast low impact, and easy to do.

Small changes can lead to impressive results. Try these exercises out for a week. You’ll be amazed at how much better you feel and how much more energy you have!

For your reference, here’s a list of links for more information on the exercises we outlined in the Infographic above, and several more besides. This reference includes links to videos showing exactly how to perform the exercise in question in case it’s not clear from the images and descriptions in the graphic:

Exercises for Your Neck

Neck Tilt / Flexion Stretch (Chin to Chest)


The Neck Tilt or Flexion Stretch is one of the simplest exercises you can do and one of the more common forms of neck exercises recommended by chiropractors to patients who suffer from chronic neck pain.

To begin, start by staring straight ahead, then lower your head until your chin touches your chest.

Don’t worry if you can’t get quite to that point right away. If you do this exercise regularly and consistently, you’ll get there in short order.

​When you’ve got your chin as close to your chest as you can manage without causing yourself pain, hold that position for a slow count of five and then return to your starting position.

Start with five reps of this exercise and try to add at least one rep every week and one to your hold count, but don’t be too hard on yourself if you can’t meet that goal.

Extension Stretch (Eyes to Sky)


This can rightly be assumed to be the exact opposite of the Flexion Stretch we described above.

Start with your head level and slowly lean your head back as far as you can do so without pain. Hold that position for a slow five-count and then return your head to the starting position. Start with five reps and add more as you’re able, shooting for the modest goal of one to your hold count and one additional rep per week.

Side-to-Side Neck Tilt (Bend) / Lateral Flexion (Ear to Shoulder)


Here, you’re bending your neck from side to side as though you’re trying to touch your earlobe to the top of your shoulder, first to the right, and then to the left.

Start with your head level and facing forward and bend leftward until you feel the tension in your neck muscles. Hold that position for a slow five count, then return to your neutral, starting position, then bend your neck rightward, holding for another slow five counts.

Start with five reps per week (one rep = a lateral stretch to both the left and the right), and each week, strive to increase your hold count and the number of reps by one and get your earlobe closer to your shoulder.

Neck Turn / Rotation (Side to Side)


For this simple exercise, rather than bending your neck laterally and trying to touch your earlobe to your shoulder, the goal is to increase the amount of rotation in your neck.

Begin in a neutral position, head level, and facing forward. Twist your head left, as though you were looking for someone or something over your left shoulder

Twist your neck until you feel serious tension and resistance, hold that position for a slow five count and then return your head to a neutral position. From there, repeat the motion, but twist to the right.

Begin with five reps of this (one rep = both left and right), and every week, strive to increase your hold count and your number of reps by one. As ever, we’ve got links below to make things clearer if you’re having trouble seeing the motion in your mind’s eye.

Neck Circles (Neck Tilt-Turn-Stretch)


This basically combines the neck exercises we’ve talked about so far into a singular whole. 

Begin with your head forward in a neutral position. Lower your chin to your chest, then tilt your head to the left, bringing your left ear toward your shoulder. Finally, lift your head until you are gazing at the ceiling.

Then slowly bend your neck, so your right ear approaches your right shoulder and bring your chin back to your chest.

​The full circle is considered one rep. Hold each position for a slow three count and start with five reps. Each week, try to add one to your hold count and one rep.

Neck Release


This one is great for loosening your trapezius muscles – those at the base of your neck.

To begin, bend your right elbow, keeping it close to your waist, then rotate your arm away from your center. Keep your arm in this position and tilt your left ear over to your left shoulder.

Hold this position for a slow five count and then repeat with your left arm, tilting your head to the right.

Performing the stretch on both sides is considered one rep. Do five reps at the start, and every week, strive to increase your hold count and the number of reps by one.

Executive Stretch


This one is one-part power pose and one part stretch that will make you feel refreshed and re-energized.

While sitting at your desk, lock your hands behind your head. Move your elbows back as far as possible. Take a deep breath while leaning back and stretching and hold it for twenty seconds. Then exhale and relax.

This is the entire exercise (just one rep), which makes it a great way to begin or end any exercise routine that sees you stringing several of these together.

Exercises for Your Shoulders

Shoulder Shrug


A super simple exercise you can do to shrug off some of the tension that builds up in your shoulders

Begin by sitting up straight and in a neutral position. Bring your shoulders up as high as you can, toward your ears, and hold that position for a slow three count. Rotate your shoulders in circles three times, then bring them back down. Do this ten times.

Increase your hold count per week to a maximum of five, and increase your rep count by one per week.

Elbow Circles


A delightfully simple exercise anyone can do right from their chair. Starting from a neutral sitting position, put your arms up, and bring your fingers to rest on your shoulders. Keep your elbows at shoulder level and pointing out.

From this position, slowly rotate your elbows in a circle, with one complete circular motion being one rep. Perform twenty reps at the start and strive to add one rep to your regimen per week.

Butterfly Wings


A low-impact exercise designed to help strengthen and tone your pectoral and rhomboid muscles.

Begin by sitting in a neutral position. Touch your fingertips to your shoulders with your elbows pointed out and away from you to the sides. Keep your fingers in contact with your shoulders, exhale and with slow deliberation, pull your elbows together in front of you until they touch, then slowly return your arms to their original position.

The effect has the appearance of a butterfly flexing its wings open and closed.

Strive for twenty reps and try to add one rep to your routine each week.

Desk Angels (Wall Angel Exercise)


Begin sitting up straight in your chair, in a neutral position. Raise your arms straight out away from you to shoulder height, and then bend your arms at the elbows, 90 degrees. Keeping your body straight, slowly move your arms over your head as though you’re reaching to touch the ceiling.

Hold your ​arms at full extension for a slow five count and ​slowly move ​them back to ​their starting position. Do this ten times. Each week, ​add ​one rep to your routine.

If you can sit with your back against a wall, switch things up by doing “wall angels,” which is functionally similar.

Reach for the Sky / Overhead Shoulder Stretch


This one is as much about breathing as it is about stretching and is super simple to perform.

Begin by sitting in a neutral position. Raise your arms over your head, but with a slight bend in your elbows. Breathe in, raise your right arm toward the ceiling, stretching as far as you can, then lower it, while simultaneously raising your left arm toward the ceiling before switching back, exhaling at the end, and then repeating for twenty reps.

Each week, strive to add a rep to your daily routine.

Side Lateral Raise


This exercise relies on the use of two hand weights or dumbbells. You can find these at most big-box retail outlets, including your local Wal-Mart. Use whatever weight seems most appropriate to you from three to ten pounds. They’re small enough that when not in use, they can be tucked discreetly under your desk where they’ll be out of the way.

To begin the exercise, pick the hand weights up and sit straight in your chair, feet firmly on the floor. Hold the weights with your palms facing inward and your arms straight down at your side.

Keep your torso straight and immobile as you raise your arms straight out in either direction away with you, until your arms are level with your shoulders (parallel to the floor). Hold that position for a slow three count before slowly lowering your arms to their starting position. 

Repeat this motion twenty times. Each week, strive to add 1 to your hold count and one additional rep to your routine.

Exercises for Your Arms

Triceps Dips


For this exercise, you need to use a chair without rolling casters or lock the casters on your office chairs so that they don’t move and the chair doesn’t roll away from you!

Sitting in your chair, scoot forward off the edge of it, firmly gripping the seat of the chair with both hands as you hold yourself suspended in that position, elbows bent and back straight. Lower your body straight down several inches (whatever you can manage), then straighten your arms to raise yourself back up.

 Start with ten reps and strive to add one additional rep to your routine each week.

Biceps Curls


A rudimentary exercise you can do anywhere. It works best if you invest in some hand weights, but you can use almost anything, including bottles of water that fit comfortably in your hands.

To begin, break out your hand weights and hold them by your sides while you’re sitting in your chair, arms hanging down straight, palms forward. Slowly bend your arms at the elbow, bringing the weights up. At the top of the movement, hold for a second and lower your arms back to starting position slowly and deliberately. 

Start with twenty reps and each week, try to add another rep to your routine.

Tricep Curls


Another simple exercise involving hand weights. As mentioned above, you can substitute bottles of water that fit well in your hand if you’re low on funds or don’t have a place to store the weights under your desk.

Begin by sitting in a neutral position in your chair, back straight and feet firmly planted on the floor. Holding your hand weights, extend your arms out in front of you until they are level with your shoulders. This is your starting position.

From there, using slow, deliberate motions, raise your arms until they are pointed to the ceiling, then bend your arms at the elbow until your weights are behind your head. Straighten and return your arms to starting position for one rep.

Start with twenty reps and strive to add an additional rep to your routine each week.

Seated Press Ups


This exercise is similar to the triceps dip, so you’ll need access to a stationary chair, or be sure to lock the wheels on your rolling office chair if you have one.

Begin in a neutral position with your back straight and your feet firmly planted on the floor, pointed straight out in front of you. Firmly grip the armrests of the chair and lift your body up as far as you can. Hold that position for a slow three count before lowering yourself back into the seat. 

Start with twenty reps, and each week, strive to add one to your hold count to a maximum of five, and an additional rep to your routine.

Overhead Triceps Stretch


Start by sitting in your chair in a neutral position with your back straight and feet together on the floor. Lift your left arm up straight, as though you’re trying to reach the ceiling, then bend it at the elbow. Grab your elbow with your right hand.

Lean toward the right, pulling your left elbow and stretching the side of your body. Hold for a slow three count, then return to your starting position before repeating the motion on the other side.

​Stretching both sides in this manner counts as one rep. Start by performing twenty reps and strive to add an additional rep to your routine each week.

Exercises for Your Hands or Forearms

Shake It Out


If you don’t have a lot of time for conventional exercises and you find your hands or wrists cramping after several hours of working on your computer, this great little exercise may be exactly what you’re looking for.

All you do is shake both hands vigorously for 45 seconds to a minute. Just pretend that your hands are soaked and you’re shaking the water off and trying to air dry them.

Prayer Wrist Stretch


Place your palms together in front of your chest as though you were praying. Press your palms together firmly and lower them until you feel the muscles in your wrists stretch. Hold that position for a slow five count, then rotate your wrists until your fingers are pointing down toward the floor. Hold that for another slow five counts.

Those two motions together count as one rep. Perform ten reps of this exercise, adding additional reps to your routine each week as you’re able.

Wrist Stretch (Wrist Flex & Extend)


Here’s another quick and easy exercise you can do anywhere, whether standing or sitting.

To begin, extend your arms so that your elbow is level with your shoulder, arms out in front of you. Grasp the fingers of one hand with the other and use them to pull your hand forward and backward, flexing your wrist until you feel the muscles stretch and tighten, but not uncomfortably so.

Hold each position for a slow five count, then switch to the other hand.

Wrist Curl / Forearm Curl / Clenched Fists


For this exercise, you’ll need hand weights of whatever weight you prefer. If you don’t have hand weights, you can use a one-pound can of beans or similar.

While holding your hand weight, place your arm on your leg for support, palm up. Bend your wrist upward, hold for a second or two, and then return your hand to its starting position. Shoot for ten reps initially and try to add one rep to your routine every week.

You can do a set of reverse curls by turning your hand’s position to a palm-down grip and follow the same steps.

If you don’t have any hand weights or similar objects available, you can opt for a simple fist-clenching exercise. If you have a tennis ball or a pair of socks, so much the better, but if not, simply clenching your fist as tight as you can and holding for a slow five count (ten reps of this), will work too.

If you like the exercise and want to build it into your routine, then each week, add at least one rep.

Exercises for Your Back / Spine

Seated Spinal Twist


To perform this exercise, start by sitting sideways in your chair. This will necessitate having access to a chair with no armrests.

Start with your back straight and your feet together and firmly on the floor. Keep your feet, knees, and hips stationary and twist your upper body toward your desk. Hold that position for a slow five count, and then return to your starting position before twisting in the opposite direction.

One twist in both directions constitutes one rep. Start with five reps and strive to add an additional rep each week as part of your gradually lengthening routine.

Back Arch


This is another extremely simple exercise that will leave you feeling almost instantly better. To begin, sit forward in your chair, facing your desk. Your backside should be all the way back in the chair, pressed against the seatback.

Clasp your hands behind your head and arch your back, swelling your chest forward and opening your elbows wide. Arch as far back as you can do so comfortably and hold that position for a slow five count, then release.

Start with three reps and increase as you feel comfortable doing so.

Forward Fold / Bend


This one’s about as easy as it gets. Sit in your chair, then bend forward as though you were trying to get a rock out of your shoe or something. Bend as far forward as you can, with the aim being to touch the floor with the palms of your hands.

Once you’re as far down as you can get, hold the position for a slow five count before rising back to an upright position. Do five reps of this, with a goal of adding one rep per week to your routine.

Seated Lower Back Rotational Stretches / T-Spine Twist


To perform this exercise, you’ll need access to a chair with no arms. Begin by facing forward, back straight, and with your feet flat on the floor. Place your hands behind your head or place your left hand on your right knee to support the twist you’re about to do.

Twist your torso to the right as far as is comfortable for you, minimizing the movement of your hips. Hold the position for a slow ten count, then repeat on the other side. Start with three reps for each side and strive to add one rep a week to your routine.

Opposing Reaches / Lower Spine Stretch


To perform this exercise, you’ll need access to a chair with no armrests. Begin by sitting sideways in the chair. Reach one arm up and over your head, while the other points downward toward the ground, stretching your arms out perfectly straight.

Hold this position for a slow five count then repeat, reversing the position of your arms. Both of these actions, taken together, constitute one rep. Start by performing five reps, and aim to complete additional reps per week to your routine.

Exercises for Your Abs /Core

Waist Rotation (Similar to Spinal Twist and T-Spine Twist)


Start in a neutral position, with your back straight and your feet firmly planted on the floor. Bend your arms and clasp your hands behind your head. Rotate your torso to the left, as far as you’re able. Hold that position for a slow five count, then rotate to the right and hold for the same duration. That constitutes one rep. Start with ten reps and strive to add one additional rep per week.

Seated Bicycle Crunches


This one will definitely get your heart pumping.

To begin, start in your neutral position with your back straight and feet firmly planted on the floor. Clasp your fingers behind your head.

Lift one knee toward the opposite elbow, twisting your torso down toward it. Try to touch your elbow to your knee if you can, then return to your neutral position and repeat the motion, touching your other elbow to your other knee.

The above constitutes one rep. Start with fifteen reps and strive to add one rep per week to your regular routine.

Russian Twist


A low intensity, high impact exercise that can deliver results quickly. Start by sitting on the edge of your seat in a neutral position. Lift both legs, keeping your knees together, leaning back slightly as you do. Clasp your hands together and bend your arms, positioning them so that your elbows are level with the bottom of your ribcage.

Bring your knees up to the left, elbows moving in the counter direction, then return to neutral position and repeat, lifting your knees to the right and twisting the opposite direction.

The movement described above constitutes one rep. Start with fifteen reps and strive to add additional reps each week.

Side Bends


This simple exercise is a great way to start each morning. Even better, it is simplicity itself.

Begin by sitting in your chair in a neutral position. Stretch your arms over your head, lacing your fingers together. Bend slowly to your right side, contracting your abdominal muscles as you do. Hold that position for a slow five count, and then return to a neutral position for a second before bending slowly to the left, again, contracting your abdominal muscles and holding.

The motion described above constitutes one rep. Do five reps. Each week, try to add one to your hold counts, to a maximum of ten.

Abs Strengthening


This is a simple exercise you can do in any chair, any time of day. Begin by sitting in a neutral position, back straight and feet firmly planted in front of you. Reach your arms behind your chair, grabbing one with the other hand, locking yourself firmly in place.

Inhale, thrusting your chest out, arching your back and tightening your abdominal muscles. Hold that position for a slow ten count, then release. Do five reps, and strive to add one additional rep each week.

Exercises for Your Hips

Seated Hamstring Stretch


Another delightfully simple exercise. To begin, scoot forward until you’re sitting on the edge of your seat, back straight and feet out in front of you in a neutral position.

Hold onto the edge of your desk and straighten one leg so that the back of your heel is on the floor. Flex your foot forward so that your toes are pointing back at you. Hold that position for a slow five count, then release.

Do five reps and then switch to the other leg for five more. Increase one rep per leg as you feel comfortable doing so.

Seated Hip Flexors and Quadriceps Stretches


Your hip flexors are the muscles on the front of your hips. Your quadriceps are the muscles on the front of your thighs. This simple exercise works both

Start by sitting on the edge of your seat, facing sideways, or use a low bench like a park bench. Sit facing left, so that your right leg is on the outside of the chair.

Bend your leg so that your knee is close to, or even touching the ground, with your foot out straight behind you, pointing away.

You’ll feel a stretch on the front of your hip and upper thigh. Hold this position for a slow ten count, breathing normally as you do. Then turn to face the opposite direction and perform the same motion with the other leg.

Seated Figure 4 Stretch


A delightfully simple and effective exercise you can do in any chair. Begin by sitting up straight in a neutral position, feet firmly planted on the floor. Cross one leg over the other, with your ankle sitting on the opposing knee.

Place one hand on the knee of the crossed leg and lean your torso forward while pressing your hand gently and firmly on your knee. Move forward until you feel a moderate stretch in the muscles of your hips and buttocks. Hold that position for a slow count to twenty, then switch to the other leg and do it again.

Seated Knee to Chest Stretch


This wonderfully simple exercise is a great way to improve your flexibility. Start by sitting in a neutral position, but slide forward so that you’re sitting on the edge of your seat.

Lift your right knee, drawing your breath in as you do. Claps your hands around your knee and use that grip to bring your knee as high as you can comfortably. Hold that position for a slow ten count then lower your foot back to the floor on the exhale and repeat with the other knee.

The action above describes one rep. Start with three reps and strive to add one rep to your routine each week.

Seated Hip Thrust / Knee Pull-In


To perform this exercise, begin by sitting in a neutral position on the edge of your chair with your knees straight and your toes touching the floor, heels off the ground.

Using the armrests of the chair as supports, lean back about 45 degrees or as far back as you can, given the chair, you’re sitting in.

Extend your legs straight out into the air, then in a slow and deliberate motion, pull your legs back against your chest. Hold for a slow three count then lower your feet but don’t allow them to actually touch the floor.

The motion above describes one rep. Start with ten reps and strive to add one rep to your routine each week.

Exercises for Your Legs

Knee Lift


Begin by sitting on the edge of your chair in a neutral position with hands resting on the armrests of your chair. 

Starting with your left leg, raise it in a slow, deliberate motion toward your chest, as high as you can get it, before lowering it slowly back to the floor.

Repeat this motion twenty times, then switch to your right leg and repeat. Strive to add one rep for each leg, every week as you expand your routine. Couldn’t be simpler!

Leg Raise


Here’s another exercise that’s a lesson in simplicity. You can enhance the effectiveness of this exercise by strapping leg weights to your ankle (whatever weight you’re comfortable with), but this is not strictly necessary.

Begin by sitting in a neutral position with both feet firmly planted on the floor. Using slow, deliberate motions, raise your right leg, straightening it completely and then elevating it as far as you can until you feel your muscles stretch, but not painfully so.

Hold your leg in that position for a slow three count before returning it to the floor. Do ten reps with each leg. Each week, try to add another rep for each leg to your routine.

Leg Circles


Although this exercise is normally performed while lying down, there’s no particular reason it can’t be done in the office chair you spend most of the day in. To do so, simply start in a neutral position with your back straight and your feet together in front of you, planted firmly on the floor.

Extend one leg straight out in front of you and rotate it in small, controlled clockwise circles until you begin feeling a bit of fatigue from the effort. Then switch to a counterclockwise movement.

Place the first leg on the floor and then perform the same motion with the other leg. The more you perform this exercise, the longer you’ll be able to go before you start feeling fatigued.

Ankle Rotation


There’s nothing fancy about this quick and easy little exercise.

While you’re sitting in your chair, simply pick a foot and rotate your ankle clockwise for a slow ten count, then rotate it counterclockwise for another slow ten counts.

Repeat with the other ankle. Every week, strive to add one to your time counts as you expand your routine.

Heel Lifts


This is a quick and easy exercise you can do anywhere.

Start by sitting in a neutral position with your feet planted firmly on the floor, hip-width apart. Tighten your abs and flex your calves upward until you’re on your tiptoes, then return to your starting position. 

Begin with fifteen reps and strive to add another rep each week as you expand your routine.

Toe Tapping


This simple exercise is designed to help build the muscles in your lower legs. 

Begin by sitting up straight with feet flat on the floor, then lift your toes as high as you’re able, leaving your heels on the floor. Hold that position for a slow five count, then return to your starting position.

Do ten reps of that to start, moving up from there are you’re able.

Do you have any favorite exercises you like to do at your desk that we didn’t mention here? If so, leave a comment below with your favorites, and we’ll add them to continue growing our collection!

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HomeLibraryExercises You Can Do Right In Your Chair

Check out these simple exercises you can do while sitting on a chair in this infographic, with how-to guides to help you get started!
  • Chair Institute
  • November 12, 2019
  • Library

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