What are Chair Exercises?

Sheri Cyprus

Chair exercises refer to a seated fitness routine. Some people in wheel chairs, as well as seniors or others with limited mobility or energy, do chair exercises. Office workers who stop periodically for stretch breaks may also do some exercises while remaining seated. Moving the arms and legs while seated in a chair can provide the body with a low-impact workout.

Chair exercises are good for people with limited mobility.
Chair exercises are good for people with limited mobility.

The term, medical condition exercises, also describes a chair-based workout as many people with a disease or disorder can do some arm and leg movements while sitting. For example, many sufferers of arthritis, which is inflammation of the joints, can benefit from chair exercises. Lifting each arm and leg, then holding it for a few seconds before lowering it can help strengthen and relieve the joints. Contacting official associations or societies for diseases such as Parkinson's or multiple sclerosis (MS) and asking for sitting or medical condition exercises can be a good way to find disease-specific chair workouts.

People with arthritis can benefit from chair exercises, which help strengthen the joints.
People with arthritis can benefit from chair exercises, which help strengthen the joints.

Senior centers and other community resources may offer chair exercise classes. This group type of chair or senior workout can also serve as an opportunity for elderly people, or others who tend to spend much of their time indoors, to get out in the community and interact socially while also keeping fit. Group chair exercises led by a community center leader may include a game in which participants toss a ball to each other while sitting down. In addition to leg and arm raises to help tone limbs as well as provide a low impact aerobic workout, chair-based ball games can help improve hand-eye coordination.

Although chair exercises are typically seated movements, people who can stand may also use the back of a chair to lean on with the hands while moving the legs either out backward or from side to side. The same number of lifts should be done on each side, with the amount only gradually increased. Holding onto the chair can help the exerciser keep his or her balance.

Patients interested in beginning any type of chair exercise routine should first get permission from their doctor. Inactive people who have spent a lot of time sitting may have muscle weakness, so only a few repetitions of stretches and lifts should be done when first starting chair exercises. Regular seated exercise routines can help seniors and others have more energy for daily living. A warm up routine of gentle, slow stretches should start each seated exercise session, while slower, all-over movements that help cool the body down gradually should end the chair workout.

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Discussion Comments


@kylee07drg – I know a good one for toning your triceps. In fact, this is the only good triceps exercise that I know.

Sit on the edge of a chair and put your palms face down behind you on either side. Leave them there and slowly lower yourself toward the floor.

Before you reach the floor, lift yourself back up by pushing down with your palms. You will feel the burn in your triceps right away, especially if you've never done this before.

I started out just doing eight and worked my way up to twelve. I now do two sets of twelve with a rest period in between.


I do some desk chair exercises at work to keep my body from becoming stiff or falling asleep. Sometimes, these exercises are as simple as stretching and lifting my arms and legs as high as they will go.

I would like to do some more intense chair exercises at home, though. Can anyone recommend a good chair exercise for toning my arms?


My mother started doing chair exercises for seniors once she reached her seventies. She hadn't been doing any exercise other than housework for years, so she felt it was best to start out slow with activities that could be done in a chair.

She did simple leg and arm lifts, and she also held her arms out to her sides and rotated them a few times. She gradually increased to using small three pound weights.

Even simple exercises like this can be beneficial. It is much better to do a little bit of exercise than none at all.


I think of the workout I do while seated on an exercise ball as abdominal chair exercises. I may not have a back to support me, but I am sitting down.

I can get a much better abdominal workout on this ball than when I'm lying flat on the floor. I can bend backward over it to use both my back and front muscles.

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