4 Awesome Chair Exercises for Older Adults

By the Editors of SilverSneakers |

Yes, you can get an effective workout while sitting down. All you need for these beginner moves: a chair and yourself.

chair exercises

If your balance or strength isn’t great, or you’re recovering from an injury, you might think that exercise isn’t for you.

That’s a myth—don’t fall for it.

The truth is there are many, many ways to move your body. The key is finding the right equipment and exercises to help you move in a way that is safe and builds confidence. And there’s one effective piece of equipment that’s hidden in plain sight: a chair.

“A seated chair exercise is a great way to get the benefit of strength training without the risk of falling or losing your balance,” says Katrin Ramsey, P.T., a physical therapist at the Hospital for Special Surgery Paramus Outpatient Center in New Jersey.

You can even use a chair for cardio, stretches, yoga, and more. In fact, many popular standing and floor exercises can be modified for a chair. And if you’ve taken a SilverSneakers class, you’ve probably heard the instructor say you can use a chair for support if you’d like.

Ready to try? Add these awesome chair exercises to your workouts.

How to Use These Chair Exercises

All you need is a sturdy chair, preferably one with armrests. You can pick one or two exercises to add to your normal workout, or you can do all four together as a routine, repeating up to two to three sets total.

For each move, maximize the benefits by sitting up tall and maintaining good posture. Shoulders should be down and back, and you should have a minimal dip in your lower back. Engage your core by bracing as if you’re about to receive a punch in the gut, but continue breathing normally.

As always, safety is key. The exercises here may be different or more advanced than those you’ll experience in a SilverSneakers class. If you have a chronic condition, an injury, or balance issues, talk to your doctor about how you can exercise safely.

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Chair Exercise #1: Resisted Knee Lift

Keep your torso upright. Stabilize your body. Allow you to turn and twist. Your core has so many important jobs, it’s hard to keep track. Give it the strength it needs with this exercise.

Do 8 to 10 reps

How to do it: Sit tall in a sturdy chair with your feet flat on the floor and palms on top of your thighs. Engage your core.

Gently press your right palm down into your right thigh while pressing your thigh up into your palm, pressing firmly enough that you feel your abs tighten. Hold for a few breaths, then release. Repeat on the opposite side. That’s one rep. Do eight to 10 reps.

Another option: Check out more chair exercises for your core.

Chair Exercise #2: Armchair Pushup

Using your arms to push yourself up from a bed, chair, or floor is one of the most basic movements for daily life. This exercise helps you maintain that ability.

Do 8 to 10 reps

How to do it: Sit tall in a sturdy chair with armrests. Make sure your feet are flat on the floor, and place your hands on the arms of the chair. Engage your core.

Push up to lift your bottom off the seat, trying not to use your lower body for help. Pause, then slowly lower back down. That’s one rep. Do eight to 10 reps.

Another option: If you don’t have a chair with armrests, simply press your hands into the seat to push yourself up to standing. Or try one of these other chair exercises for your arms and shoulders.

Chair Exercise #3: Chair Stand or Sit-to-Stand

As useful as it is to stand up with the help of your arms, it’s even better if you can stand up without their help. To do that, you need strength in your lower body, and this exercise delivers.

Do 8 to 10 reps

How to do it: If you’d like support, perform this exercise near a wall you can grab. Sit on the edge of a sturdy chair with your feet flat on the floor. Rest your arms on your hips, cross them at your shoulders, or hold them in front of you for counterbalance. Engage your core.

Push down through your feet to stand up, keeping your chest up and trying not to use your arms for help. Pause, then slowly lower back down. That’s one rep. Do eight to 10 reps.

Make it easier: It’s okay if you can’t stand up all the way. Push up just a couple inches. Once you feel some tension, release to sit back down. As you get stronger over time, push up just a little more. Congratulations, you’re doing a squat that works for your body!

Chair Exercise #4: Heel Tap

Too much time in the same position can make your hips and legs stiff. This fun exercise gets your blood flowing and stretches out your lower body.

Do 15 to 20 reps

How to do it: Sit on the edge of a sturdy chair with your feet flat on the floor, holding the sides of the seat for support. Engage your core.

Lift your right foot and extend the leg diagonally in front of you at about a 45-degree angle. Tap your right heel on the floor, then bring your foot back to the starting position. Repeat on the opposite side. That’s one rep. Do 15 to 20 reps.

Make it harder: For a challenge, raise your arms overhead as you tap your heel out, and lower your arms as you bring your foot back in. Plus, check out more chair exercises for your whole body.

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