4 Ways to Sculpt Your Arms and Shoulders Sitting in a Chair

By Lauren Bedosky |

If standing exercises are difficult, this upper-body chair workout can help you stay strong.

upper body chair

Exercise is powerful medicine. And it’s available to everyone—even if an injury, joint pain, or balance issues make standing exercises difficult for you.

In fact, standing during strength exercises when you don’t feel stable may increase your risk of falls, says Katrin Ramsey, P.T., a physical therapist at the Hospital for Special Surgery Paramus Outpatient Center in New Jersey.

And since falls are the leading cause of fatal and nonfatal injuries among adults over 65, that’s not a risk worth taking.

The simple solution: chair exercises. “A seated chair exercise is a great way to get the benefit of strength training without the risk of falling or losing your balance,” Ramsey says.

The four upper-body chair exercises below are low-impact (read: easier on the knees and ankles) and will help you build the functional strength and mobility you need to perform everyday activities with ease.

How to Do the Upper-Body Chair Workout

Find a sturdy chair with armrests, and complete one set of each exercise below in order, resting as needed between moves. As you get stronger, gradually work up to two and then three sets of each exercise. If you don’t have a chair with armrests, a standard kitchen or dining room chair will work just as well.

For best results, perform this seated upper-body routine twice per week.

Ready to get started? Here’s how to perform each movement. 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, balance issues, or injuries, talk to your doctor about how you can exercise safely.

Exercise #1: Armchair Pushup

Do 8 to 10 reps

Sit tall in a sturdy chair with armrests. Place your hands on the arms of the chair, and push up to lift your bottom off the seat. Slowly lower yourself back down to a seated position. That’s one rep. Do eight to 10 reps total.

Try not to use your lower body for help during this movement. If you don’t have a chair with armrests, simply press your hands into the seat to push yourself up to standing.

Exercise #2: Seated Row

Do 8 to 10 reps

Grab a resistance band, and sit tall in a chair with your legs extended, heels touching the floor and toes pointing up. Place the center of the band behind the soles of your feet. If you’re using a long exercise band, you may need to loop it around your feet once or twice.

Grab the ends of the band with both hands, arms extended and palms facing each other. Sitting nice and tall, bend at the elbows and pull the band toward your core, squeezing your shoulder blades together. Slowly return to the starting position. That’s one rep. Do eight to 10 reps total.

Exercise #3: Banded Chest Press

Do 8 to 10 reps

Sit tall in a chair, and wrap a resistance band around your upper back, holding one end of the band in each hand in front of your chest. Your elbows should be bent with palms facing in, and you should feel slight tension in the band. This is your starting position.

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Press both hands out in front of your chest until your arms are fully extended. Slowly return to the starting position. That’s one rep. Do eight to 10 reps total.

Exercise #4: Straight-Arm Lat Pulldown

Do 8 to 10 reps

Anchor a resistance band to a sturdy fixture overhead. A good option is to shut the band in a door, making sure the door can shut completely and knotting the band in the middle so it’s secure.

Sit tall in a chair in front of the door or your preferred anchor point. Grab the ends of the band with both hands, arms extended slightly above shoulder height and palms facing the floor. You should feel slight tension in the band. If you don’t feel any tension, move your chair farther away from the door or anchor point. Your pulling direction is diagonal and down from above.

Keeping your arms straight, pull the band down to the sides of your body. In the final position, your palms should be pointing back. Raise your arms to return to the starting position. That’s one rep. Do eight to 10 reps total.

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