We Asked Fitness Pros For Their Favorite Workouts You Can Do Sitting Down

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A person stretches while sitting in a chair. Seated and chair exercises are excellent ways to work o...
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Some workouts, you'd really rather be sitting down. Sometimes it's because you tweaked your knee during that last 5k you ran. Other times, it's because you're having a depression flare-up and can't imagine standing up today. Still other days, you just don't want to. Whatever is keeping you sitting down, if you're finding yourself restless and wanting to exercise somehow, you can still get an effective workout while seated.

"A common misconception about workouts is that they need to happen on your feet or on your palms in a plank-type position," says Bethany Stillwaggon, a certified personal trainer and master coach for boutique fitness concept Row House. "Seated exercises can be great for a quick, at-your-desk workout, or if you find balance to be a big issue when working out, or if standing hurts more than helps your body."

Even though sitting for prolonged periods of time gets a bad rap, sometimes staying in a chair or on the couch is the most accessible thing for your body, and that's OK. You can still get creative with your exercises. "Try to find ways to move when you can," says Nate Helming, the co-founder of the training community The Run Experience and strength coach for the running app Strava. Helming suggests taking phone calls while walking around, but if a stroll isn't an option, try some seated exercises at least every 30 minutes or so.

"Exercise can be a useful tool for managing stress and helping to improve sleep," says Dr. Alexis Colvin, M.D., an orthopedist at Mount Sinai and the chief medical officer of the U.S. Open. "The hardest part is always trying to establish a routine and make the exercise a habit!" To get started, Dr. Colvin tells Bustle it's best to set small, realistic goals for yourself. Trying out some of these 13 exercises you can do while sitting might be a helpful place to start.


Arm Circles

Sit up as tall as feels comfortable for you and raise your arms out to your sides. Imagine your index fingers are laser pointers and draw small circles on the opposite walls. Complete a series of circles forward, then a series of circles backward.

"Because you aren't putting any sort of resistance in your arms besides gravity, gravity and the weight of your arms are your resistance, so think higher reps," Stillwaggon says. I like to encourage my personal training clients to do three sets of these until they approach "failure," which means stopping right when you feel that your form is about to break down. But of course, listen to your own body and maybe cap it sooner.


Bicep Towel Hold

Grab a full-sized towel (or sheet) and secure its middle under your chair or feet. Take one end of the towel into each hand. Squeeze your glutes and quads to keep your low back safe. Then, contract your biceps. Keep your upper arms pinned to your rib cage and curl the towel upward.

Adjust your grip so that no matter how hard you pull, the towel won't go anywhere. Your biceps and forearms might start to shake with effort, and that's normal. Just make sure you're breaking. Hold until you need to rest, then repeat three times.


Overhead Tricep Extension

You can grab a textbook for this (or, let's be real, The Order of the Phoenix will do quite nicely). But, you don't need any kind of weight. Sit up tall and reach your arms over your head. Keep your upper arms close to your ears, and try not to flare them out while you move. If you're holding a book, adjust your grip so it doesn't hit you as your hands travel down the back of your head toward the nape of your neck.

Keeping your upper arms close to your ears, straighten your elbows again. This might not sound like much, but if you contract your triceps hard at the top of each rep, you'll get a nice muscle buzz from it. Try for three sets of 15 reps.



Whether you want to jab-cross or hook your way through a kickboxing session, throwing punches will engage your upper arms, your shoulders, your core, and even your back. Flip on a seated kickboxing video and let the magic happen. Or, try throwing 20 solid punches out in front of you (exhale with each pow), rest for 20 seconds, and repeat four or five times.


Overhead Press

No weights? No problem. Grab a couple water bottles or soup cans. Or, you can go weightless. Sit tall and bend your elbows so that your fingers are next to your ears. Squeeze your shoulder blades together as hard as feels comfortable.

If you have a shoulder injury, you probably want to stop here. Just contract your shoulder blades, pause for a moment, and contract again. But if your shoulders are generally pain-free, continue imagining tapping your elbows together behind you as you press your fingers up toward the ceiling. Pause at the top, and come back down with control. Aim for four sets of 15 reps.


Overhead Side Bend Stretch

This stretch will help you soothe the muscles all up and down your sides in a much-needed way. "Sit up tall in your chair," Helming says. "Extend both arms overhead with your hands overlapped, like you’re about to dive into a pool. Take a deep breath, reach, and fully extend those arms so your biceps are near your ears, and then bend to the right as far as you comfortably can. You’re trying to create length from your left hip to your left pinky finger. Take a few breaths in this position, relax, and then repeat on the other side. Try to hit each side three times every hour as a great way to reset your posture and to open up your shoulders and upper back."


Gluteal Squeeze

Dr. Colvin recommends gluteal squeezes to increase your butt strength. While that might sound silly, strong glutes can help reduce low back pain. First, contract your hamstrings (the backs of your thighs) to prep for the movement. Then squeeze your glutes as hard as you can, imagining lifting yourself off your chair with the power of the contraction. Shaking is normal, though of course if anything hurts, always stop. Hold (and breathe) for as long as you can, take a quick rest, and repeat three or four more times.


Seated Marches

Brace your hands on the sides of your chair, or palms down on the couch beside your hips. Pull your low belly up toward your navel to bring your left foot off the ground. Keep your knees bent, like you're marching. When your left thigh comes as high as feels comfortable, slowly bring it back down as you contract your core again, repeating the movement with your right leg. Lean back if you need to. Perform 15 "marches" on each side for three or four sets.


Straight-Leg Circles

Brace your body just like you did for seated marches, but this time, bring up both legs at once. Straighten your knees out in front of you as much as you can. Steady your body and then draw little circles in the air with your legs. See how long you can comfortably do your circles. Rest as long as you need — Stillwaggon acknowledges this one is tough — then go again for two or three more rounds.


Calf Raises

Shift to the edge of your seat so that your feet can touch the ground. If you need to, use a pile of sturdy books or a solid box to raise the ground to you. Plant your feet with your toes pointed forward. Squeeze your calves to raise your heels off the floor. Hold the contraction nice and hard for a second, then slowly descend again. Hold a stretch at the bottom (pushing your heels down) and repeat. Do this for four sets of 25 reps.


Seated Skater

Dr. Colvin recommends bringing skaters into your seated workout. They'll look a bit different than standing skaters, but they'll still engage your legs (and heart rate) plenty. Sit securely toward the edge of your chair or couch. Kick your left leg (with a soft bend in the knee) out to your left side. At the same time, bring your right foot across your body to tap the spot on the floor in front of your left knee. Reverse the flow, so that your right leg kicks out to the right side, and your left foot taps the floor in front of your right knee. Try to keep your torso as stable as you can. It's OK if this movement feels awkward at first. Once you get the hang of the exercise, go for four sets of 12 reps per side.


Leg Extensions

You don't have to be able to squat to get some great leg work in. "You are isolating a certain muscle group when you complete the exercise in a seated position, which causes you to focus just on movement and the muscles involved," Stillwaggon says.

Sit up and brace your hands beside you with your knees bent and your feet dangling or on the floor. Squeeze your glutes to initiate the movement. When your feet start rising, contract your quads (the fronts of your thighs) hard to straighten your legs. Hold that top position with your knees locked out for a couple of seconds, squeezing your quads as hard as you can. Lower with control and repeat. Keep the same tempo for four sets of 15 reps.


Seated Hamstring Massage

Straight-up exercise isn't the only way to treat your body right. You can also release tension in your hamstrings while you're sitting down, which can go a long way toward preventing and reducing low back pain.

"From a chair, place a lacrosse ball or metal water bottle underneath your thigh about halfway between your knee and hip," Helming says. "Slowly extend that leg until you feel an increase in pressure or slight discomfort, and then flex that leg again so your foot returns to the ground. Shift your weight side-to-side to get a cross-friction massage and then move to another spot. Spend two to three minutes working through different spots of your hamstrings. Spend extra time on those tight spots." Breathe throughout the movement, Helming says, and you'll be well on your way to feeling both looser and stronger.


Dr. Alexis Colvin, M.D., orthopedist at Mount Sinai and chief medical officer, U.S. Open

Bethany Stillwaggon, certified personal trainer, master coach for Row House

Nate Helming, co-founder of The Run Experience, strength coach for Strava

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