9 Easy Chair Exercises That Actually Work Your Whole Body

Yeah—you barely even need to get up.

View as Slideshow

Chin tuck plus

Courtesy Antea Gatalica & Shane Monaghan

Jim Heafner, a physical therapist based in Boulder, Colorado, understands being deskbound is inevitable, and recommends performing exercises that reverse the negative side effects of the seated posture. To perform the chin tuck plus, Dr. Heafner says to sit in a tall, seated position with your hands resting on your thighs. Draw the chin in (“this will feel like you are giving yourself a double chin,” Heafner says) and expand through your chest, bringing the shoulders down away from your ears. Your gaze should lift toward the ceiling while keeping the chin drawn in. Do 15 repetitions every one to two hours while seated. Here’s how to help your body recover from a day of sitting.

Yoga twists

Courtesy Antea Gatalica & Shane Monaghan

Nicole Winhoffer, a fitness artist who has worked with names such as Madonna, Rachel Weisz, and Stella McCartney, enjoys active stretches in the chair. She finds that many people aren’t rotating enough in their exercises. “When people are exercising, they’re only working the spine forward and backward and side to side, but they rarely rotate the trunk, and that increases blood flow through the spine, it increases blood flow through the body… It releases synovial fluid all along the back, which is really important for lubrication of the joints and the bones,” Winhoffer says. To do an active twist, sit with your back one inch away from the back of the chair and bring one arm to the opposite side of the chair. Grab onto the chair and begin to twist moving toward the arm, bringing your gaze behind you. Hold the twist for about three seconds, then release for three, about 10 times on each side, twice a day. Here are morning yoga stretches you can even do from your bed.

Ankle pumps/circles

Courtesy Antea Gatalica & Shane Monaghan

A simple exercise, moving the ankles in a circular motion helps with movement in the ankle joints, contracting the lower leg muscles and pumping fluid out of the lower leg to keep these muscles more mobile, says Karena Wu, a physical therapist in New York. “Keeping the joints and soft tissues mobile and flexible allow for improved movement patterns during functional activities [out of the chair],” she says. These types of stretches help relieve the lactic acid build up that comes with more intense workouts, says Dr. Wu. She recommends doing these stretching exercises to help build a foundation, and these should be done for about 30 seconds at a time, a few times a day.

Content continues below ad

Knee lifts

Courtesy Antea Gatalica & Shane Monaghan

Winhoffer says one of the biggest issues of being stuck in a chair is the lower back pain that can be brought on from the confinement. Scooting toward the middle of the seat, bring your thighs partway off of the chair. Both hands should be placed behind you on the seat to open up your chest. Keeping the knees bent and together, bring both feet off of the floor. Continue to push your hands into the chair and hold in your belly button. Winhoffer says to bring your knees up for three seconds, then to lower and rest for three seconds. Doing this 10-20 times throughout the day helps to strengthen the core and bring awareness to the body. To advance the movement, straighten the leg instead of keeping it bent.

Trunk and hip stretches

Courtesy Antea Gatalica & Shane Monaghan

Wu also recommends stretching around the trunk of the body, including the abdominals and hips. Bringing one arm overhead at a time, bend toward the opposite side. After repeating each side 10-12 times, bring both arms overhead, relaxing the shoulders, and bend straight back to work the abdominal region. To stretch the hips, sit upright and cross one leg over the other and pull the knee towards the opposite shoulder (working the gluteus maximus). For a Figure 4 stretch, sit upright and place one ankle on top of the opposite knee. Keep your back straight and begin to lean the trunk forward. Wu says she sees patients struggle with knowing their limits. Be careful not to overstretch an area, as then you begin to force the tissue into a greater range without the true ability for it to get there, she says.

Sit-to-stand negatives

Courtesy Antea Gatalica & Shane Monaghan

When Heafner educates patients on exercise and posture, the first thing he tells them is to “stand up!” He says the best posture is a dynamic one that is constantly changing. In a sit-to-stand negative, begin to stand up at a normal pace from your chair; then slowly sit back down over a three- to five-second period. “When lowering, stick your hips back and keep your knees tracking over your second toe,” Heafner recommends. Do 10 repetitions three to four times a day.

Content continues below ad

Postural reset

Courtesy Antea Gatalica & Shane Monaghan

The postural reset, like the chin tuck plus, is a corrective movement that helps to open up the chest muscles, engage the shoulder muscles on the back of the body, and mobilize the middle portion of the spine. “Having a healthy and mobile spine prevents neck, low back, and shoulder pain,” Heafner says. “I often prescribe these movements for people who are required to sit for prolonged periods.” To prepare for the postural reset, sit upright with your back against your chair. Heafner says to flatten your low back, neck, and shoulders against the chair so that the spine is in a neutral position. From here, keeping your elbows by your side, turn both shoulders out, leading with your thumbs. Perform 15 repetitions every couple of hours in your seated position.

Plie

Courtesy Antea Gatalica & Shane Monaghan

Samantha Burns, a Master Trainer at Ballet Beautiful, says finding creative ways to stretch, move, and engage your muscles will increase your energy levels and will make a big difference in how you feel. Standing behind the chair, place both hands lightly on the chair, using the back for slight support. Come to first position, with your heels together and your feet slightly turned out from the hip. Engage your core and keep your chest slightly lifted as you begin to bend your knees. Be sure to keep your feet flat, pressing into the floor to initiate the movement, and then slowly straightening the knees. Continue this bend and stretch movement to stretch out the legs and improve overall circulation after being seated for a long time. This exercise also tones long lean muscles through the legs.

Releve

Courtesy Antea Gatalica & Shane Monaghan

Continuing to draw ideas from the barre, stand behind the chair once again. Place both hands on the back of the chair and come to first position. Keeping your chest lifted and shoulders relaxed, pull your stomach in. Press into the balls of your feet, and lift your heels off the ground, making sure to keep your legs straight and glutes engaged as you lower and lift your heels. “This is a great exercise to strengthen muscles when you have to wear high heels,” says Burns. “This exercise strengthens the muscles in your feet, calves, and legs… and helps ground you and calm you down if you are having a stressful day.”


Content continues below ad

Want to stay smart and healthy?

Get our weekly Health Reads newsletter

how we use your e-mail
We will use your email address to send you this newsletter. For more information please read our privacy policy.