Plus, it’s not only about what exercises you can do when seated in a chair: If weight-bearing is possible, you can also try standing exercises that use a chair as a prop. Pilates chair exercises—think Pilates barre—are a great example of incorporating a chair into a routine. Instead of a ballet bar, simply grab the back of a chair for support. Just make sure it is sturdy, secure, and tall enough to support your weight. For example, you can try some Pilates chair exercises like leg raises or circles, ballerina squats, plié pulses, and different foot positions (first, second, and third).

How can I work out my legs seated or with a chair?

When working your legs with a chair, it’s important to really hone in on your mind-muscle connection. Make sure to fire your leg, hip, or glute muscles while you’re working them.

For example, when doing a box squat, really focus on feeling your quads and glutes as you lower your body toward the chair and keep the muscles engaged as you push through your heels to stand up. Or, when doing the glute kick back, remember to really squeeze your glutes as you extend your leg. Also, try to avoid leaning too much on the chair when performing these moves. As you become more familiar with these exercises, you’ll be able to determine how much you need to rely on the chair for balance and stability.

You can also work your legs when seated by doing stretches, like a seated hamstring stretch, or by performing rehab-type exercises like the foot alphabet. And if you’re doing exercises while actually sitting on the chair, make sure you keep your core engaged and posture upright.

What do you need to know before you start chair exercise?

Make sure the chair you choose is sturdy and able to hold your body weight. That means you may need a different chair for these exercises from your regular work chair—many of the best ergonomic chairs are wheeled, which are no-gos for working out. And be sure to check the floor for slippage; you don’t want the chair to move around while working out. If there’s any movement, slide a yoga mat under the chair. 

Also, if you’re looking to add chair exercises due to an injury (whether it’s back discomfort, pain in the neck, or pain in your hips, knees, or ankles), mobility or balance issues, it’s a good idea to get any new exercise program cleared by a doctor or physical therapist first.

Chair Exercises

  • Mountain Climber
  • Triceps Dip
  • Elevated Push-Up
  • Box Squat
  • Lateral Leg Circles
  • Seated Jack
  • Bulgarian Split Squat
  • Glute Kick Back
  • Alternating Cross Crunch

Demoing the moves below is Alex Orr, a non-diet NASM-certified personal trainer and CNC, and host of The Birdie and the Bees podcast.