Seated Exercises: Effective Moves to Strengthen Your Body

When getting up to move isn’t an option because of injury or balance issues, seated exercises can help you stay healthy and fit.

Published Date: Nov 16, 2023
Four-elder-people-doing-seated-excerises-with-a-personal-trainer

Seated Exercises: Effective Moves to Strengthen Your Body

When getting up to move isn’t an option because of injury or balance issues, seated exercises can help you stay healthy and fit.

Published Date: Nov 16, 2023
Four-elder-people-doing-seated-excerises-with-a-personal-trainer

Seated Exercises: Effective Moves to Strengthen Your Body

When getting up to move isn’t an option because of injury or balance issues, seated exercises can help you stay healthy and fit.

Published Date: Nov 16, 2023
Four-elder-people-doing-seated-excerises-with-a-personal-trainer

Seated Exercises: Effective Moves to Strengthen Your Body

When getting up to move isn’t an option because of injury or balance issues, seated exercises can help you stay healthy and fit.

Published Date: Nov 16, 2023
Four-elder-people-doing-seated-excerises-with-a-personal-trainer
Table of Contents

If you’ve ever felt like your workout “didn’t count” because it didn’t involve lifting weights at the gym or running on the treadmill or doing a heart-pounding workout class, it’s time to reset your thinking on what makes for a good workout. You don’t have to be dripping with sweat or go to the gym or even be standing to get fit. Gentler activities like walking, yoga, and seated exercises can be effective and offer advantages for people of all abilities.

“Seated exercising is not equivalent to just sitting,” says Jillian Aeder, PT, DPT, a physical therapist at Hinge Health. “It’s giving you an option for exercising in situations where you might not be able to stand.”

Daily movement is vital for good health. It helps combat stiffness, weakness, and aches and pains. But sometimes, getting up and moving isn’t an option due to aging, issues with balance, or an injury. That’s when seated exercises can help you stay fit and healthy until you’re able to get back on your feet.

Read on to learn why seated exercises are beneficial, when to use them, and how to get the most out of a seated workout. Plus, tips on how to get started with seated exercises recommended by Hinge Health physical therapists.

Our Hinge Health Experts

Jillian Aeder, PT, DPT
Physical Therapist
Dr. Aeder is a Hinge Health physical therapist and a board-certified athletic trainer.
Jonathan Lee, MD, MBA
Orthopedic Surgeon and Medical Reviewer
Dr. Lee is a board-certified orthopedic surgeon and an Associate Medical Director at Hinge Health.
Dylan Peterson, PT, DPT
Physical Therapist and Clinical Reviewer
Dr. Peterson is a Hinge Health physical therapist who focuses on developing clinical exercise therapy programs and member education.

How Effective Are Seated Exercises?

“Seated exercises can be just as effective as standing exercises, and they’re more effective than no exercise at all,” says Dr. Aeder. “And just like standing exercises, there are ways to make seated exercises more challenging, too.”

Different types of seated exercises can provide different benefits. Here are a few examples:

  • Seated rows build strength. 

  • Seated chest openers help support a healthy posture. 

  • Seated cat cows enhance mobility. 

  • Seated hip flexor stretches increase range of motion.

  • Seated reverse chops strengthen core muscles. 

  • Seated marches improve cardio fitness.

While you won’t get the exact same benefits as you would if you did these moves standing (like the weight-bearing benefits of being on your feet), when you’re seated, “you can target specific muscles a little deeper,” says Dr. Aeder. “When people do biceps curls while standing, for example, they sometimes arch their back which can make the exercise slightly easier. When you’re seated, you don’t have that option. You have to isolate and focus more on form, so there can be an extra challenge.” 

And remember: Seated isn’t synonymous with easy. You can use bands, go for heavier weights, or increase reps to make seated exercises more strenuous.

When to Try Seated Exercises

Seated exercises are generally recommended for those with physical limitations, such as:

These conditions can make standing exercises painful, more difficult, or unsafe, for example, by increasing your risk of falling. Pregnant women may also find seated exercises more desirable as their bellies grow and they need more support. “Seated exercises make exercise — and all of its benefits — accessible,” says Dr. Aeder. They’re also good to do at your desk if you want to get in a bonus workout while at the office.

Benefits of Seated Exercise

Seated exercises come with more benefits than you might think, including:

  • Stronger muscles. As you age, it’s natural for muscle strength to change. But the more you move, the stronger your muscles can be as you get older. However, if you aren’t able to move as much, you may notice greater losses in muscle mass. Seated exercises can help reduce the decline, according to a review of 25 studies in the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health. The report found that chair exercises increased upper and lower body strength and function, such as holding heavy objects and being able to stand up from a chair, in adults over 50.

  • Improved flexibility. Most stretches can be done while sitting, and they can help counteract any stiffness or reduced range of motion that can happen as you age or if you spend too much time sitting. “Our bodies are meant to move,” says Dr. Aeder. “We’re not meant to sit still for 10 hours a day.”

  • Better heart function. Your heart is a muscle, and like other muscles, it gets stronger when it works harder. A strong heart can pump more blood and oxygen to fuel your body. And as your heart rate increases, so does your calorie burn, making it easier to maintain a healthy weight.

  • Increased blood circulation. Contracting your muscles and moving your joints brings fluid and nutrients to all areas of your body to combat fatigue and stiffness.

  • Higher energy levels. Exercise may be the last thing on your mind when you’re tired, but it’s a proven energy booster. Seated exercises can make moving when you’re fatigued a little easier.

  • Better pain management. Inactivity can increase stiffness and pain, but movement — even short bouts while seated — can help. Exercise is an essential strategy for managing chronic pain, and seated exercises offer an alternative when you can’t get up.

  • Reduced disease risk. Exercise lowers your chances of developing chronic, life-threatening conditions like heart disease, diabetes, and cancer. And seated exercises help, too. Doing just 15 minutes of chair exercises three days a week for 12 weeks improved insulin resistance, a precursor to diabetes, in older adults, according to a study in the Journal of Exercise Science and Fitness.

  • Greater injury protection. Declines in flexibility and strength from aging or too much sitting can make you more prone to injuries. Seated exercises can build strength and increase flexibility.

  • Faster recovery from injuries or surgery. Rest is not always best when rehabbing. That’s why many patients start physical therapy within a day or so of surgery or an injury. Seated exercises can help by reducing pressure on joints and minimizing discomfort as you move.

Tips to Know Before You Start Seated Exercises

Seated exercises are generally safe but there are a few steps to take before getting started to avoid risks and maximize benefits, especially if you have any balance concerns or are recovering from an injury or surgery.

  • Choose a chair with four legs. Avoid chairs with wheels that can roll as you move.

  • Make sure the chair is sturdy. You want a chair that supports your body weight as you move. It shouldn’t feel flimsy or like it might tip, like a folding chair.

  • Get the right chair for your height. You should be able to rest your feet flat on the floor with your knees bent about 90 degrees.

  • Pick a firm seat. The seat should be comfortable but firm for more stability. Soft, cushy seats may be less stable.

  • Consider armrests. If you have balance concerns or need more support, select a chair with sturdy armrests that can help support your weight, if necessary.

  • Pick a safe exercise environment. The area where you’ll be exercising should be clear of objects and provide enough room to perform the moves without bumping into anything.

  • Check for slippage. Push the chair on the floor to see how slippery it is. If the chair moves easily, place a yoga mat under the chair to prevent it from sliding as you exercise.

  • Warm up first. Do the exercises slowly and gently to prepare your muscles for more vigorous activity or more resistance if you’re using weights or resistance bands.

Seated Exercises Physical Therapists Recommend

Get 100+ similar exercises for free

  • Seated Calf Raises
  • Seated Clamshells
  • Seated Abdominal Bracing
  • Seated Resisted Rows
  • Seated Chest Opener
  • Seated Cat Cow
  • Seated Hip Flexor Stretch

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These exercises are a solid starter routine for anyone unable to do standing exercises. Not only can they help build strength so you can work up to standing exercises if that’s a realistic goal for you, but they also help counteract the stiffness and aches that naturally come with sitting when you don’t have a choice. 

The information contained in these videos is intended to be used for educational purposes only and does not constitute medical advice or treatment for any specific condition. Hinge Health is not your healthcare provider and is not responsible for any injury sustained or exacerbated by your use of or participation in these exercises. Please consult with your healthcare provider with any questions you may have about your medical condition or treatment.

PT Tip: You Can Get a Cardio Workout While Seated 

Cardio exercise conditions your heart and lungs and reduces your risk of heart disease, diabetes, and cancer. This type of exercise can be harder to get if you have trouble standing, but it’s not impossible. “You can definitely get your heart rate up when seated,” says Dr. Aeder. Seated marches are an excellent place to start, but that’s not the only option. Floor pedals or steppers are small exercise devices that can be placed on the floor in front of you or underneath your desk. You can pedal or step almost anywhere you’re sitting to build your cardio fitness and boost your health and energy.

How Hinge Health Can Help You

If you have joint or muscle pain that makes it hard to move, you can get the relief you’ve been looking for with Hinge Health’s online exercise therapy program.

The best part: You don’t have to leave your home because our program is digital. That means you can easily get the care you need through our app, when and where it works for you.

Through our program, you’ll have access to therapeutic exercises and stretches for your condition. Additionally, you’ll have a personal care team to guide, support, and tailor our program to you.

See if you qualify for Hinge Health and confirm free coverage through your employer or benefit plan here.

This article and its contents are provided for educational and informational purposes only and do not constitute medical advice or professional services specific to you or your medical condition.

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References

  1. Robinson, K. R., Leighton, P., Logan, P., Gordon, A. L., Anthony, K., Harwood, R. H., Gladman, J. R., & Masud, T. (2014). Developing the principles of chair based exercise for older people: a modified Delphi study. BMC Geriatrics, 14(1). doi:10.1186/1471-2318-14-65

  2. Doherty, P., Cockerill, N., & Razaob, N. A. (n.d.). Chair-based exercises. British Heart Foundation. https://www.bhf.org.uk/informationsupport/heart-matters-magazine/activity/chair-based-exercises 

  3. Davenport, S. (2022, November 15). How and why to try chair exercises. Medical News Today. https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/how-and-why-to-try-chair-exercises 

  4. Klempel, N., Blackburn, N. E., McMullan, I. L., Wilson, J. J., Smith, L., Cunningham, C., O’Sullivan, R., Caserotti, P., & Tully, M. A. (2021). The Effect of Chair-Based Exercise on Physical Function in Older Adults: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis. International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health, 18(4), 1902. doi:10.3390/ijerph18041902

  5. Honda, H., Igaki, M., Komatsu, M., & Tanaka, S. (2021). Effect of moderate-intensity seated exercise on the management of metabolic outcomes in hypertensive individuals with or without exercise habits. Journal of Exercise Science & Fitness, 19(1), 51–56. doi:10.1016/j.jesf.2020.09.002