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8 chair exercises to strengthen your abs and back

By Michelle Rogers, CPT | July 20, 2021 | Healthy Lifestyle, Fitness

Group of women (one seated in wheelchair, the other seated on the ground) practicing meditation at the beach

Think the only way to tighten and tone your middle is to get down on the floor and struggle to do sit-ups? Think again!

There are many exercises that can be done using a chair. Some of the benefits of chair exercise includes:

  • No need to get down on the floor. For those who are desk-bound most of the day, or those with physical limitations or are mobility challenged, this is an accessible way to exercise.
  • Almost anyone of any fitness level, size or age can do it.
  • Can be done anywhere and at any time, even in the office.
  • Helps relieve tiredness and stiffness, and strengthens your body.
  • Benefits your overall physical and mental health.

Besides giving your belly a flatter appearance, core work strengthens your back – which can help prevent, reduce or eliminate back pain. A stronger core can even improve your balance.

The following simple exercises can be done daily to help strengthen and stretch your spine and abdominal muscles. They will also help your shoulders and posture, and increase overall strength and flexibility.

For all exercises shown: Repeat for a total of 30-60 seconds each exercise, or whatever you can do or have time to do. Move slowly and with control. Avoid holding your breath when you tighten your abs.

Even exercising just five or 10 minutes a day can make a tremendous difference in how you feel. Why not give these moves a try right now?

Only move through the range of motion that feels right for your body. Always check with a qualified professional if you have any concerns about what exercises are appropriate for you. If you are experiencing pain, seek the advice of your medical provider before beginning an exercise program.

Core twists

Twists benefit your spine, core and oblique muscles.

Sit up tall, positioned toward the front of the chair, with your feet hip width apart. Clasp hands at chest level, elbows out. Keeping hips and knees facing forward, slowly twist from the waist to your left, and then right, as far as you can comfortably go.

Knee lifts

This simple but effective exercise strengthens and tones your abs and also works the quadriceps (front of the upper leg/thigh).

Sit with your back against the back of the chair. Hold on to the sides of the chair. Tighten your ab muscles (pull belly button in towards spine), then lift and lower your left knee, then your right knee. Lift as high as you comfortably can. Remember to tighten abs first, then lift.

Abdominal strengthener

This one is like doing a sit-up without getting down on the floor.

Sit up straight, positioned toward the front of the chair, with your arms straight out in front of you. Tighten your ab muscles (pull belly button in towards spine), and keeping your back straight lean back until your back touches the chair. Keep your abs tight and back straight as you return to sitting upright.

Side crunches

Sit up straight, positioned toward the front of the chair, with your hands behind head, and feet hip width apart. Lean as far left as you can go, return to center, then lean to the right. Focus on bending at the waist and going directly to the side without leaning forward.

Abdominal tightener

This is an isometric exercise, in which you contract muscles while your body remains stationary. You can do it seated or standing, and it can be done almost anywhere, anytime — in the car, watching TV, or even standing in line at the grocery store. No one will know you’re exercising!

Sit with your back against the back of the chair. Tighten your ab muscles (pull belly button in towards spine), hold, then release. Don’t hold your breath when you tighten.

Side bends

Sit up straight, positioned toward the front of the chair, with feet hip width apart. Hold on to the seat with your right hand and reach your left arm up and over your head. Arm should be positioned over your ear. Repeat on the other side.

Cat and cow

This exercise is a wonderful movement for your upper and lower back, and abdominals. It’s one of my favorite back stretches – feels so good!

Sit up tall, positioned toward the front of the chair, with your palms resting on your legs and feet flat on the floor. Inhale and look up, as you arch your back. Exhale and round your back and tuck your chin, as your hands slide forward along your legs. Repeat.

Downward dog

Here’s a variation of the classic yoga pose that benefits your arms, abs, back and legs. It’s a great move to do, especially if you’ve been sitting for a while and need a good stretch.

If you’re able, stand a few feet behind the chair. Inhale and circle your arms up, reaching toward the ceiling. Exhale and keep your back, legs and arms straight as you slowly hinge forward from your hips until your hands reach the top of the chair. Walk your feet back until your arms are straight. If possible, hinge forward until your ears are between your arms. Hold this position for a little while, breathing naturally. Then drop your hands toward the floor and dangle like a rag doll. Slowly roll up, one vertebrae at a time, until you are standing up straight. Roll your shoulders back and down, and then repeat the Downward Dog.

One of the best things you can do for your back is to sit less and move more, so keep that in mind throughout your day. Set reminders to get up and walk and stretch.

Interested in more chair exercises? Join our online exercise class!

Currently I am leading free, live online classes sponsored by the Blue Cross NC Raleigh Center.

Chair Fit (Tuesdays at 10:00 a.m. Eastern) is a seated exercise class that will help you become stronger, more energetic and more flexible. It’s a full-body program that includes strength work for your arms, core, and legs; exercises to benefit your joints and balance; and stretching.

These classes are free and open to adults of any age. You do not need to be a Blue Cross NC member to attend. Register online here to enroll in the exercise classes.