Reviewed by Dan Brennan, MD on August 16, 2021

You might doubt you can get a good workout while sitting. But even in the seated position, you can still work your muscles, improve your strength, and boost your overall health and wellbeing. Whether you’re injured, have mobility issues, or spend a lot of time sitting in a chair, there are plenty of strength training exercises you can do. 

Benefits of Strength Training

Strength training — or resistance training as it's sometimes called — is an excellent form of exercise that offers several important health benefits. A regular routine can build muscle, improve bone density, and lower your risk for a range of serious health issues like cardiovascular disease. ‌

Strength training also helps you:

5 Seated Strength Training Exercises

There are several types of strength training exercises you can do while seated. Here are five to consider.‌

1.Overhead shoulder press. The seated overhead shoulder press works several muscles in your upper body, including your deltoids and upper trapezius muscles. To do the exercise:

  • Sit up straight with your feet flat on the floor.
  • Begin with a dumbbell in each hand at shoulder height with your palms facing away from you.
  • Raise your arms into the air and stop just before your elbows lock perfectly straight.
  • Pause for a second and gradually lower your arms back to the starting position.
  • Do two to three sets of eight to 10 reps each.‌

2.Bent Over Rows. While you might typically do bent over rows standing up or leaning on a bench, you can also do them sitting down. This exercise works several back muscles as well as your biceps. Here’s what you need to do:

  • Sit toward the front of your chair.
  • Lean forward at your hips to form a 45-degree angle with the back of your chair, making sure to keep your back straight.
  • Hold a dumbbell in each hand with your arms straight along the outside of your legs.
  • Pull your shoulder blades together and pull the weights up toward your chest, keeping your elbows close to your body.
  • Lower your arms back down to the starting position.
  • Repeat eight to 10 times for two to three sets.‌

3.Knee Extensions. You can do knee extensions with a weight machine or with weights around your ankles. Alternatively, you can do them with no weight attached. This exercise targets and strengthens your quadriceps. To do knee extensions:‌

  • Sit up straight with your back pressed against the back of your chair and set your feet flat on the floor.
  • Lift one foot slightly off the floor and straighten your leg as much as you can without locking your knee.
  • Hold for a second and bend your knee back to the start position, keeping your foot slightly off the floor.
  • Repeat the movement for eight to 10 repetitions, aiming for two to three sets.

4.Overhead tricep extensions. An overhead tricep extension targets all three heads of your tricep muscle. This exercise also strengthens your tendons and can help improve the stability of your shoulder (or pectoral) girdle. While more challenging, it’s a highly effective exercise. ‌

To do overhead tricep extensions:

  • Sit up straight with your back pressed against your chair.
  • Engage your core and stick your chest out slightly.
  • Grab a dumbbell with both hands and hold it behind your head, keeping your elbows high.
  • Carefully raise your arms above your head, lifting the weight up.
  • Bend your elbows and go back to the starting position.
  • Do two to three sets of eight to 10 reps each.‌

Alternatively, you can do isolated overhead tricep extensions. Do one set with one arm and then switch to the other. ‌

5.Bicep curls. Bicep curls do more than sculpt and tone your arms. They also help to improve the stabilizer muscles in your shoulders. There are several variations of this exercise, including the seated kind.‌

To do seated bicep curls:

  • Sit comfortably in your chair with your back pressed against the backrest.
  • Tighten your core and push your chest out slightly.
  • Hold a dumbbell in each hand and let them hang straight by your sides with your palms facing outward and your elbows at the sides of your body.
  • Curl your arms up toward your chest — you can do both arms at the same time, or one arm at a time.
  • Keep the tension in your arms and slowly lower your arms back to the starting position.
  • Do two to three sets of eight to 12 reps each.

Show Sources

SOURCES:

Mayo Clinic: “Video: Knee extension with weight machine.”

Men’s Health: “How to Do the Seated Dumbell Press.”

University of Arkansas System Division of Agriculture Research & Extension: “Get Pumped: Seated Strength Training Basics.”

U.S. News & World Report: “11 Benefits of Strength Training That Have Nothing to Do with Muscle Size.”

Women’s Health: “Bent-Over Rows: Why You Need to Add This Back-Sculpting Move to Your Workouts, STAT,” “How to Do a Biceps Curl Like A Total Beast,” “How to Do Triceps Extensions Like A Total Pro.”

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