Forget sit-ups — this seated ab workout sculpts your core in 5 minutes

a photo of a woman stretching in a chair
(Image credit: Getty Images/Rapeepong Puttakumwong)

If you thought the best way to sculpt a strong mid-section was lying on your back and doing endless crunches, I’ve got good news — it’s absolutely not. Strong abs are far more than just an aesthetic goal — they can help you run, walk, and move with better posture, protect your lower back from injury, and make it easier to complete daily tasks, like carrying heavy shopping bags or lifting something down from a shelf. 

Whether you’re looking for an accessible workout that doesn’t involve lowering yourself onto an exercise mat, or you’re pregnant and want to avoid lying on your back during workouts, this seated ab routine ticks all the right boxes. It’s only five minutes long, so you can easily fit it in during a lunch break, or even during the ad break when watching your favorite TV series. 

As a reminder, if you’re new to exercise, returning to exercise following an injury, or you’re pregnant, this might not be the best workout for you and your body. If you’re in any doubt, it’s always a good idea to check with your doctor, midwife, or a personal trainer before trying anything new. 

What is the workout? 

The workout includes five minutes of chair exercises to work the muscles in your midsection. Created by a qualified trainer, Lucy Wyndham-Read. You’ll do each of the exercises for 30 seconds, and there are nine exercises in total. There’s also a quick mobility warm-up and a cool-down. 

All you’ll need for the workout is a chair and your body weight, so you can set your best adjustable dumbbells and best kettlebells to one side for this one. We recommend using a sturdy chair without wheels for this workout. You’ll need to be able to put your feet flat on the floor, so make sure you’re using a chair at a comfortable height.

Like to read before you get started, here are all the exercises involved, and how to do them:

Power march: 30 seconds

To do this exercise, start by shifting your weight to the front of your seat, so you have both feet flat on the floor. March one leg, then the other, bending at the knee and lifting your leg up towards your body, swinging your arms at the same time. Make the movement as dynamic as possible, and be sure to keep your abs engaged, sucking your belly button into your spine to hold your torso as upright as possible. 

Seated twist: 30 seconds

For this exercise, again, make sure you’re sitting upright on the edge of your chair, with your back straight and your core engaged. Lift your arms to the sides of your body, and lift one knee up towards your torso. At the same time, twist from your abs to touch your elbow to the opposite knee, then switch sides.

Cardio punches: 30 seconds

This one will get your heart rate up. Sit on the edge of your seat with your feet flat on the floor, and engage your core, sucking your belly button into your spine. Rotate your core and punch one arm out away from your body, then twist to the other side and punch the other arm. Keep switching sides and moving as quickly as you can, while still maintaining good form. 

Heel dig with biceps curl: 30 seconds

To do this exercise, straighten one leg, lifting the toes up towards the ceiling. At the same time bend your arms at the elbow to curl your hands up towards your shoulders, completing a biceps curl. Keep completing the curls, but switch which leg you are doing a heel dig on each time. 

Calf and shoulder raises: 30 seconds

For this exercise, you’re working your calf and shoulder muscles at the same time. Push up onto your tip toes to engage your calf muscles, at the same time, extend both arms overhead to work your shoulders. Keep your abs engaged throughout to keep your body stable. Exaggerate the move, lifting your heels as high as you can. 

Cardio kick and core punch: 30 seconds

For this exercise, lift one leg and kick it out away from your body, and then the other. At the same time punch both arms out away from your torso. It’s really important to keep your core engaged for this exercise to avoid putting any strain on your lower back. 

Full swing cardio march: 30 seconds

This exercise is similar to the heel dig exercise above, but this time you’re adding a full straight arm swing. This adds some cardio to the workout, helping you to raise your heart rate and work up a little more of a sweat.

Tummy toner and swimmer arms: 30 seconds

For this exercise, you’ll need to imagine you’re doing breaststroke in a pool. Raise your arms to shoulder height and take both arms out in front of you, then round to the side in a circular motion, before bringing them back together in front of your chest and pushing them out once more. Keep your core engaged, and at the same time, bend one knee, then the other, up towards your chest. 

Ab sculpting twists: 30 seconds

For this exercise, sit up nice and tall with your stomach muscles engaged and your arms raised by your chest. Twist and rotate your torso to one side, then move back to the middle and repeat on the opposite side. Keep switching sides throughout.  

What are the benefits of a seated ab workout? 

As mentioned above, seated ab workouts are a fantastic way to work the muscles in your midsection, without having to lower yourself down to the floor. If you’re spending a lot of time sitting down, a seated ab workout can help you relieve any stiffness in your lower back, while strengthening your muscles. 

You can also do this ab workout from just about anywhere — even sat at your desk if you need. As a reminder, if building visible abs is your goal, you’ll need to focus on your overall body fat percentage, not endless ab workouts — here’s how to calculate your body fat percentage, and why it matters. If you’re returning to exercise following an injury, it’s always a good idea to check with your doctor or a personal trainer before trying a new ab routine. 

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Jane McGuire
Fitness editor

Jane McGuire is Tom's Guide's Fitness editor, which means she looks after everything fitness related - from running gear to yoga mats. An avid runner, Jane has tested and reviewed fitness products for the past five years, so knows what to look for when finding a good running watch or a pair of shorts with pockets big enough for your smartphone. When she's not pounding the pavements, you'll find Jane striding round the Surrey Hills, taking far too many photos of her puppy.