Forget squats — this 20-minute chair yoga routine sculpts stronger legs and core muscles without weights

Woman performing a yoga exercise during seated chair yoga routine in an exercise studio
(Image credit: Shutterstock)

If you’ve never tried a chair yoga routine or a chair workout before — it’s time to start. Whatever your reason for seated exercises, a chair workout could develop stronger core muscles and build lower body strength without weights or standing up. 

This 20-minute chair yoga routine, created by YouTube sensation Sarah Beth Yoga, challenges your upper and lower body muscles and offers a gentle full-body stretch — all while being supported by your chair. 

Seated workouts help tone muscles and build strength without putting pressure on your joints, making them a low-impact way to exercise. The short yoga routine primarily strengthens your leg muscles, but you’ll target most of your upper body and core too.

We recommend rolling out one of the best yoga mats underneath your chair for some moves, and reading on for how to do the chair yoga routine.

What is the chair yoga workout?

The chair workout is split into five sections. Beth writes, “You’ll warm up with neck and shoulder stretches and a gentle spinal flow, then move into modified lunges, warriors and gentle twists.” 

But don’t worry if you find some exercises too difficult. Sarah Beth also provides modifications and progressions to help you ‘start in a safe space and work your way up as you get stronger and more flexible.’ 

The 20-minute chair yoga routine suits beginners, seniors, prenatal, postnatal and desk workers, but can also be used as recovery or if you have low energy or limited mobility. 

Here’s the layout of the chair yoga routine: 

  • Neck, chest and back stretches
  • Ankle stretch (right)
  • Hamstring stretch (right)
  • Ankle stretch (left)
  • Hamstring stretch (left)
  • Chair lunges, twists and warriors stretch
  • Ragdoll fold
  • Slow rise

The workout is prenatal and postnatal friendly. Sarah Beth advises modifying the lunges, warriors, and twists to reduce the intensity, as it’s easier to overstretch using the chair. But ultimately, take it at your own pace and stop if you experience pain.

I tried the chair yoga routine for lower body strength — here’s my verdict

It delivered a gentle stretch

I practice yoga regularly, so I wasn’t sure what to expect from a 20-minute chair yoga routine. Still, it delivered a deep stretch, and I found it easier to hold my position while supporting my body weight on the chair.

Afterward, my posture was taller, and I felt more open across my torso from the gentle twists and backbends. Despite sitting down, I found the exercises activate my chest, arms, shoulders, back and abs, helping to release tension in my lower back for a short time afterward.

These upper body muscles are responsible for good posture, torso flexibility and stability, so it’s great to know I worked them hard.

I felt it in my legs

Chair yoga is designed to be low impact, which means strengthening various muscle groups without stressing your joints, and suits those who may not be able to get down on the ground easily or at all. 

Surprisingly, the short routine engaged my hip flexors, quads, glutes and hamstrings despite being a seated workout. 

Like Pilates, you could add some of the best ankle weights to increase the intensity or stick to using your body weight. I lifted my weight off the chair during the lunges and added a resistance band for some exercises, but I tried to follow the chair yoga session as it was. Learning to exercise using a chair helps develop strength in the muscles responsible for good posture and builds flexibility. 

It was relaxing

I loved Sarah Beth’s chair yoga style. I compare it to a deep exhale after holding your breath. 

I practiced the routine after a busy day of writing deadlines, teaching clients and fitting in a quick workout at lunch. It’s safe to say I felt depleted and totally out of tune with my body. 

But I left feeling reconnected with my mind, breath and body, my heart rate lower and deeply relaxed, which was a huge bonus. The session guided me throughout, so I never had to reach around for modifications, where to feel an exercise or how to make it harder. 

If a chair workout isn’t for you, this 6-move yoga for runners routine is the perfect recovery tool. And remember, what works for me might not work for you, so modify the workout to suit your current fitness level. 

More from Tom's Guide

Sam Hopes
Senior Staff Writer - Fitness

Sam Hopes is a level III fitness trainer, level II reiki practitioner, and senior fitness writer at Future PLC, the publisher of Tom's Guide. She is also about to undertake her Yoga For Athletes training course. Having trained to work with mind and body, Sam is a big advocate of using mindfulness techniques in sport and fitness, and their impact on performance. She’s also passionate about the fundamentals of training and building sustainable training methods.  When she's not writing up her experiences with the latest fitness tech and workouts, you’ll find her writing about nutrition, sleep, recovery, and wellness.