Forget dumbbells — this chair workout builds full-body strength in just 15 minutes

Woman in activewear performing mountain climbers using chair during chair workout
(Image credit: Shutterstock)

This 15-minute chair workout blasts muscles, builds strength and torches your core without dumbbells, kettlebells, or barbells — you just need two chairs. 

Chris Heria leads the full-body workout without relying on a well-stocked gym or home workout studio. Instead, hit every muscle group from head to toe using one piece of equipment most of us have access to — a chair. If possible, use two to make this workout hit at its hardest. 

The 15-move chair workout comes from renowned calisthenics app and YouTube channel Thenx, with a following that reaches into the millions. Whether you’re well acquainted with seated ab workouts or chair yoga routines, this session is about dialing up the creativity on bodyweight exercises. 

A chair workout as short as 15 minutes could challenge your upper and lower body muscles and build functional core strength without weights. Trust us, we’d be skeptical too, but Haria makes a sound point — the most effective workout is one you can do anywhere, at any time, and in an amount of time that feels efficient. 

Heria recommends performing this workout 3-5 times a week to see results in your strength and physique. Calisthenics refers to bodyweight workouts that utilize your surroundings, like pull-up bars, gym rings, chairs, benches, or even your local park equipment. Relying on your body weight to perform exercises builds the best kind of strength — functional. You’ll move with better quality, improve your range of motion and be able to perform daily tasks more efficiently. 

And it’s not easy to put the weights aside and shift your own body weight, either. We know plenty of people who can learn how to deadlift high numbers yet can’t perform 10 push-ups in a row with good form. So here’s how to improve your relationship with relative strength, which refers to how strong someone is compared with their own size and how well someone can move with their body. It’s crucial for sportspeople who rely on their body weight to execute their sport.

What is the 15-minute full-body chair workout?

Heria asks for 45 seconds of work and 15 seconds of rest, totaling 15 moves in 15 minutes. Don’t worry if you find some exercises too difficult, you can always scale to suit your ability, and some bodyweight exercises can be performed on one of the best yoga mats, next to your chairs. You’ll switch between the mat and chairs throughout. As you become stronger, these exercises should begin to feel more comfortable. 

Here’s a rundown of the 15 bodyweight exercises:

  • Half burpees
  • Skull crushers
  • Incline diamond push-ups
  • Dips
  • Rear delt flyes
  • Body rows
  • Curls
  • Reverse tuck leg extensions
  • Bulgarian split squats
  • Assisted pistol squats
  • Jump squats
  • Calf raises
  • High to low plank
  • In and outs
  • Russian twists

Why we love this 15-minute calisthenics chair workout 

You’ll start by compounding the upper body during the first four strength exercises, moving from overloading the pecs, anterior deltoids, triceps and abdominal muscles through pushing movements to your back and biceps using pulling exercises — the antagonist of pushing for the upper body. 

During pulls, you’ll work the rear deltoids, traps, back and biceps, which can be harder to overload using your body weight. The upper body portion of the workout finishes with an isolation exercise, honing the biceps with a bicep curl variation that uses isometric contraction — without moving your muscles. 

The transition from upper to lower body comes in the form of reverse tuck leg extensions, which target the posterior chain muscles — the lower back, glutes and hamstrings, plus your hip extensors. From here, you’ll move to leg exercises that strengthen your glutes, hips, quads and hamstrings, like Bulgarian split squats and single-sided exercises such as pistol squats.

If your pistol squat form isn’t quite there, I did 90 pistol squats every day for one week during a fitness challenge, and I detail ways to scale the move accordingly. You can use the chair for assistance, too. Strengthening both sides of the body one at a time (known as unilateral exercise) helps build balance, coordination and stability without your stronger side taking over.

To really bring home the message of building strength, muscle and power in your legs, Heria then hits you immediately with jump squats. Finally, the chair workout finishes with a core strengthening section featuring commando planks, in and outs and Russian twists to ‘shred the abdominals’ and hit the triceps, shoulders, arms and legs, finally torching your obliques during the twists.

We advise securing your chairs during exercise, ensuring they won’t tip over while you bear weight. Throughout, Chris cues the exercises in detail, giving you ways to scale up or down and a quick rundown on what muscles you’re activating and why. We’re obsessed with this full-body chair workout, and for just 15 minutes of your time, you’ll leave drenched in sweat.

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Sam Hopes
Senior Staff Writer - Fitness

Sam Hopes is a level III qualified 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.