7 sitting exercises you can do at your desk

Best exercises to do sitting down: woman holding the end of a chair and lowering herself toward the floor
(Image credit: Shutterstock)

If you don't have the time to fit in a workout on your lunch break, we’ve got good news: as long as you’ve got a chair and a 10-minute break in your diary, you can still get a good workout. 

Here, we’ve rounded up some of the best sitting exercises you can do from your desk. You only need one chair to do them, and the benefits are worth it. Sitting exercises could strengthen your muscles, build stronger bones, relieve lower back pain, and even improve poor posture, especially in older adults. 

Prolonged sitting could weaken muscles and keep your hips sat in flexion, which can put more strain on other areas of the body and lead to injury. These exercises improve flexibility and could even help coordination and balance, according to research.  

Here are some more of the best exercises to do if you sit down all-day and we've also rounded up the best running shoes if you like to get outdoors to exercise. 

Of course, as well as doing the exercises above, trying to fit movement into your working day is important for your general health. Try things like walking around the room when on the phone, or investing in one of the best standing desks

Alternatively, aim to do the following seated exercises and repeat as many times as you like throughout the day.

The best sitting exercises you can do from your desk 

Make sure you pay attention to your posture when performing these exercises. Avoid hunching your shoulders and back by sitting up straight in your chair.  

1.  Seated leg extensions 

Seated leg extensions work the quads, thighs, and hip muscles in your legs and can be performed from your desk chair. To do a seated leg extension, shuffle to the edge of your chair and, keeping your arms straight by your sides, lift your left leg up straight in front of you, flexing your foot (think about tapping your toes on the underside of your desk). Hold it at the top for a couple of seconds before returning it back to the floor. Repeat on the right side. Make sure you perform these leg extensions without rounding your back. Try to do three sets of 10 leg extensions on each leg. 

2.  Overhead tricep extensions 

For this exercise, you’ll need to grab something heavy on your desk, like a book, or even your laptop (if you’re not in a meeting at the time). Don’t worry if you can’t find anything — you can do the exercise without — but it’s more of a workout with extra weight. 

Holding the object in your hands and keeping your back straight, raise your arms above your head. Engaging your core, keep your arms close to your ears as you lower the object behind your head, towards the nape of your neck. Keeping the upper arms close to your ears, extend your arms back up to the starting position - that’s one rep. Try to do three sets of 15 reps. 

3. Glute clenches 

Your glutes are the largest muscle group in your body and sitting on them all day can often lead to tightness in the hips and the lower back. Activating the glutes at regular intervals throughout the day can help ward off back pain, plus, these glute clenches are one of the more discreet exercises on this list, so your colleagues are unlikely to notice if you practice this one during a meeting! 

To do glute clenches, simply engage your hamstrings and squeeze your glutes together as hard as you can — imagine you are trying to lift upwards from your chair. Keep engaging the glutes for as long as possible (muscle shake is normal), aiming for around 45 seconds and then relax into the chair. Aim for ten reps. 

4. Calf raises 

One that is especially important for runners, strong calves can prevent ankle and knee injuries as they absorb the impact of the foot hitting the ground. They can also help you to run faster, so if you’re striving for a PB, listen up. 

To perform calf raises from your desk chair, shuffle to the edge of the chair so that your feet are flat on the ground (you might need to lower your chair, or prop your feet up on a book). Keeping your toes pressed into the ground, engage your calves and raise your heels off the ground, holding the squeeze at the top for a second, before slowly lowering your heels back to the ground. That is one rep: aim for three to four sets of 25. 

5. Sit down crunches 

Of course, for this to be a full-body workout, you’ll need to spend some time focusing on your abdominal muscles. To complete a sit-down crunch, edge forward in your chair, keeping your back straight and touching the backrest and your feet flat on the floor. With your arms behind your head, lift your upper body away from the backrest and lift your feet a few inches off the floor at the same time. Hold for ten seconds in the crunch, then return to the starting position. Aim for three sets of ten reps.

If this feels too easy, you can always try seated Russian twists instead, but be sure not to do so if you are sitting on a wheely chair. To do a seated Russian twist, turn to the side so the backrest isn’t in the way. Engaging your core, lean back as far as possible without losing your balance or arching your back. With your hands in front of your body, take them to the left, return to the middle, then to the right, twisting your torso as you do so. Repeat 10 times. 

6. Seated press-ups 

To perform a seated press up, sit at the front of your chair with your arms straight next to your body and your palms flat against the seat. As if you are trying to push yourself up off the chair, push down (you don’t actually have to lift yourself up off the chair), holding at the top for three seconds, then release. Try to do three sets of 10 reps. 

If this is too easy, try doing seated tricep dips instead. Grip the edge of the chair, with your bottom suspended off the edge of the chair and your feet pressed into the floor. Lower your body down towards the floor until your elbows are bent between 45 and 90 degrees, then push yourself back up slowly until your arms are almost straight. That’s one rep. Aim for three sets of 12 repetitions. 

Note that this is another exercise that should be avoided if your chair has wheels.

7. Arm circles 

This exercise looks simple on paper, but can really be effective in practice. Start with your back straight and your core engaged and raise your arms out to the side, with your palms facing the floor, so that you are in a T position. Slowly circle your arms, thinking about drawing a circle with your fingers. Do 20 circles going forward, then rotate your hands so your palms are facing the ceiling, and do 20 circles going backward. Repeat this three times. 

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. 

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