Fitness

Grab a Chair! An Upper-Body Workout for Every Body

Strengthen your arms, back, chest, and shoulders with this exercise routine.

Just about everyone can benefit from weight-training, and research shows it not only improves strength, prevents osteoporosis, and eases anxiety and depression, but also that it increases insulin sensitivity, lowers blood pressure and body fat, and may help reduce the risk of certain diseases and illnesses.

The best news? These amazing benefits can be yours for only a couple of 15- 20-minute sessions per week, and as long as you work all the major muscle groups of the body, heavy lifting is not required.

We’ve come up with an effective and balanced upper-body workout that virtually anyone can do, whether chair bound or not. The workout can be made harder or easier by the size of the weights you use. You won’t need much to get started, just a sturdy chair, a pair of dumbbells, and water. Heck, you can even do the program sans the weights, just be sure to contract (flex) the muscles being worked during the concentric (contraction/shortening) phase of each exercise. Pair this workout with our lower-body chair workout, and you’ve got all you need to get—and stay—healthy!

Guidelines for a Great Upper-Body Chair Workout

  • Use a chair that does not have arms or wheels.
  • Sit on the edge of the chair with both feet on the floor. Chair height should allow your feet to be firmly planted. Keep ankles, knees, and hips aligned as you perform each exercise.
  • Sit up tall with your back straight and shoulders relaxed, not hunched up toward your ears.
  • Brace your abdominal muscles to help support your upper body.
  • Keep your neck in a neutral—and natural—position.
  • Breathe in as you lower the weight, and start your exhale about halfway through the lifting phase, exhaling completely at the top of the movement.
  • If you feel pain or discomfort in your back, take short posture breaks then return to your workout.
  • If you choose to forego using the external weight, make sure you focus on each of the movements—and squeeze the working muscles—to maximize their effect.

 

WW Upper-Body Chair Workout

 

Exercises Rounds Reps
Warm-up   5 minutes
Bent-Over Row 2 15-20
Side-to-Front Biceps Curl 2 15-20
Lean-Back Chest Press 2 15-20
Triceps Mini Dip 2 15-20
Lateral Raise   2 15-20
Wood Chop 2 15-20
Bent-Over Lateral Raise 2 15-20
Hammer Curl 2 15-20
Chest Flye  2 15-20
Overhead Triceps Extension  2 15-20
Y-Press 2 15-20
Figure 8 2 15-20


Do the exercises in the order they’re presented, and repeat the circuit twice. (You can also start with just one round and add more as you get stronger.)

Do a five-minute warm-up, or complete the first round without dumbbells as your warm up, and add weight to the second and third sets.

Complete 15-20 reps of each movement.

At the end of each round, take a two-minute break before starting the next one. Don’t forget to stretch the muscles of the upper body when you’re done. 


Chair Exercise Descriptions


Bent-Over Row

Body part worked: Back
Get Set: Scoot to the front edge of the chair and grip a dumbbell in each hand. With feet flat on the floor, hinge forward at the hips—keeping your upper back flat, not rounded—and allow your arms to drop to the outside of your lower legs. Keeping your neck in neutral and eyes focused ahead of your feet, brace your abdominals, and squeeze your shoulder blades together slightly. This is your start position.
Go: Pull the dumbbells upward, allowing your elbows to rise and point rearward, to just beyond the line of your back. Pause for a second, then return to the start position. Repeat for reps.

 

Side-to-Front Biceps Curl

Body part worked: Biceps
Get Set: Sit at the front edge of the chair with a dumbbell in each hand, arms extended down at your sides, palms up (facing forward). Keep your upper arms pressed tightly against your ribcage.
Go: Curl the weights up toward your shoulders. Without shifting your upper arms from your sides, slowly lower the dumbbells back to the start position. Now, angle your palms out to face each side, keeping upper arms glued to your body, and curl the weights toward your shoulders. Slowly lower. That’s one rep. Repeat for reps. 

Lean-Back Chest Press

Body part worked: Chest
Set up: Sit at the front edge of the chair, feet flat on the floor, dumbbells in hands. Lean back, allowing your upper back and shoulders to be supported by the chair back. Raise the dumbbells up to your shoulders, palms facing your feet, elbows elevated.
Go: Slowly press the weights upward and outward—at about a 45-degree angle—until arms are straight. Reverse the motion and return to start. Repeat for reps. 

Triceps Mini Dip

Body part worked: Triceps
Set-up: Sit at the edge of the chair, feet on the floor. Place the palms of your hands on the chair—arms straight—and close to your hips, and carefully slide your bottom off the edge of the chair.
Go: Keeping your upper arms close to your torso, bend them to slower your body downward a couple of inches, then press through your palms and straighten your arms to raise yourself back up. Repeat for reps.

Triceps Mini Dip

Lateral Raise

Body part worked: Shoulders
Set-up: Sit at the edge of the chair with a dumbbell in each hand, arms at your sides, elbows slightly bent. Keeping your shoulders stacked over your hips, avoid leaning forward or backward.
Go: Raise your arms outward and upward to shoulder height. At the top of the range of motion, wrists and elbows should be in line with your shoulders. Avoid allowing the wrists to bend up or down. Reverse the movement and repeat for reps. 

Wood Chop

Body part worked: Abs/Core
Set-up: Sitting at the edge of the chair with one dumbbell in each hand, rotate your torso to the left, raising the weight over your left shoulder. Be careful not to shift your lower body.
Go: Slowly rotate your torso to the right as you lower the dumbbell in an arc to the outside of your right hip. Repeat for reps, then switch sides.

Bent-Over Lateral Raise

Body part worked: Shoulders and upper back
Set-up: Scoot to the front edge of the chair and grip a dumbbell in each hand. With feet flat on the floor, hinge forward at the hips—keeping your upper back flat, not rounded—and allow your arms to drop to the outside of your lower legs, elbows slightly bent. Keeping your neck in neutral and eyes focused ahead of your feet, brace your abdominals and squeeze your shoulder blades together.
Go: Raise the dumbbells outward and away from your body—like wings preparing for flight—up to shoulder height. Slowly return the weights to the starting position, and repeat for reps.

Hammer Curl

Body part worked: Biceps
Set-up: Sit at the front edge of the chair with a dumbbell in each hand, palms facing your legs. Keep your upper arms pressed tightly against your ribcage.
Go: Curl the weights toward your shoulders, maintaining the neutral wrist position. Lower the weights, and repeat for reps.

Chest Flye

Body part worked: Chest
Set-up: Sit at the front edge of the chair, feet flat on the floor, dumbbells in hand with palms facing each other. Lean back, allowing your body to be supported by the chair back. Raise the dumbbells 45 degrees—palms facing each other — and with a slight bend in each elbow.
Go: Open your arms out to the sides, stopping when your wrists align with your shoulders.  Engage your chest muscles as you reverse the motion and return to the start. Repeat for reps.

Chest Flye

Overhead Triceps Extension

Body part worked: Triceps
Set-up: Sit at the edge of the chair, feet on the floor, gripping a dumbbell in each hand. Raise your arms straight up overhead, upper arms over your ears. 
Go: Keeping your upper arms immobile, bend your elbows and lower the weight behind your head. When you feel a stretch in the backs of your upper arms, reverse the motion and raise the dumbbell back up, stopping just short of locking out your elbows. Repeat for reps.

Y-Press

Body part worked: Shoulders
Set-up: Sit at the edge of the chair with a dumbbell in each hand, up near your shoulders, palms facing away from you, elbows down at your sides.
Go: Straighten your arms—moving them upward and outward—forming a “Y” with your body. Return to the start position and repeat for reps.

Figure 8

Body part worked: Shoulders
Set-up: Sit at the edge of the chair holding the end of a dumbbell in each hand. Extend your arms straight out from your chest — elbows slightly bent.
Go: Move the dumbbell in a sideways figure-eight pattern in front of you. Keep range of motion between hip and shoulder height, being mindful of rotating your torso as you move through the exercise. 

Figure 8