If you have limited mobility, low-impact workouts are a great way to build muscle without putting additional stress on your joints. Using a chair to sit down is a safe and effective way to strength train multiple muscle groups while improving posture and range of motion and reducing the risk of injury.
In fact, progressing from seated to standing positions in exercises is a good bar to set for yourself as you improve your mobility and become stronger. Doing seated strength exercises not only ensures you're engaging the right muscle groups, but it serves as an important physical prop for practicing the correct transition of movement.
For example, when you're performing a squat, you need to engage your glutes to take a seat and stand back up. If you're doing a seated overhead press, you're learning how to recruit your core and upper-body muscles to push the weight overhead versus relying on your lower body.
Here's a 20-minute dumbbell workout you can do entirely sitting down. For an added challenge, try using a stability ball instead of a chair. It will help you practice good posture and ensure you're engaging your core.
Check out more of our 20-minute workouts here — we've got something for everyone.
Move 1: Seated Dumbbell Curl
- Sit upright on a chair with your feet flat on the ground at a comfortable distance apart. Hold one dumbbell in each hand by your sides, palms facing in.
- Slowly curl the dumbbells toward your shoulders while rotating the palms of your hands until they are facing you. Your elbows should move only slightly as you rotate the palms of the hands throughout the movement.
- Hold for a count of one before slowly lowering the dumbbells back down to the starting position.
- Complete 10 to 12 reps.
Move 2: Arnold Press
- Sit upright with your feet flat on the ground at a comfortable distance apart. Hold a dumbbell in each hand at chest level with your palms facing you.
- Press the dumbbells overhead while rotating your hands until your palms are facing forward.
- Finish at the top with your elbows slightly bent. Your arms should be in a bent arc angle. The slight bend in the elbows takes the pressure off the joints and ligaments.
- Hold for one second before coming back down to the starting position.
- Complete 10 to 12 reps.
This exercise was invented by Arnold Schwarzenegger, hence the name. If you don't have the joint mobility to rotate the palms forward while performing the exercise, do it without rotating your palms and press the dumbbells directly overhead with your palms facing you throughout the movement. Once your joint mobility increases, you should then be able to progress to this variation.
Move 3: Seated Bent-Over Row
- Sit on the chair with your feet flat on the ground. Hold a dumbbell in each hand with your palms facing each other.
- Hinge forward at the hips so your back is flat and parallel to the ground (or as close to parallel as possible). Extend your arms toward the ground — without touching it — and hold the dumbbells in front of your face.
- Row the dumbbells toward the sides of your rib cage, squeezing your shoulder blades together. Make sure you don’t arch your back and keep your neck aligned with your back.
- Hold at the top for a second before slowly returning the dumbbells back to the starting position.
- Complete 10 to 12 reps.
Move 4: Seated Dumbbell Triceps Extension
- Sit upright with your feet flat on the ground at a comfortable distance apart. Hold a dumbbell with your left hand with your palm facing the back of your head and then fully extend your arm so that the weight is overhead. You can help stabilize yourself by placing your right hand across the front of your stomach.
- Slowly bend at the elbow and lower the dumbbell behind your head until it is level with your ear (or as low as possible), making a 90-degree angle with your left arm.
- Pause for a second and then press the weight back overhead. Make sure you have a slight bend at the elbow at the top of the movement.
- Complete 10 to 12 reps before switching sides.
If you are struggling to lower the dumbbell behind your head due to mobility issues, you can do this exercise by lowering the dumbbell in front of your face. Do what feels comfortable and never continue a movement if you feel any discomfort.
Move 5: Seated Dumbbell Calf Raise
- Sit upright with your feet flat on the ground at a comfortable distance apart. Stand the dumbbells upright on your knees or rest them horizontally across your knees. Do whatever feels more comfortable for you.
- Slowly lift your heels off the ground, coming up on your toes as high as you can, squeezing your calves at the top of the movement.
- Hold for a second before lowering your heels back down to the ground to the starting position.
- Complete 12 to 15 reps.
To increase the stretch and flexibility of the calf muscles, you could place a small box, a yoga block or some books on the ground. Place the balls of your feet on the edge and then let your heels drop to the ground as far as you can go before lifting them up and coming up on your toes as high as you can. This is considered one rep before you drop the balls of your feet back to the ground again for the next rep.