Do you have difficulty sitting in a chair without plunking down or relying on an armrest to help lower you down? You may not give much thought to this motion, but sitting down and getting back up requires muscle (particularly core) strength, flexibility and coordination.
Being able to get in and out of a chair is an important skill to maintain. A November 2013 meta-analysis in PLOS One found that those who had trouble getting out of a chair sat more throughout the day, increasing the risk of early mortality. Chair mobility was also associated with an increased risk of falling, per an August 2014 study in the Journal of the American Medical Directors Association.
"There are so many reasons why people may have a hard time sitting down on a chair," says Bart McDonald, DPT, owner of Superior Physical Therapy. "They may have an injury, suffer from post-surgery issues, pain, age related changes, impaired breathing or just very poor balance. Their muscles may be weak from underuse or other issues."
To combat this weakness, try the following exercises to help strengthen your muscles and improve your flexibility and range of motion to make sitting down much easier.
Make sure you check in with your doctor and get permission before starting an exercise program.
And if you experience pain or sudden, unexplained weakness that's making sitting difficult, go see your doctor to figure out the underlying cause.
5 Exercises to Make Sitting Down Easier
“Always warm up by marching in place for about 3 minutes,” McDonald says. “If you have balance issues, hold on to the back of a sturdy chair.”
1. Calf Stretch
- Stand arm's length away from a wall and place both hands on it.
- Step your right leg behind you, keeping that leg straight.
- Slowly bend your left leg, feeling the stretch in the calf of your right leg.
- Keep your heel down on your right leg.
- Hold for 15 seconds before switching sides.
- Repeat each side 5 times.
When moving toward seated, your ankle must flex to allow you to get in the correct position. But a tight calf or stiff ankle will limit this motion. This calf stretch helps improve the flexibility of your calf muscle and improve the range of motion of your ankle.
2. Single-Leg Step Down
- Stand sideways on a small step, holding onto a wall or chair as needed for balance. Your right leg should be off the step, hovering mid-air.
- Bend your left leg, as you slowly lower your right foot, stopping just before your foot hits the ground. Don't put any weight on the right foot.
- Slowly straighten your left leg, returning to the starting position.
- Repeat 2 sets of 10 each side.
This exercise works your quads, hamstrings and glutes eccentrically, which means it's strengthening them to be better able to lower you down into a chair in a slow and controlled manner.
To maintain proper form, visualize keeping your knee in line with your second toe — don’t let your knee come in front of your toe. And make sure you keep your hips straight — don’t let one side dip. Most importantly, stop if you feel any knee pain. Keep this motion in your pain-free zone, using a shorter step as needed.
3. Glute Bridge
- Lie on your back with knees bent and pointing up, your feet flat on the ground.
- Pressing your feet into the ground, lift your butt up until your body is in a straight line from knees to hips to shoulders.
- Hold for 3 to 5 seconds, squeezing your glutes at the top.
- Slowly lower your butt back down to the ground. This should take 3 to 5 seconds.
- Repeat 2 sets of 15.
Your glutes work to help extend your hip when you are standing up, and they help control your hip as you sit down. This exercise works not only the glutes, but the hamstrings, too, which are also important for sitting down.
If this exercise is too easy, place a dumbbell or weighted plate across your hips as your bridge up for added resistance.
4. Sit to Stand
- Scoot forward in a sturdy chair so that you're sitting on the edge of the chair.
- Place another chair in front of you as needed for balance.
- Shift your body weight by leaning your chest forward over your toes.
- Squeeze your glutes, straighten your legs and come to standing.
- Bend your knees as your lean your chest forward to lower down into a sitting position. Make sure the movement is slow and controlled.
- Repeat 10 times, twice a day.
This move is a functional exercise that works all the muscles you need to sit easily — because you're actually working on the motion. A May 2020 meta-analysis in Disability and Rehabilitation found that those who did this move improved their mobility for getting in and of a chair.
If you can't control your speed sitting down, raise your seat up or place a few firm pillows so you don't have to sit down as far. Once your strength improves, lower the seat. Try to not use your hands at all when standing or sitting. You can start with using the armrest, and as your strength improves, don't use your hands at all.
5. Seated Twist
- Sit upright in a chair.
- Cross your arms over your chest, reaching for your shoulders.
- Without moving your lower body, twist your upper body to the left as far as is comfortable. Stay within your pain-free range of motion and tighten your core throughout the movement.
- Hold for 5 seconds.
- Repeat on the other side.
- Do 5 rotations to each side.
McDonald recommends this exercise, as it improves flexibility of your upper body and spine, as well as strengthening your core.
“The muscles you use to sit and also stand up are your leg and hip muscles, such as your quadriceps, hamstrings and glutes. You also need strong abdominals,” he says.
3 Reasons You May Have Trouble Sitting Down
1. Muscle Weakness
As we age, we lose muscle mass at a rate of three percent a year after the age of 60, according to Harvard Health Publishing. Maintaining a strength-training program is vital in preventing this age-related muscle loss. If you don't exercise, activities like getting in and out of a chair become increasingly difficult.
When you sit down, your muscles work eccentrically to help lower you down in a slow and controlled motion. When you stand up, they contract concentrically, which means they shorten as they contract. Strengthening these muscles both eccentrically and concentrically will help you sit down with ease.
2. Poor Flexibility
You also need flexibility and a healthy range of motion in your spine, hips, knees and ankles to comfortably sit down.
"If you don't have a wide range of motion, your muscles will feel tight, because they shorten over time, '' McDonald says. Stretching is the key to keeping your muscles flexible and strong, as well as improving your balance, he says.
3. Using the Wrong Chair
The wrong chair can make sitting down harder than it needs to be. "[It] may be too low for you, too soft or too deep," McDonald says.
Raise your chair up so you don't have as far down to go when sitting, but make sure your feet still remain flat on the floor. The seat should be firm, yet still comfortable. You can also use a lumbar roll if you feel like it's too deep.
- PLoS One: "Daily Sitting Time and All-Cause Mortality: A Meta-Analysis"
- Disability and Rehabilitation: "Sit-to-stand exercise programs improve sit-to-stand performance in people with physical impairments due to health conditions: a systematic review and meta-analysis"
- Journal of the American Medical Directors Association: "Predictors of serious consequences of falls in residential aged care: analysis of more than 70,000 falls from residents of Bavarian nursing homes"