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Knee injury? 6 seated exercises that still work your arms and core

Work your deepest ab muscles and tone your arms — without getting out of your chair.
Animated photos of woman working out while sitting
TODAY Illustration / Stephanie Mansour

Looking for a workout routine you can do while sitting in a chair? Whether you have bad knees, are recovering from a lower-body injury or just want a routine you can do at your desk during that conference call, I’ve got you covered!

Each of these moves focuses on engaging the core and moving slowly and precisely. As a certified Pilates instructor, I encourage all of my private weight loss clients (regardless of their goals) to add Pilates exercises into their workouts. Working the deepest ab muscles not only helps tighten and tone the midsection, but also works to stabilize the low back and improve balance overall.

You can do this seated routine on the couch or in a chair. The arm exercises require one set of dumbbells. I’m using 3-pound weights, but you can go up to 5 or even 8 pounds. I recommend starting lower and then working your way up, or simply stay at the lower weight and increase the repetitions as you build strength.

Go through each exercise for one round and then repeat two more times for a 15-minute workout.

Toe taps for the abs

Sit on the edge of a chair, knees open as wide as your hips. Engage your abs to lift your feet off the floor; point your toes toward the ground. Slowly lean back and pull your naval in towards your spine. Hover your feet above the ground, and slowly tap one foot down to the ground and then bring it up back up to center. Lower the other foot down toward the ground and tap it with your toes and bring it back up to center. Repeat 10 times per side. Hold onto the chair for additional support and help with balance.

Knee pulls for the abs

Imagine you are doing bicycle abs on the ground, except you’ll be seated in a chair. Sitting on the edge of the chair, bring one knee in toward your chest and hold onto the thigh with your hands as you extend the opposite leg forward toward the ground. Then switch and extend the knee as you bring the opposite knee in toward your chest, hugging onto the thigh. The lower you reach the extended leg, the more challenging this exercise is. So if it’s too intense, simply extend the leg higher up, around hip height. Repeat 10 times per side.

Alternative grip bicep curls

Holding a dumbbell in each hand, turn the arms so that the palms are facing the sides rather than forwards. This will work the biceps a bit differently than a regular bicep curl. Then hug the elbows in toward your waist and curl the weights up toward your shoulders. Lower the weights down by your sides and repeat 10 times.

Side extension for the arms

Sitting on the edge of the chair with a straight spine, hold one dumbbell in each hand. Reach the arms down along your sides and plant your feet on the ground hip-width apart. Pull the abs in. Then, extend the arms out to the sides and up as high as the shoulders, keeping the arms straight. Relax the neck. Lower the arms down to the starting position. Repeat 10 times.

Overhead press for the arms

Holding a dumbbell in each hand, start with the arms in a goal-post position. The upper arms will be parallel to the floor, at shoulder height. Press the weights up and slightly in front of your head so that you can see the weights above you with your peripheral vision. Be careful not to reach the weights behind your head as that will strain your neck. Lower down to the starting position and repeat 10 times.

Bicycle abs with weight reach

This move combines the weighted arm exercises with a core move. Hold a dumbbell in each hand and bring the knees up towards your chest. Balance here by sitting on the edge of the chair and pulling your naval in towards your spine like you’re zipping into a tight pair of pants. Hold the weights together at your chest. Extend one leg and reach the weights with straight arms across the body towards the knee that’s still hugged in, opposite the extended leg. Bring your weights and both knees back to center. Then extend the opposite leg and reach the arms across the body to the outside of the bent knee. Repeat this 10 times.

Try these other workout routines: