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Get Fit While You Sit: Easy Workouts from Your Chair

Get Fit While You Sit: Easy Workouts from Your Chair

by Charlene Torkelson

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Get Fit While You Sit is aimed at anyone who wants to get or stay
in shape. In keeping with the trend toward low-impact exercise, this total body workout can be done right from a chair, anywhere — at home, work, or while sitting in traffic. This is a perfect program for always-busy Baby Boomers, frequent travelers, the young at heart (who may not be so


Get Fit While You Sit is aimed at anyone who wants to get or stay
in shape. In keeping with the trend toward low-impact exercise, this total body workout can be done right from a chair, anywhere — at home, work, or while sitting in traffic. This is a perfect program for always-busy Baby Boomers, frequent travelers, the young at heart (who may not be so young in body), and the increasing number of people with special conditions, for whom traditional high-impact exercise may not be appropriate.

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Turner Publishing Company
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1 ED
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7.28(w) x 9.26(h) x 0.40(d)

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Easy Workouts from Your Chair
By Charlene Torkelson

Hunter House Inc., Publishers

Copyright © 1999 Charlene Torkelson
All right reserved.

ISBN: 978-0-89793-253-0

Chapter One

The One-Hour Chair Program

The one-hour chair program includes a warm-up, aerobic exercise in the form of walking, exercises with weights, and a cool-down. It takes approximately one hour to complete. If you find it too long because you are rushed or if it is too strenuous for you to begin with, turn to chapter 2, "Workouts for Special Conditions," or chapters 3 and 4, which give ten-minute exercise programs.

* The Warm-Up

The warm-up is important. It prevents injury and allows our muscles to get used to exercising. This prevents us from feeling stiff and sore later. I recommended earlier that you add repetitions to your exercise program after you feel comfortable. This isn't necessary with the warm-up. The warm-up repetitions are used only to stretch out our muscles before we do the other exercises. Remember the three C's of exercise: exercise carefully, exercise correctly, and exercise consistently. We'll talk more about each of these throughout the book. For now, exercise correctly by carefully following the positions in each picture.

Deep Breathing

I always include breathing exercises in thewarm-up and cool-down. Many people are shallow breathers. They take a short breath into the upper chest area. With the deep breathing exercises, we learn to breathe lower into the lungs so our abdomen muscles expand, too. This improves our circulation and helps our lungs and heart to function more comfortably. Breathing is an important exercise.

Sit on the edge of the chair so your arms don't hit the legs or edge of the chair. Feet should be positioned squarely on the floor and together. This keeps your posture straight. Start by exhaling and bending forward until your hands are below your knees. Now inhale, and raise your arms up over your head as you do. Then exhale, lowering your arms, until your hands are again at the position beneath your knees. I warm up with a few inhales/exhales (about 3 or 4). Then do this exercise holding your breath for a few seconds before exhaling. I recommend holding the inhale 3 times. Notice the starting and ending positions pictured to the left.

Overhead Stretch

Sit with your feet flat on the floor and separated, to provide balance. Support your left hand on your left knee. Reach up with your right arm and stretch it straight above your head. Turn your palm over as if you were going to wash the ceiling, and lean over toward your left side. Your right side will feel a nice stretch. Hold the position for about 5 counts, then switch over to the other side. Make sure that your body continues to face forward. If you bend forward at the waist you will not feel as much of a stretch. Please maintain normal breathing while you do this exercise.

Modified Toe Touch

With your feet slightly apart and flat on the floor, put your hands on your knees, wrists outside, and lean forward so your elbows stick out to the side. This is a toe touch without going all the way to the floor. Raise your head to look straight ahead and flatten your back. Make sure your back is not arched, since that position puts strain on your lower back. Now drop your head, roll your shoulders forward, and round your back like a cat. Lift your head and straighten your back again. Flatten, round, flatten, round. After 3 repetitions, roll up to an upright position one vertebra at a time, beginning at the small of the back and rolling up through each vertebra, all the way through the shoulders and the neck.

Shoulder Rolls and Lifts

Roll both shoulders back and around. Do this about 4 times, then change directions going forward. Now lift the right shoulder up, hold, and then let it drop. Lift the left shoulder up, hold, and then let it drop. Notice the exercise in the picture.

Hamstring Stretch

Extend your right leg, then stretch your right toes back. Now do the same with your left leg. Repeat with each leg. The knee does not need to be straight. The stretch is easier with the knee bent if you are sitting in your chair.


Because later we will do exercises with weights, do not do as many repetitions in these arm exercises. Just loosen up.

Extend both arms out to the side with your hands held up as though you were pushing away the walls. Make small circles forward to a count of 16, then change directions and take 16 counts backward.

Windshield Wipers

With both arms extended to the side, bend at the elbows, allowing your forearms, wrists, and hands to drop straight down. Then return them to a straight position, just like the windshield wipers on your car. Do this 16 times.

Release Move

Now do a release move. This is a relaxing movement to prevent your arms from feeling sore. Let your arms drop straight down and shake them out all the way from your shoulders before doing the next arm exercise.


Crisscross your arms and move them up and down in front of you. Go up and down 3 times. Keeping your arms crisscrossed, turn to your right from the waist and move your arms up and down on your right side 3 times. Then repeat this on your left side.

Release Move

Here is a second release move that relaxes your arms. With your left hand, grab your right elbow and pull your right arm across your body. Repeat this with your left, grabbing your left elbow with your right hand.

Shoulder Swings

Beginning with the right arm, do 4 giant shoulder swings forward. Move your arm as one unit, gently swinging it like a pendulum from the shoulder and going all the way around in a big circle. Then do 4 giant swings backward. Repeat this with the left arm. Remember not to do this too fast or roughly. You may find one side stronger and more flexible than the other. This is normal.

Side Twists

It is important to keep the waist flexible, since this helps our back as well. Plant your feet flat on the floor so they don't shift during this exercise. Now sit a bit forward in your chair to avoid hitting the back as you move. Extend your arms out to the side, then bend your elbows so your hands are facing inward and your fingers are pointing up toward the ceiling. Notice the position of the arms in the photograph. Twist to the right and left from the waist, 16 times each side.


One exercise does not hit all the spots, so this exercise combines three different stretches. Start by stretching your right arm straight up above your head. Now tilt your body to the left, stretching your right side. Your right arm will be directly above your head. Turn your body toward the left, and reach out your right hand as if you were going to push against the wall on your left. Now come back to your normal sitting position and release. Repeat this to the left side. The count should sound like this: stretch, over, turn, sit (release). Do this exercise 4 times on each side, keeping your breathing relaxed and normal.

Walk Down the Chair

Sitting straight in the chair, let the fingers of your right hand walk down the leg of the chair as far as they will go, for 8 counts. Then walk them up for eight counts. Then the left hand walks down the chair 8 counts and walks up 8 counts. Repeat this once more on each side. It is important that your body remain straight as you walk your fingers down the chair. Line up your torso, shoulders, and head so they all face forward. It is not necessary to walk all the way to the bottom of the chair. It is more important that the body remains straight and doesn't collapse forward.

Wall Pushes

With the wrist flexed and the palm up, extend your right arm across the front of your body, and pretend to push your hand against the wall on your left side. Your body will twist if your feet remain fixed on the floor. Push with your right hand 8 times. Now push with your left hand across your body toward the right wall. Do this 8 times. Repeat 8 counts on each side.

All-Position Stretch

A wonderful ankle stretch that encompasses all the foot stretches begins with your legs extended out in front of you. It is just fine if the knees bend during this exercise. Point your toes (both feet at the same time). Flex your toes back. Roll your toes out to the side (I think of this as "duck feet"). Push them down so the toes are pointing at the floor (they are still turned out to the side). Turn them back to position one (pointed toes.) Point, flex, roll, push, turn. Repeat this about 5 times, using a continuous movement. It is important to exercise the ankles, so think of this as an important part of your workout.

Ankle Circles

Cross your legs with your right calf over the left knee. This can be a difficult position for some, but try to do it as comfortably as you can. Not only will this exercise help your ankles, it will also make your legs more flexible.

Now circle your ankle first one way, then the other. Now for the tough part. With your ankle still placed on your thigh, lift your lower leg toward your body till your foot is 4-6 inches off the ground. This will push the crossed leg toward your body and create a nice stretch. It will also strengthen your upper leg. Now do the circles and lift/stretch with the other leg. This is an exercise that many struggle with at first but find easier and easier as time goes by.

Bent Leg Lifts

We are going to do a type of leg lift that is a bit unusual, so read carefully. With your legs apart and feet squarely on the ground, pretend that each leg has on it a full cast from upper thigh to ankle. Now lift your right leg up and down 10 times. Imagine the cast is holding your leg in one position, so your knee remains bent at exactly the same angle. Now do 10 lifts with the left leg. If you don't imagine the cast, you will lift using the knee rather than the thigh. As you progress with this exercise, you will notice the difference and feel the thigh muscle doing the work.

Isometric Thigh Closes (The Clam)

Place your feet together and let your knees separate, like a clam shell that is opening. Now place your hands on the inside of each knee and as you try to close your knees, use your hands to try to keep them apart. Count up to 5. If your knees and your hands are pushing at the same time with the same amount of pressure, your position should not change. Repeat to another count of 5. Later, lengthen the amount of time you do this press.

This exercise can be done anywhere and at any time. It works on the principle of isometrics, or of one force working against another. So not only will the inner thighs be strengthened but also the arms will benefit. Always remember to breathe while doing this isometric exercise.

The stomach is an area many people are concerned about. You probably wonder how you can exercise your stomach while sitting in a chair. Here are a few great exercises that will get your stomach in shape.

Stomach Isometrics

Sit in a relaxed position in the chair with your feet on the floor, making sure your waist or back does not collapse or arch. Count to 10. On each count, pull in and tighten your stomach muscles, then relax them again. When you reach 10, hold in an extra count before releasing. This exercise is great because the muscles in your stomach contract in the same way as they do during a sit-up. You should feel them move in as you tighten them, and release to an expanded position when you relax. As with any exercise, you should exhale while contracting your muscles, and inhale during the release.

This exercise can also be done anywhere. It is great because most people don't pull in their stomach muscles when doing any stomach exercises. It is also amazing to see the stomach muscles working while the rest of the body is relatively still and inactive.

Chair Sit-Ups

Most people don't like sit-ups because they don't like to get down on the floor. A hard floor can hurt the small of their back, or it may rub on their spine or tailbone. Now you can try your sit-ups in your chair. With your feet together and your hands secured behind your head, bend forward toward your knees, then straighten back up to a sitting position. Begin with 10 sit-ups, and add on 10 more at a time until you feel you have reached your sit-up potential.

Leg Lifts

Sit-ups are great stomach exercises, but they focus on only part of our stomach area. Hold on to the side of your chair and extend your legs straight out in front of you. Now slowly lower your legs to about an inch above the floor. Hold. Lift them back up, then lower them again to an inch above the floor. If you do this slowly and hold that stomach muscle as we did in the first stomach isolation, you should feel a nice stomach contraction.

Now for the toughie. Do this again, this time crisscrossing your feet. Hold in that stomach muscle!

* Aerobics

Because many people feel unsteady or rushed when they do aerobic exercise, most of the aerobic exercises that we will do, including the warm-ups and cool-downs, are done with the support of the chair or wall if need be. If you are comfortable moving without a support, feel free.

Aerobic exercise is often misunderstood. It means that we move our feet and arms at the same time so the lungs and heart work more effectively. The best way to do that is to begin with the legs and add the arms. First we stretch and warm up the legs, then we add some easy arm movements. The arms should move so they come up to heart level. Most people think that unless they work out to a point of breathlessness, they are not doing aerobic exercise. Not so. Aerobics should be done comfortably so that you can talk all through your workout. If you are so breathless that you can't speak, cool it! Tone down your workout. It won't be as effective as a moderate workout.

This aerobic workout is also low impact. That means that we do not jump and jar or put undue stress on the feet, ankles, knees, and legs. It is safe for those who have problem joints-like me.

Hamstring Stretch

Even if you use a walking or bicycle machine, you should stretch out your hamstrings before starting your aerobic workout. Stand directly behind your chair, holding onto the back with both hands. Extend your left leg behind you until your right knee is somewhat bent. Most of your weight should be on your bent right leg. Now straighten your left leg through the heel, pushing your heel down into the ground. Hold this stretch. Now change, stretching the right leg.

Now return to the left leg, same position. This time lift your back heel up off the ground and then lower it to the ground. Repeat this 5 times, then switch legs.

We are going to include a third exercise in this stretch. Returning to the first leg and position, remember your front leg is bent. Now bend one inch farther into your front leg (or two inches, if you can do it), then return to the original position. Repeat this 5 times. Then do the same exercise with the other leg. This will strengthen your thigh muscles.


This is an exercise done by dancers to warm up their legs. With your feet a little more than shoulder width apart, your toes turned out slightly, and your upper body straight, bend into your knees so your knees go out over your feet. Return to straight legs. Do this 5 times.

Now do your plié, so you begin in a bent-knee position. Bend your knees a little more, so you go down one more inch, then return to the original bent-knee position. Do this 5 times.

Do your plié once again. While your knees are bent, lift your heels up and let them down 5 times.

Points and Lifts - 1

Holding on to the back of your chair, point your right foot out to the side 5 times. Now after you point the foot to the side, lift the leg 5 times (5 points and 5 lifts). When you lift your leg, don't feel you have to lift it high. It is more important that your body is able to stay in a straight upright position. Now do the same thing on the left side.

Points and Lifts - 2

Starting with the right leg, we are now going to do 5 points back. Then 5 lifts back. When lifting the leg backward, don't try to lift very high-only as high as you can without leaning forward. Now switch to the left leg.

Adding Arm Movement - 1

We are going to make some easy movements with the feet and, more importantly, add some arm swings. If you feel at all unsteady, please just swing one arm at a time while holding on to the back of the chair with your other hand.

Feet: Step to the right side, tap the left foot next to the right. Step to the left side, tap the right foot next to the left. Repeat.

Arms: We want your arm to move above your heart. So you may swing the arm under and up, or over like you are waving to a friend across the yard.


Excerpted from GET FIT WHILE YOU SIT by Charlene Torkelson Copyright © 1999 by Charlene Torkelson. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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