Exercise Referral Clients - 5 Seated Cardio Exercises

[Exercise Referral Clients] 5 Seated Cardio Exercises

Inspiration for seated cardio exercises running dry?

So you have an exercise referral client that really wants/ needs to train, but anything other than sitting down is seriously challenging, at least for the first session.

If your client has any of these conditions, then moving can be painful and eliciting a heart rate can be challenging:

  • Low back pain
  • Joint replacements
  • Severe Osteoarthritis
  • Rheumatoid Arthritis
  • Amputations (From Diabetes)
  • Multiple Sclerosis – or other Auto Immune neurological disorders
  • Post- Stroke
  • Severe COPD
  • Poor balance/ Instability / Labyrinthitis
  • Limited Range Of Motion (Including Obesity)

The first time you work with them, you want to be considering a two key factors in particular…

  1. You want to keep exercises safe and simple
  2. You want to challenge their heart and lungs so they can progress towards recommendations and guidelines for improving health

When it comes to designing a chair based exercise programme, trainers are generally OK at adapting the mobility exercises, stretches and resistance exercises… but they hit a brick wall when it comes to raising the pulse.

So here are my favourite 5 Seated Cardio Exercises:


An obvious one, but a great way to build up mobility in hips, knees and ankles as well as elevate the heart rate a little. its a good warm up pulse raiser, and for parts of a main component.

Marching repeatedly can get a little boring, so spice it up with some funky arm combinations to test coordination, and some changes of speed. I’m a big fan of this to music, they can move to the beat, and in a class it will liven things up a bit.

Condition Specific = Most clients can do this without any trouble. Very obese or clients with low back pain, may find the action uncomfortable, but start small ad within limits, gradually building.

2. Fast Feet Intervals

This is my favourite. As with any interval, set your interval timings first, you might start with as little as 10 seconds work, 10 seconds rest. Or work for minutes at a time … this is dependent on each client?

Work Phase =  Fast feet << Staying seated with abs engaged throughout, and sitting upright with an active posture (no slouching). Accelerate the marching action to fast feet, so it is like running on the balls of the feet.

Rest Phase = Heel Taps << Choose any leg exercise that is a considerable reduction in intensity. I like using heel taps forward, as this acts as good knee mobility and a change of motion compared to marching.

Condition Specific = The big caution here is heart rate and monitoring intensity according to the limits of the client, and contraindications of the condition (as learnt on your exercise referral course). Avoid and be cautious for any one with back pain, radiating leg pain or pain from plantar fasciitis, as the impact and seated position may cause pain.

3. Air Speed Ball

I do like this one, but just don’t hit your self in the face (I’ve done that a few times)

Clients sit in a normal seated position, but it is important their core is totally engaged and posture is active, feet on the floor. Make fists with both hands and then rotate them around each other as fast as you wish, a few inches in font of the chest or face. Some clients may wish to take it over head. It should be a similar action to pounding a speed ball in boxing.

Spice it up by using intervals and asking them to change direction. you could get them to rotate slowly as they do it, so they also get mobility and oblique activation.

Condition Specific =  be mindful of hypertensive clients as this is likely to elevate Blood Pressure, especially avoid over the head with hypertensive clients. If your client is post-stroke or have limited control on one side of their body, then I encourage them to hold the hand of the weaker side and create circles in front of the body. the aim of this is to encourage the arm to move, rather than lie dormant whilst exercising the dominant hand. As a rule of thumb, I always promote them to use the weaker side as much as possible, even if the exercise needs to be adapted.

4. Side Taps

Most of the exercises so far are in the sagittal plane, so it is good to do some frontal plane movement, get the hips mobilised, and abductors working. The abductors are great for stability and fall prevention.

Sit comfortably; if in a group setting make sure there is at least a few inches in-between chairs to allow for room to move. Ask your client to step one foot out to the side as if they want to stand on their neighbors foot. The aim is to reach out from the hips (not just the knees) and gradually build Range of motion and speed. They may be able to put the full foot flat on the floor, but if not toes are absolutely fine. Alternate between the legs or do 10 reps each side before changing sides.

To spice it up, i used to do this to the “can-can” song << cheesy i know (but I like to have a giggle). Whereby they would swap between typical can-can kicks and marches, then back to side taps. A great leg workout.

Condition Specific = The condition to be cautious of here is hip replacements and osteoarthritis of the hips. Don’t do this with anyone less than 6 weeks post hip replacement. If they experience discomfort, ask them to go back to marching.

5. Shadow Boxing

I am not boxer, by any means! But some clients are unable to use their legs at all, or they need to rest their legs for a while, but you still want to elevate the heart rate.

Making fists with the hands, your client can punch forward with control, and gradually increase the speed…. until they get a sweat on. I was always how much my elderly ladies loved this. They would come in with their knitted shawls and shin height skirts, looking like they wouldn’t hurt a fly… but they had some pent up aggression in there… they loved pretending to hit things. Occasionally, we would do gentle pad work or shadow boxing taps on the stability ball (but be really careful of fragile wrists).

Condition Specific = Most clients can do this, as long as you monitor intensity. However, if you start doing contact punches, then you need to exercise caution with anyone that has osteo or rheumatoid arthritis that effects the hands. If your client has one side weakness – I would again ask them to guide the weaker hand into a punching action using the dominant hand, and build it up.

So there you go my favorite 5 Seated Cardio Exercises for Exercise Referral Clients!

I’m interested, which is your favorite from these … pop a comment below!

Dedicated to your learning


P.S. If you want to know more about working as a Level 4 Specialist Trainer >> FIND OUT MORE HERE <<



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