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Pilates Chair Workout for Lean Muscle

28 fun exercises that will sculpt, strengthen, and define your entire body using the Pilates Wunda Chair.

The Pilates Chair is my favorite piece of gym equipment and provides me with my favorite workout of the week, helping me to develop lean muscle in my body.

The Pilates Chair is one of several resistance exercise machines invented by Joseph Pilates.

It’s a chair that is essentially a sturdy, cushioned box – with a resistance panel that can be pressed down. The video lower within this article shows you a complete Pilates Chair workout.

The panel has a pedal on its end upon which you can place your feet or hands – and metal springs inside the box make it easy to customize the level of resistance.

Since the Pilates Wunda chair was invented in the 1920s, there have been many variations of the chair – sometimes with optional handles and a high back.

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Why the Pilates Chair is Genius for Creating Lean Muscle in Your Body

This Pilates Chair workout has been extremely helpful to me. It has improved my physique – adding lean muscle that is well-shaped and defined.

It has also strengthened the all-important “powerhouse” – my body’s core of abdominal and lower back muscles.

Additionally, it has improved the mobility of my joints and spine (of paramount importance now that I’m age 56).

I’ve been using the chair for many years, and it never seems to gets old. In fact, the more I use it, the more skilled I become and the more fun I have during my workouts.

It keeps me coming back.

Dane Findley demonstrates Table Top exercise on the Pilates Chair.

The real brilliance of the Pilates Chair is that it places you into postures and maneuvers that require the engagement of smaller, stabilizing muscles (not just the usual major muscles groups). Everything is called upon. This makes a big difference in terms of your results.

 
 

Long-term, you’ll not only see a difference, but even after one workout, you’ll feel that something significant is happening. It’s as though all the muscles are vibrating – not just near the skin, but bone-deep.

Try these 28 exercises and see if you see and feel a difference, too.

List of Exercises – A Strategically Sequenced Workout on the Pilates Chair

Sometimes I do Pilates Chair exercises in the classical sequence, but other times I do a different sequence that reduces the number of times I need to change spring settings. This helps me to keep my heart rate up without having to take extended breaks in between movements.

  1. Footwork (turned out, balls of feet on pedal, relevé)
  2. Footwork (arches on pedal, parallel, together)
  3. Footwork (heels on pedal)
  4. Exaggerated Heel Raises (full range of motion)
  5. The Pull Up
  6. Hundreds
  7. Single Leg Pull
  8. Double Leg Pull
  9. Single Straight-Leg Stretch
  10. Double Straight-Leg Stretch
  11. Criss Cross
  12. Going Up Front
  13. Going Up Side
  14. Pike (tendon stretch variation)
  15. Table Top
  16. Frog In
  17. Frog Out
  18. Push Down
  19. Kneeling Push Down
  20. One-Arm Push Down with Twist (from side)
  21. Teaser on Chair
  22. The Barbie
  23. Sphinx
  24. Flying Eagle
  25. Frog Lying Flat
  26. Swan
  27. Spine Stretch Forward
  28. Chair Teaser (on the floor)

I have a few suggestions that might prove helpful as you try this Wunda chair workout.

Each time I do an exercise, I ask myself, “what can I do to make this even more effective?”

For example, at the beginning of the workout during the Footwork Series, the temptation is to sit heavily on the chair and turn off your glutes. However, you want to do the opposite. Pretend you’re sitting on hot coals. Activate the glutes and try to direct your energy upwards away from the chair.

Furthermore, where on the chair you sit makes a lot of difference in terms of how challenging the exercise is.

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Experiment with the Pilates Chair; try sitting closer to the edge during footwork, and then next try sitting farther back. Which is harder? Where is the right spot on the chair to sit, in order to make the exercise maximally effective for you?

  • Can the exercise be slower or faster?
  • Can the spine be longer?
  • Can the breathing be improved?
  • What about neck positioning?
  • Are the limbs long enough?
  • Is the movement being initiated from the core?
  • Are the top ribs compressed enough?
  • Is the navel being drawn in with enough intensity?

Sometimes, the more springs you add, the easier the exercise becomes. Other times, the more springs you add, the harder the exercise becomes. It depends on the particular exercise. The idea is to choose a spring setting that challenges you, while still being safe.

Do you want more lean muscle in your own body? I invite you to try these 28 exercises and let me know what you think.

BONUS: Leg-Pump Finisher

For extra credit, the Pilates leg-pump series on the Wunda Chair makes a great finisher. Try this series of exercises at the end of a complete Chair workout, for additional thigh conditioning! If you’re limited on time, you can remove Frog-In (#16), Frog-Out (#17), and Swan (#26) from the first part of the workout.

Leg pumps, as shown in the bonus video below, are effective for strengthening and firming the quads, hamstrings, inner thighs, outer thighs, and glutes.

I encourage you to seek out a Pilates trainer who specializes in the chair. If you happen to have your own chair at home, you might need only a few private sessions before you’re ready to move on to a group chair class or to try it on your own for a while.

All exercise involves risk, so your own common sense and personal responsibility are required.

Seek out your medical doctor before beginning any new strenuous exercise program or significant lifestyle change.

Dane Findley age 54 helps others achieve stellar wellness and a healthier physique.
Dane earned a master’s degree in Counseling Depth Psychology from Pacific Graduate Institute. His past professional adventures include being a Therapist and Discharge Planner at a Dual-Diagnosis Hospital Inpatient Treatment Program, Digital Marketing Director for a real estate brokerage, and decades spent as a professional fitness and Pilates trainer. Today, Dane is a Healthy-Lifestyle Advocate and he curates the popular Quality of Life Newsletter – a free weekly update for creative types who want to increase their daily joy. Currently, he’s facilitating the new online course “Silver and Strong: How to Get Fantastically Fit After Age 50.,” which helps people learn to eat for lean strength. Click-through for details.

Important: during some of the balancing poses when you stand upon the chair, you’ll want to consider moving the Pilates Chair near a wall for support and/or ask a friend to spot you.

(Special thanks to Jeremy Blaine for his help with this article.)

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