With the growing popularity of Pilates, many people are finding new and interesting ways to do this workout. A relatively new way of performing this workout is by using a chair.
Pilates chair exercises are a newer version of classic Pilates where the exerciser works out while seated. Instead of using a reformer or a mat to work out, people use either a Pilates chair – a wooden box with a pedal and spring attached – or any sturdy seat that is available.
If you are looking for a new way of performing Pilates and challenging your body, this article is for you. Read on to find out more about the benefits of chair pilates, simple pilates chair exercises for seniors and beginners, and much more!
Is Chair Pilates Effective?
Yes, it is.
Pilates chair exercises are a great way to tone your muscles – particularly the entire core muscles, improve balance and coordination, and even offer rehabilitation for injuries. Just because the workout is done while seated does not make it any less effective than traditional reformer Pilates.
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Is 20 Minutes Of Pilates Enough?
It can be.
According to WebMD, a typical Pilates session generally lasts from 45 minutes to 1 hour. However, if you do not have an hour to spare to work out, 20 minutes can be enough to achieve the desired results.
The American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM) recommends adults should perform a minimum of 30 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic activity 5 days per week. This can also translate to 20 minutes of vigorous activity 3 days per week (18).
While Pilates is more of a strength and flexibility workout than cardio, a simple 20-minute class when you are short on time is definitely better than nothing. Just make sure you maintain proper technique during those 20 minutes.
Are Chair Exercises Any Good?
Yes, they are.
Seated or chair exercises are often marketed toward older adults, people with mobility issues, and people with illnesses such as:
- Cognitive and neurological disorders
- Spinal injuries
- Conditions that require the use of a wheelchair
Doing exercises while seated is easier for many such people than standing exercises. Research has also shown that sitting exercises can be equally as effective as standing exercises.
One such study was published by The University of Texas at Arlington. The study compared the effects of seated and standing exercises for improving the strength and endurance of older adults.
13 seniors participated in 12 group exercise classes, twice a week for a period of six weeks. At the end of the study, researchers concluded that there was no substantial evidence that either seated or standing exercise is more effective than the other for improving strength and endurance in seniors.
As most of the exercises performed in this study were upper-body workouts, the researchers also noted a 49 percent increase in upper-body strength and endurance in subjects (12).
A review published in the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health also showed chair-based exercises to be good and effective. The researchers examined 19 studies with a total of 1,388 participants.
Their review revealed that doing chair-based exercises for just 2 weeks could help improve upper-body strength and lower-body function in people aged 50 and above. The researchers concluded by suggesting that chair-based exercises should be promoted and implemented in the lives of seniors.
Such exercises can help maintain and even develop strength among those in this demographic (13). With such sentiments, it is quite easy to see how Pilates chair exercises for seniors can be a good and effective way to improve their lives.
What Are The Benefits Of Chair Pilates?
If you are considering attempting this workout but aren’t quite certain whether it’s for you, here are some benefits that may help change your mind:
Versatility and Creativity
One of the main reasons why most people give up on working out is a lack of versatility. While some people enjoy sticking to their tried and tested workout routines, many people prefer a challenge and something new that will keep them engaged and help push their bodies more.
Chair Pilates offers exactly this. If you are used to doing Pilates on a mat or with a reformer, a chair will allow you to attempt similar exercises in a different position. This may help you use muscles that you have never used before and can make some moves harder or easier.
Great for injury rehabilitation
Pilates has been used for injury rehabilitation for many years. In fact, the creator of the workout, Joseph Pilates, invented the workout as a way of rehabilitating his patients who had been hospitalized and disabled during World War 1 (8).
Through the years, studies have consistently shown that this exercise yields positive results in rehabilitation.
One review of studies between 2005 and 2016 revealed that Pilates works to rehabilitate conditions such as lower back pain, ankylosing spondylitis, multiple sclerosis, postmenopausal osteoporosis, non-structural scoliosis, hypertension, and chronic neck pain (6).
Chair Pilates is an excellent starting point for people who have mobility issues preventing them from doing traditional reformer Pilates. They can work on strength, balance, and mobility on the chair first before they move on to other machines.
Saves on space
Whether you are using a professional Pilates chair or a simple, basic but sturdy chair, you get to save on space. Both in a studio or a home gym, traditional reformer beds require a great deal of space, something many people may not have.
With chair exercises, you can enjoy a great workout without having to sacrifice or worry about space.
Great for beginners
While Pilates can be performed by anyone regardless of fitness level or age, a certain level of balance and core stability is required for the moves to be done correctly. When you start with Pilates chair exercises, you can work on these two factors first. This will make it easier for you to grasp the workouts when using a reformer or a mat.
They are easily customizable
Contrary to popular belief, chair exercises in general – not just Pilates – are not only for beginners. People of all fitness levels can do seated exercises and you must simply personalize a routine to make it work better for you and your current needs, strength, and endurance level.
May improve sports performance
If you are an athlete who is looking to boost your current performance, it may be time to consider this training method. As previously mentioned, Pilates is not just a strength exercise, it is also a flexibility one.
Sports performance is reliant on the flexibility of muscles and strength through range of motion a lot more than we believe. One study review that was published in 2020 found that when athletes incorporated this exercise into their routines, they increased their flexibility to an extent, which may have a positive effect on athletic performance if relevant to the movement mechanics (4).
In addition to flexibility, pilates can also increase the strength in muscles that are used in certain sports. One study from 2022 proved exactly this. In the study, adolescent baseball players were asked to do Pilates for 8 weeks in an attempt to find out how the exercise affected their knee and trunk flexion/extension.
After 8 weeks, researchers found that the exercises evenly improved lean mass on both the right and left sides of the body while also increasing knee and trunk strength. Improvements in these factors may help improve athletic performance (2).
In addition, this exercise may help improve posture and range of motion in joints, prevent and rectify incorrect body alignment, and maintain appropriate muscle length and balance – all factors that support better athletic performance (8).
Increased Core Strength
The popularity of Pilates can generally be attributed to the fact that it helps tone and increase core strength. Research has shown that this exercise improves core strength, which not only helps with balance and stability, but can also prevent back pain, stabilize the spine, and much more (8, 9, 7, 3)
Research has found Pilates may also help increase body awareness, reduce stress, boost immunity, improve cognitive function, boost = mood, reduce menstrual pain, and help with better sleep (16, 1, 5, 14, 10, 15).
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Simple Chair Pilates Exercises For Beginners
Here are some pilates exercises for beginners to try at home or in a studio with a teacher:
Chair Pilates Ab Exercises
Seated single-leg stretch
The single-leg stretch is a fantastic Pilates chair workout for beginners. It works the core and improves the flexibility of your hips and legs
- Sit close to the edge of the seat and hold on to the bottom part of the chair with both hands.
- Pull one knee toward your body and extend the other leg straight out. Lift the straight leg and allow it to hover an inch or two over the floor.
- Ensure that your core is braced by pulling your belly button toward your spine.
- Hold this position for 2 seconds then switch the positions of both legs.
- Perform 10 reps per leg.
If you are looking for some advanced Pilates chair exercise moves, this one is for you. The hundred is a fantastic exercise that challenges the core, in addition to your balance and flexibility.
- Sit at the edge of the seat and lean back until your back touches the chair.
- From here, lift both legs straight up toward the ceiling. Do not bend the knee, and keep the heels together and toes pointed up. Hold on to the seat for support if necessary. This helps create a ‘V’ shape with your body.
- If holding on to the seat, let go at this point.
- Extend both arms straight by your sides with palms facing down.
- Keep your core braced and start pumping your arms up and down. Keep the legs in position and the arms straight as you pump.
- Each up and down motion counts as 1 rep. Perform 10 reps for 1 set.
- As a beginner, 3 to 4 sets are sufficient, but more experienced people with better core strength can perhaps perform 10 sets – a total of 100 reps/pumps.
Pilates Chair Exercises For Legs
Seated Heel Raises
This is a great workout for anyone who has mobility issues or those who spend a great deal of time on their feet. It helps relax the ankles and heels while also increasing circulation
- Sit in the middle of your sit with correct posture and your core braced.
- Look down and pull your feet back under you. Make sure that all you can see when looking down is your feet just in front of the knees.
- Simply lift your heels off the ground, count 1, and release. This is one rep.
- Continue lifting to the balls of your feet for 10 to 12 counts/reps.
Single Leg Knee Lifts
Knee lifts are an excellent way of activating the quads, hamstrings, calves, glutes, and hip flexors. They are also great for muscular endurance, balance, and improving coordination in these muscles.
- Seated in the same position as above, simply lift your left leg a couple of inches off the ground and lower it. This is one rep.
- The beauty of this exercise is that it appears easy, but becomes more difficult the more reps you do.
- Remember to keep the core braced and pace your movements. Lift the leg and lower it at a simple, slow, and controlled pace.
- Keeping the lift slow and controlled ensures you actively work the muscles.
- Perform 10 to 12 reps per leg.
If this seems too easy, you can make it more difficult by placing a hand on the leg you are lifting and pressing down as it raises. This will add resistance and make the leg muscles work harder.
Read more: Chair Yoga Poses to Help You De-Stress.
Does Chair Pilates Provide Aerobic Exercises?
No, it does not.
As previously mentioned, Pilates is less of a cardio workout and more of a strength and flexibility workout (11). Traditional Pilates and Pilates chair exercises are more suitable for sculpting muscles, improving posture and balance, and increasing flexibility and range of motion.
However, Pilates still provides some cardiovascular benefits. This was proven by a study that compared the effects of Pilates vs. aerobic training on cardiorespiratory fitness, body composition, and muscular strength.
Researchers found that Pilates provided better results in the reduction of waist and hip circumference, abdominal core strength, core strength and flexibility, and flexibility test and functional (stair and chair) tests.
In addition, Pilates has been found to have significant effects on oxygen uptake and cardiorespiratory fitness (17).
What Pilates Exercises Can You Do On A Chair?
There are no limits to the type of Pilates exercises you can do while seated, from lower-body Pilates chair workouts to core exercises and even upper workouts. The list is endless. Exercising your entire body through chair Pilates is entirely possible.
What Is The Best Seated Exercise?
There is no single exercise that somehow works better than any other. To find the exercise that is best for you, we encourage you to try as many different exercises as possible.
The Bottom Line
Pilates chair exercises are an excellent way for both beginners and seniors to improve their strength, balance, flexibility, and range of mobility. In addition, chair Pilates can help boost your mental health, reduce stress, and even help you sleep better.
Chair pilates can be done at a studio using a professional Pilates chair or at home with a sturdy chair. Regardless of the option you choose, there is no doubt that you will reap incredible mental health and physical benefits.
This article is intended for general informational purposes only and does not address individual circumstances. It is not a substitute for professional advice or help and should not be relied on to make decisions of any kind. Any action you take upon the information presented in this article is strictly at your own risk and responsibility!
- Acute effects of Pilates on mood states among young adult males (2020, pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov)
- Effectiveness of Pilates Training on Body Composition and Isokinetic Muscular Strength in Adolescent Baseball Players (2022, pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov)
- EFFECTS OF PILATES ON CORE MUSCLE STRENGTH AND ENDURANCE IN POST 6 MONTHS DELIVERED WOMEN (2020, researchgate.net)
- How the Pilates Method Can Influence Sports Performance in Different Modalities (2020, researchgate.net)
- Improvements in cognition, quality of life, and physical performance with clinical Pilates in multiple sclerosis: a randomized controlled trial (2016, ncbi.nlm.nih.gov)
- Is Pilates an effective rehabilitation tool? A systematic review (2018, sciencedirect.com)
- Pilates: how does it work and who needs it? (2011, ncbi.nlm.nih.gov)
- Pilates (2011, ncbi.nlm.nih.gov)
- Pilates-based core exercise improves health-related quality of life in people living with chronic low back pain: A pilot study (2021, sciencedirect.com)
- Pilates Exercises on Mental Control of Dysmenorrhea Patients (2020, iosrjournals.org)
- Practising Pilates (n.d., bhf.org.uk)
- Seated Exercise Compared to Standing Exercise In Improving Strength and Endurance in Community-Dwelling Seniors (2018, rc.library.uta.edu)
- The Effect of Chair-Based Exercise on Physical Function in Older Adults: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis (2021, ncbi.nlm.nih.gov)
- The Effect of Pilates Training on Immune Markers in Elderly Men (2020, researchgate.net)
- The effects of Pilates and yoga participant’s on engagement in functional movement and individual health level (2019, ncbi.nlm.nih.gov)
- The effects of Pilates exercise on sleep quality in postpartum women (2014, pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov)
- The effects of Pilates vs. aerobic training on cardiorespiratory fitness, isokinetic muscular strength, body composition, and functional tasks outcomes for individuals who are overweight/obese: a clinical trial (2019, ncbi.nlm.nih.gov)
- Trending Topic | Physical Activity Guidelines (n.d., acsm.org)