April was the month of the wunda chair (aka exo chair, aka electric chair), one of my favorite pieces of equipment to work on. It is small but mighty compared to the bulkier reformers and Cadillacs. I've always really loved working out on the chair but taking a closer look at the Classical origins of the exercises truly gave me a deeper insight into how our bodies should be moving in response to the push and pull of the springs.
One of the reasons the chair presents a challenge is because the surface area is so much smaller than a mat, reformer, or Cadillac. With less space to support your body, you are forced to support yourself, and as the levers get longer, the muscles get shakier! Since the chair is smaller, it leaves little room for error and makes cheating your way through exercises next to impossible. The shape of your spine will betray you in an instant if muscular emphasis is shifted to the wrong muscle group or weight is distributed incorrectly. You are essentially forced to hone in on your technique, body awareness, and control to execute exercises properly.
As you can imagine, all of this hard work and attention to precision results in a deeply challenging workout. You will work up a sweat, your muscles will be fatigued, but most importantly you will feel a true sense of accomplishment because on the chair, more than any other apparatus, you must be in control of the springs the entire time. Balance is an integral part of controlling the springs on the chair and often even the slightest hiccup can result in loud, slamming springs, or worse, a tumble. Practicing control and conquering difficult chair exercises is empowering and motivating!
While I have been emphasizing how challenging chair work can be, it is definitely still an accessible apparatus for beginner Pilates students as well. Springs can always be lightened or made heavier accordingly to give new students the "feeling" of the exercise. Sometimes, students may not move the pedal at all when first learning. For instance, in the Pull Up (sometimes called Pike), working on the c-curl, proper body placement, and weight distribution is key, but the student may not be able to raise the pedal right away. As an instructor you get to focus on form and build strength with a client for an exercise. When they make progress it is gratifying for teacher and student; a sign the client is getting stronger and moving their spine more!
I believe that learning the Classical iterations of the chair exercises really strengthened my ability to provide results to my clients when I work with them on the chair. As I mentioned above, it is difficult to cheat your way through exercises on the chair. When you are looking at the exercises from a Classical perspective, it is even harder to cheat because you are looking to create very specific shapes and movement qualities. While this may sound nit-picky, I think it allows me to empower my clients to move with more intention and to be more aware of how they do Pilates.