In this blog post, I will be discussing the chair pose (or ‘Utkatasana’) from a muscular perspective. The reason that the chair pose was one of the first postures that popped into my mind was that I always felt extremely tired in this pose despite its apparent ‘ease’ – even its name makes it sound simple enough: chair pose. Nevertheless, I came to realise that while doing the chair pose, a lot of my muscles were working very hard to stay in the pose and maintain the correct alignment. Thus, I wanted to take this opportunity to ‘dissect’ the pose to further understand how I can improve in this simple yet effective posture that not only strengthens the body but also improves balance and stability.
Beginning from the top, our arms are extended next to our ears with palms facing each other. The anterior deltoid and triceps keep the arms straight, while the trapezius and rhomboids help depress the scapula and keep the shoulders away from the ears. The infraspinatus helps to slightly externally rotate the arms at the shoulder joint. Without craning our neck, we should keep our gaze through our thumbs or fingers.
To keep our spine lengthened, the back and abdominal muscles have to be engaged. More specifically, the quadratus lumborum and erector spinae lengthen the spine, while the rectus abdominis and transversus abdominis help to lift / stabilise the torso (without pushing out the ribs) and protect the lower back. Engaging all these muscles also maintains a slight posterior pelvic tilt which prevents us from arching the back or tilting the pelvis, which may result in injuries.
As we go further down the body, the rectus femoris helps bend the knees and engage the quadriceps without allowing the knees to go past the toes, while the iliopsoas helps to bring our body into a deeper squat. The gluteus maximus, pectineus, and sartorius also help with the flexion and stabilising of the hips and pelvic area. Around our calves area, the tibialis anterior and gastrocnemius contract to allow for the flexion in the ankle as the Achilles tendon and soleus muscles are lengthened.
Despite the simplicity and mundane nature of a chair, lots of hard work and materials were likely poured into the making of the chair. This reminds me of how much effort is being put into the chair pose by our body, despite its facade of being a relatively ‘simple’ pose. As described, it is therefore important to work on these muscles to strengthen the still yet killer chair pose.