4 Chair Pose Variations to Improve Strength and Balance
Article At A Glance
Chair Pose (Utkatasana) is a powerful yoga posture with countless variations. Its Sanskrit name, Utkatasana, can be translated to “Fierce Pose” because of its inherent fiery and strength-building properties. But I have also heard it called “Awkward Pose,” because it can be surprisingly challenging to master this seemingly simple shape.
This article provides an overview of four Chair Pose variations to build strength and improve balance. A yoga block, a resistance band or yoga strap, and a yoga mat are recommended for the short sequence outlined below. These variations will serve as strengthening exercises for this posture, your yoga practice, and daily life.
4 Chair Poses to Build Strength and Balance
Chair Pose with a Block
Begin by warming up with 3 to 5 rounds of Sun Salutations (Surya Namaskara) before moving on to this posture. This Chair Pose variation strengthens the adductors—the muscles of the inner thighs that draw your legs toward the midline.
- Come to stand in Mountain Pose (Tadasana) at the top of your mat with your feet hips-distance apart.
- Bring a yoga block between your inner thighs.
- Bend your knees to come into Chair Pose. Lift your arms alongside your ears or bring your hands together at the center of your heart if that helps you to balance. Look down to make sure both knees are in line with all ten toes.
- To engage the adductors, gently squeeze in on the block. Imagine the inner thighs spiraling in and back as if you could shoot the block behind you if you squeezed it tightly enough.
- Hold the engagement on this block for four breaths. On an exhalation, release the engagement and come to standing in Mountain Pose. Repeat this posture four times.
Try a Resistance Band
This variation of Chair Pose strengthens the abductors or the muscles of the outer thighs that draw your legs away from the midline.
- Release the block and replace it with a resistance band. Keep your feet at a hips-width distance apart and slip the resistance band around your outer thighs just above your knees. If you don’t have a resistance band, you can also use a yoga strap wrapped just wide enough to fit around both legs above the kneecaps.
- Bend your knees to come back into Chair Pose.
- On an exhalation, press out on the resistance band. As you press, look down to make sure your knees are still in line with your toes.
- Hold the engagement for four breaths. Exhale as you release and return to Mountain Pose. Repeat four times, then set the resistance band aside.
Wobbling Chair Pose
This Chair Pose variation challenges your balance while strengthening the fronts and backs of the calves. If you find it too difficult to balance in this variation, practice near a wall so that you can lightly hold on as you shift your weight forward and back.
- In Mountain Pose, heel-toe your feet in to bring your big toes to touch with just an inch of space between your heels.
- Bend your knees to return to Chair Pose. Hug your inner thighs in toward one another as if you still had the block between your legs.
- If you feel stable here, you can play with your balance by shifting your weight into the balls of your feet to lift your heels off the mat.
- Return your heels to the mat, then shift your weight into the heels and play with lifting the balls of your feet off the mat.
- Repeat these adding your breath to these two motions: inhale as you shift to your toes and exhale as you shift to your heels. Repeat for eight breaths before returning to Mountain Pose.
One-Legged Variation for Balance
This final Chair Pose variation is also meant to challenge your balance. If finding your balance in the previous variation felt too difficult, practice again with the support of a wall. (image above shows a variation of the one outlined below)
- From Mountain Pose, return to Chair Pose one last time with your legs either at hips-width apart or together, depending on what feels most comfortable in your body.
- If you feel stable, keep your knees bent as you shift your weight into your left foot and lift the right foot to hover off the mat. Check-in to make sure your hips are still level.
- Either stay with the right foot hovering off the mat or straighten the right leg, so the right foot points out straight in front of you.
- Rebend the right leg and set the foot back down on the mat. Repeat on the second side.
After these four variations of Chair Pose, be sure to stretch the quadriceps with a standing or side-lying quad stretch. Finish this sequence with a five-minute seated meditation or five minutes of Relaxation Pose (Savasana).