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The Chair Challenge, Explained: A Viral Fitness Trend Men Can’t Win

Go ahead, try to pick up that chair.

In the battle of the sexes, women will always win at (at least) one task: the chair challenge. This viral craze first blew up in 2019, and for good reason. Women make the chair challenge look beyond easy, but even the strongest men can’t seem to complete it. What’s the explanation?

At its core, the chair challenge is simple: Take two steps from a wall and bend at the waist so your head touches it. Have someone put a chair under your upper body, pick it up to your chest, and try to stand. Most women are pros at this. Standing gives them no trouble whatsoever. It almost makes you wonder why this is a challenge at all.

But then you see a guy try it, and the challenge is immediately clear. Most men freeze up bent over and cursing, unable to stand.

It’s not an act, either. Men have tried the challenge over and over, but they can’t seem to best it.

There are plenty of explanations floating around for why women excel at the chair challenge while men fail. The Internet has attributed women’s success to everything from superior core strength to a smaller shoe size to a better awareness of the space their body takes up. Most of these theories are flat out wrong.

“We think it is a lot more to do with the center of mass and essentially how big the size of someone’s foot is,” Eric Shadrach, a physical therapist at MetroHealth Medical Center, told WKYC. “People with larger feet will put them farther away from the wall and extend their center of mass away from a position that their muscles can’t act as a lever and move them across the anchor of their center of mass.”

YouTubers “Math Dad” and “Science Mom” put this theory to the test. When Math Dad followed the classic instructions, taking two steps back from the wall to lift the chair, he failed like the rest of his brethren. But when he matched his wife’s footsteps, standing only as far back from the wall as she did, he stood up successfully. Huzzah!

“This exercise has everything to do with your center of mass,” Science Mom explains. “Being just a few inches further back from the wall makes all the difference in the world as to whether this is possible.”