Pilates: 3 Quick Tips For a Full Body Workout

Pilates: 3 Quick Tips for a Full Body Workout

One of the very first things I noticed as a beginning Pilates student (way back in the day) was a newfound integrity in motion.

I am not a runner, but I'm spritely and often I'll break into a sprint just to get somewhere faster. If I could cartwheel there I just might…

One day – just a few months of Pilates under my belt – I broke into a run and felt my whole body hang together with a strength that was new. And different. And that had an ease of motion.

Fast Forward…

Last Sunday during a group workout at Vintage Pilates, Jay gave me a (seemingly) tiny correction.

Single Leg Circles on the Mat: Jay suggested that as my right leg circles I should strive to keep my left heel constantly pressing into the mat.

Simple enough, right?

Amazingly challenging for me to do. It at least tripled my effort in the exercise. Left side = lazy side for me.

Surprised, I had to ask:

“Why is that so hard?”

Jay's response spoke to the premise of our beloved Pilates Method.

“Now you've got everything working.”

Of course. Nothing working too hard and nothing getting a free ride. Balance in the body.

A full body workout.

A New Obsession

I'm happy to share 3 of my favorite ways to coax ourselves (and our clients!) into experiencing the Pilates Full Body Workout.

1. The Pilates 2×4

May I present to you the humble Pilates 2×4: one of the best ways to entice the body to find strength in standing positions.

Pilates: 3 Quick Tips for a Full Body Workout

It's amazing the amount of feedback this little Pilates treasure will give you. Use it regularly to connect the lower body into your center and it will infiltrate and work its magic when you are bereft of apparatus.

Bereft of apparatus = the Pilates Mat exercises

Trying to figure out how to use your butt when you are upside-down in the Control Balance?

Pilates: 3 Quick Tips for a Full Body WorkoutThe 2×4 has got your back. Literally.

Read more about this little gem in these posts:

2. The Magic Circle

Pilates: 3 Quick Tips for a Full Body Workout

One magical Magic Circle moment I dearly love can be found in an exercise we teach every day.

The Magic Circle not only makes the exercise better, integrating the whole body, but it also confronts the student with a glimmer of ‘there's clearly more to be had here with this whole Pilates thing…'

The exercise is the arm spring series done lying down on the Cadillac.

Pilates: 3 Quick Tips for a Full Body Workout

People love these exercises – they want to strengthen their upper body, tone the back of the arms, etc… And yes, that's all happening, but gosh darn it, I want MORE!!!!

Plus you're working hard, yet lying down and beautifully supported by the Cadillac. So comfy.

Let's insert a little magic here and the transformation to full body workout will be complete.

Pilates: 3 Quick Tips for a Full Body Workout

Let me be clear: this is not a new exercise.

I am not creating a way to incorporate the Magic Circle into the Arm Spring exercises.

It's not to kick your ass.

I am using the Magic Circle for a reason: as a teaching tool.

Using it for a few moments, gently squeezing the circle and pressing into the feet as though you were standing will enliven the entire lower body all the way up into the center and the upper stomach.

You'll get all the bigger muscles engaged to help out with the exercises.

Everything working.

The Full Body Workout!

That's what I'm after.

And you'll know who might benefit from this help. You'll get a sense that your student knows what to do, they just need a bit of resistance to get it all going.

Once they get the feeling, take away the circle and just have the legs in the same position but together. Now they will remember the connection with the circle and fully engage all of the body in these exercises.

This is not simply a series of arm exercises. This is full body integration, friends.

All brought to you courtesy of the Magic Circle.

It's done all your work for you 🙂

I like to call this phenomenon a scrubbing bubbles exercise.

Curious? More deets in these posts:

3. The Order of the Universe

You already know of my love for the Order of the Exercises. Find more intel on Joe Pilates' order of exercises and how it benefits your workout in these posts:

The order of the exercises thoroughly prepares you for what's to come in your workout on the Reformer and the Mat. Learning a skill in one exercise with the help and support of the apparatus may assist you in a subsequent exercise when the support goes away.

My favorite example of this (and there are MANY) is the help you get from the Swan – done on the Ladder Barrel or the Reformer – to get a full body workout in the Pulling Straps and T exercises.

Who doesn't want help with those? Grrr…they used to be decidedly some of my least favorite exercises.

Now with the help of the Swan (and my butt!) I find them to be a welcome challenge.

The Swan

In the Swan the lower body is connected to the Reformer. You can use your feet to get support and engagement from the entire lower body.

Pilates: 3 Quick Tips for a Full Body Workout

Let's take this ‘lower body Swan feeling' to the Pulling Straps and the T, where the lower body is not connected to the apparatus and the feet are free.

Pulling Straps and T

Pilates: 3 Quick Tips for a Full Body Workout

Now you can get the big muscles of the stomach and seat (SEAT!!!) to give you greater integrated strength.


Read more about cultivating the lower body:

The Pilates Exercises and the Lower Body: Strength for Life!

Try out these tips yourself in your next Pilates workout.

Be on the lookout for the part of the body that appears to just be sitting or lying down – the unflashy part of the exercises.

It is these parts “in repose” that ultimately must do the heavy lifting.


Leave a comment below and let's have a chat ????

Thanks Order of the Pilates Exercises: The Overhead

Thanks Order of the Pilates Exercises: The Overhead

Hey there, Pilates friends!

First a big thank you for all your support for my most viewed post On the Order of the Reformer Exercises. To date it's been viewed over 23,000 times!

Only a handful of Reformer posters remain. Get them before they go bye-bye…

And now…a case for the Overhead…

In the early days of my Pilates life I learned a couple options with regard to this exercise.

How do you feel today? Do you want to do Overhead at the top of the workout?

Or would it feel better to do Short Spine instead?

And then Overhead would fit in *somewhere* later…there was a specific spot for it, but I never could remember…

So I usually chose to do the Overhead at the top. I figured if I could, then I should.

I already made it through the Hundred, how awful could it be?

Why is the Overhead so soon in the workout?

I hear this question frequently regarding Joe Pilates' prescribed order of exercises, which places the Overhead as the third exercise in the sequence:

  • Footwork: Toes, Arches, Heels, Tendon Stretch
  • The Hundred
  • Overhead

While the above order is correct, we know Pilates is not black and white, nor right or wrong.

Yes. It is a challenge to do Overhead at the top of the workout. Remember you also have the Roll Over as a challenging 3rd exercise in the order of the Mat exercises.

But what if I'm not able to do it then?

How do I thoroughly prepare for it so I am ready when it comes at me?

Why is it placed where it is in Joe's order?

I am a big fan of Joe's order of the exercises, but remember with the Pilates Method you always have options.

Option 1: What happened to Frog and Circles?

Thanks Order of the Pilates Exercises: The Overhead

Maybe the Overhead is not for you at this moment in your Pilates journey.

No prob. We've got an exercise for that.

I hear Pilates teachers and long-time practitioners speak fondly of their old friends Frog and Circles. As one “graduates” from the basic or fundamental exercises, poor Frog and Circles are often are cast aside never to be revisited.

Where did they go?

Why are they on occasion left out or forgotten as we progress to the full Reformer repertoire?

Well as far as I'm concerned Frog and Circles are here to stay. There are a couple great places for them to live in even your super-duper advanced Reformer workout!

One place they work well is where you learned them first: after the Hundred.

Just because you're a big bad Pilates aficionado doing the Overhead doesn't mean you'll shun Frog and Circles.

For some individuals they work beautifully well as an additional warm up to prepare for the Overhead.

So there's one option for the order of your Reformer exercises:

  • Footwork: Toes, Arches, Heels, Tendon Stretch
  • The Hundred
  • Frog and Circles
  • Overhead

Now you've got 2 additional exercises to get ready for the Overhead.

Option 2: The Order of the Universe

Joe Pilates has given us a roadmap to success for the Overhead.

Let's work the preceding exercises Footwork, the Hundred and Frog and Circles (if you choose to include them) to our best advantage.

These exercises have a common theme: Footwork, Hundred, Frog and Circles and the Overhead all work to warm up the lower body.

Remember the lower body is not just hips and legs. Our lower body hooks into the center all the way up in the upper stomach/middle back.

We'll need to work the Footwork, Hundred and Frog and Circles with this in mind.

The center needs to be sufficiently warmed up for success in the Overhead.


If you find it challenging to feel your center in the Footwork try using less springs. Often less springs will take the work out of the legs and concentrate it more in your center.

Another option is to work your Footwork on the High Chair or Wunda Chair.

Thanks Order of the Pilates Exercises: The OverheadThanks Order of the Pilates Exercises: The Overhead

Changing the relationship to gravity will pinpoint and activate the entire lower body. Use the feedback you receive from the Chairs to better your Footwork on the Reformer.

The Hundred

Notice a familiar starting position for the Overhead

Thanks Order of the Pilates Exercises: The Overhead

You'll begin your Hundred in the same way.

Surely this is not a coincidence…

In the Hundred too we are warming up (for a long while) the lower body. Use the straps to connect into your center deeply as you pump your arms.

Notice where you choose to reach your legs.

Thanks Order of the Pilates Exercises: The Overhead

Are they still connected into your center?

Or are they parked in an arbitrary spot just hanging off the pelvis like the photo below?

Thanks Order of the Pilates Exercises: The Overhead

The objective of the Hundred is to find length in the back: truly warming up the body and readying the entire system for what's to come.

Use your leg position wisely. Your opposition of legs reaching out and stomach pulling in will aid you in lengthening the back and sufficiently warming up the body for the Overhead.

Frog and Circles

Frog and Circles offer another opportunity to stabilize the center and back. These exercises are not about your legs.

You are so much more than a pair of legs, yes?

Use your stomach well. Let the Frog and Circles challenge your center to be strong, solid and l-e-n-g-t-h-e-n-i-n-g.

Refining your Footwork and Hundred  – and perhaps including the Frog and Circles – will serve to transform your Overhead.

Option 3: The Truth about Short Spine Massage

The Reformer is well-named. It is reforming our movement.

Unlike the Mat, the Reformer gives us parameters which instruct the body. The parameters delineate the space and geometry within which we must accomplish the exercises.

Looking at the Overhead we find ourselves connected to the Reformer only through the handles.

Our lower body is free.

Thanks Order of the Pilates Exercises: The Overhead

This is significant.

Now let's look at the Short Spine Massage – a common substitution for the Overhead at the top of the workout.

Thanks Order of the Pilates Exercises: The Overhead

Here we're connected to the straps on our feet and the carriage. These connections create a finite amount of space within which to complete this exercise.

With both ends of the body connected to the apparatus we are afforded a much deeper, juicy opening of the back.

However, it's hard to go super deep in this exercise so early in the workout.

Later in the workout it's able to work its magic.

To receive the fullest, yummiest benefit from the Short Spine Massage place it after the Short Box when you are in the middle of your Reformer workout and very warmed up.

But the straps are so helpful…

Another argument I hear in favor of placing the Short Spine Massage at the top of the workout is that the straps offer you assistance to complete the exercise.

But what if you're not ready to be hauled up there by the straps at the top of the workout?

Now you've got the Reformer pulling you into a place you might not be able to get to on your own. The Short Spine is actually more demanding early in the workout if you are not sufficiently warmed up and yet the exercise doesn't care and takes you there anyway, ready or not.

The Overhead, conversely, demands you to use your own power to get yourself up there.

It's either going to happen or it's not.

See what you think…

Use these tips to perfect all the exercises at the top of your Reformer workout. Find gems in these basic and familiar exercises and your Overhead will shine!

Questions about how to work deeper in these exercises?

Leave a comment below and I'm happy to help. 

Or Schedule a Skype lesson and let's work one-on-one.

Thanks Order of the Pilates Exercises: Mat Transitions 10

Thanks Order of the Pilates Exercises: Transitions on the Mat 10

Welcome to Episode 10 – the final installment – of Transitions on the Mat!

In this episode we'll look at some options for the Push Up series.

Know where you are and know where you're going.

In Pilates, the Push Up series is as much about the getting to the position for Push Ups as it is about the Push Ups themselves. Use your control and walk your hands out to a perfect position in 4 steps only.

Depending on who you are, you can vary the amount and style of Push Ups that you do. If getting into the series is challenging you can focus more on that part and just hold the plank position for imaginary Push Ups (shall we say).

Push Up options you may enjoy:

  • 1 set of 3 Push Ups – and done!
  • 3 sets of Push Ups – 1 Push Up per set.
  • 3 sets of Push Ups – 1, then 2, then 3 Push Ups (adding 1 more each time)
  • 5 sets of Push Ups – 1, then 2, then 3, etc… until in the last set you do 5
  • Clapping Hands Push Ups – 1 each set or if you can do more, by all means…
  • Clapping Feet Push Ups – these are not for the faint of heart…
  • Clapping Hands and Feet Push Ups – for those that have great hops (not me) and get enough air to get it all done.

Enjoy this short vlog!

Late to the party? No prob.

Thanks Order of the Pilates Exercises: Transitions on the Mat 9

Thanks Order of the Pilates Exercises: Transitions on the Mat 9

Welcome to Episode 9 of Transitions on the Mat!

In this episode we'll pick up with Rocking – the 3rd and final time you'll transition to your stomach in the workout.

Post Rolling Extravaganza and into Rocking

Perfecting the transition to Rocking is another obsession project of mine.

Often we reach for our feet – especially if the Rocking position is a big stretch – by shifting side to side, grabbing one foot and then the other.

It can be a challenge to keep the initial set up as symmetrical as possible.

To that end, I begin on my stomach with my legs long on the mat and my arms long by my side, palms up. Now I can use all the length and reach in my body to my best advantage.

Once I have reached my toes long behind me I will start to bend my legs. Next I'll lift my chest and reach both arms back with the intent of placing both feet into my hands AT THE SAME TIME.

Give it a try.

You'll get some good intel on your body whether you're successful or not. It took me a while to be able to take both feet together. For a while I stayed symmetrical as long as possible and then wiggled a bit to get hold of my feet.

These things take time.

  • Finish your Crab.
  • In one swift maneuver turn onto your stomach, arms and legs long on the mat.
  • Reach and lift into your Rocking position and begin!

Post Rocking and into Control Balance

A word about arriving into position for Control Balance

My preference is to keep the arms down by the sides and lift the lower body overhead as you do in the Jackknife.

Once you are balanced in this position reach your arms out to the sides and then overhead. At the same time you'll bring one leg down to hold your ankle.

Focus on the lifting leg in this exercise. Try not to park your lower foot on the floor.

Balance, yes?

Worst case scenario, you'll roll down onto the mat.

Boy, this exercise really earns its name!

  • Finish your Rocking.
  • Sit back into our beloved counter stretch. Really milk it after this one:)
  • Efficiently turn onto your back for the Control Balance.
  • Lift yourself into the Control Balance and go!
  • Finish and roll down onto the mat and up to a standing position.

Options for Standing Up

I enjoy playing with different options for getting up and down to the mat.

1. Traditionally you'll stand with one foot crossed over the other. You can cross over either way, and of course we like to encourage you to choose whichever is most challenging. Your heels can be lifted which will test your balance further. You can also keep the heels down increasing the lift you'll need in your back to descend to the mat.

2. You can stand with both feet together for a deep aboriginal squat to the mat (my favorite).

3. If you've got a stronger/weaker side and you're up for a challenge you can descend in a 1 leg pistol squat and rise up on your other leg (also my favorite). It becomes a good test of your memory to remember which leg you used way back at the beginning of your workout.

4. Also, if your knees bother you – you may leave it out. It's still a great workout if you begin lying down.

Take care of yourselves. Don't be a hero… 🙂

Enjoy this short vlog!

Missed an episode? No prob.

Thanks Order of the Pilates Exercises: Transitions on the Mat 8

Thanks Order of the Pilates Exercises: Transitions on the Mat 8

Welcome to Episode 8 of Transitions on the Mat!

In this episode we'll pick up with our 3 rolling exercises: Boomerang, Seal and Crab.

Yay! What fun 🙂

Post Side Bend and into the Boomerang

  • Finish your Side Bend.
  • Bring your feet to the front of the mat and get into position.
  • Use your scoop just like your start of the Open Leg Rocker to begin your Boomerang.


  • Finish your Boomerang.
  • Assume the position of the Seal and go!

A word about our Seal to Crab transition

The positions of Seal and Crab are relatively similar. You'll simply change the hold on your legs and keep rolling along.

To begin your Crab you have 2 options:

  1. Change while upright (in the front), or
  2. Change to while upside down (in the back)

To change from Seal to Crab in the back, begin an additional Seal. Change when you are upside down. It's my preference to perfect my lift while upside-down and rearrange the leg position to Crab in the air.

It's a challenge to get the Crab action of the leg switch yet still not lose your lift.

You've had time to perfect your lift while upside down in the two preceding exercises. By the time you get to the Crab you'll be a pro.

To change from Seal to Crab in the front, keep your balance post Seal and change your position to the Crab. Begin your Crab by rolling up and forward over your feet first.


  • Finish your Seal either in the front or in the back.
  • Change your shape to the position for Crab and go!

Part of the beauty and challenge of this rolling series is that our rolling shape continues to get ever smaller.

Pay attention as your shape changes from Boomerang to Seal and finally to Crab. Investigate fully how to make your body roll as smoothly as possible.

Cultivate as much length and opening in the back as you can…

Rocking is coming…

Enjoy this short vlog!

Missed an episode? No prob.

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