VIDEO BLOG: What has Pilates done for me lately?

What's been buzzing in my mind about our beloved Pilates Method?

So. Many. Things.

However, disparate items on my “checklist” are beginning to hone into a solid laser-focus.

Let's unpack that…

Zen and the Art of the 2-way Stretch

My Pilates workout enables me to be in my body in the present moment.

Mind chatter subsides. I am deep inside my body and looking around to see what's new.

Or what's new today that may not be as I left it.

Blissfully there is no time for considering/fretting about the past or the future.

How exhilarating!

Keep it simple, keep it moving

  • The order of the exercises: For most of the hour, you have a structure in place which paves the way to a deeper connection in the execution of the exercise. Unencumbered by the burden of selecting random exercises, you are free to allow today's experience of the exercise to take center stage. Maybe another related exercise will pop into your head for a hot minute. Duly noted for later. Oh yes, you WILL do it later. But for now, just keep moving!
  • One focus for the hour: Pick only one, lest you get distracted or bogged down in a slow-mo micromanagement of your workout. Use a correction you're working on from a previous lesson or even a new moment in an old exercise that makes all your exercises a little better.

The Spine Corrector Challenge

I truly believe we should all take the Spine Corrector challenge.


Run. Do not walk. To your Spine Corrector (or Small Barrel…you know who you are…)

There are so many gifts from Joe Pilates in this one brilliant apparatus.

Video Blog: What has Pilates done for me lately?

Small Barrel, Spine Corrector and Ladder Barrel: there's one that will be your perfect match.

Or why not enjoy all three?

A word about the exercises done on the Spine Corrector:

I take the name of this apparatus very seriously. There are many exercises that can be done here, but the original and most important ones emphasize the true purpose of this apparatus: Spine Corrector.

Used correctly (ha ha see how I did that?) your exercises here will open up the hips, thighs, low back, upper back and shoulders.

Doesn't that sound fabulous??

I started doing these exercises on the Small Barrel (being petite and on-the-stiff-side) and now work on the Spine Corrector as well. What a dynamic Posture Duo the Short Box Series and the Spine Corrector are for our bodies.

Three cheers for keeping it up and forward!

Stay tuned for more on the Short Box in next week's post.

The exercises

Part 1: The Everyday Basics

Arm series

  • Circles
  • One arm up/One arm down
  • Hug
  • Breathing

Leg Series

  • Circles
  • Scissors
  • Bicycle
  • Thigh Stretch/Shoulder Bridge

Part 2: Let's ratchet up to full-on invigoration!

All of the above exercises plus:

  • Helicopter
  • Leg Circles onto the Head
  • High Bridge
  • A couple pop-up Teaser moments

Finish both series with some rolling and a short rest.

Join me for a Spine Corrector basic series everyday for 2 weeks.

Or bump it up to the invigorating level and kick your own ass. Whadaya say?

See what changes you see/feel in your body.

Share your successes in a comment below.

Our Beloved Universal Reformer: The Poster Edition

Our Beloved Universal Reformer: The Poster Edition

A warm welcome to new subscribers, thank you so much for reading and sharing your love for the Method and your positive Pilates vibes.

ANOTHER BIG THANK YOU goes out to you, dear readers for making On the Order of the Pilates Reformer Exercises, my most-viewed and most popular post ever.

Your overwhelming interest in the image featured in this post has created a poster!

To purchase a poster of your very own click here.

Thank you so much for your support. I appreciate you. I look forward to continuing our adventures on the Pilates path.

Stay awesome, my friends!

All Reformer. All the Time.

More tips and tidbits you won't want to miss:

The Universal Reformer: The Spring Remains the Same: Karen Frischmann and I have a chat about just what makes the Reformer so damn special anyway? Get ready, Nerds, there's lots of talk about springs!!

The Use of the Straps in the Short Box Series: Master the assist of the straps. Work your connection to the lower body fiercely to keep those straps quiet. A nice little help from Joe Pilates: if you hear any noise from the straps, you could probably work a little harder.

The Entire Mat is in the Short Box: Use the 5 exercises on the Short Box to wrangle all of your Mat exercises. What could be more perfect?

Video Blog: A Brief Pilates Tutorial on the Roll Up: Even more about the Short Box! Get some help from the Mat and Cadillac in this post on the Roll Up. Become a master of the Round shape across the Method.

My Favorite Challenges

Pilates Projects: 3 Unbridled Demands of the Horseback: A Reformer exercise I love almost as much as the Snake/Twist!

Pilates Projects: 10 Smart Tools to Master the Snake: ‘Nuff said. Lots of skills buried deep in this challenging exercise. With at least a couple of helper exercises in here for everyone, you can increase your proficiency one component at a time. Patience, Grasshopper.

Side Bending in Pilates: When will I learn?: Rock your Short Box and it's a great day!

Pilates Side-Bending: The Mermaid Obsession?: Side-Bending is crucial to perfect your lift, your reach, your Short Box and evidently I spend considerable time thinking about this…

Video Blog: The Teaser “My Legs are too Long!”: Join me and my client Greg (who at 6'8″ has such long legs on him you'll never complain again!) in this brief tutorial on his favorite exercise, the Teaser. Master the 2-way stretch with him and rock your Long Box too.


Now let's workout. You know you I we want to.

On the Order of the Pilates Reformer Exercises

On the Order of the Pilates Reformer Exercises

This is more daunting – suddenly – than my previous post On the Order of the Pilates Mat Exercises.

My workout would have huge void without Joe Pilates’ original order of the Reformer exercises. JP’s original order is not an easy one to track down, mind you.

The Order of the Universe

The value of the order is such that once I begin my workout, that’s it.

There's no stopping in the middle…

or skipping things I don't like…

or doing 1/2 of my exercises…


I feel compelled to finish what I’ve started. I must.

I wonder if Joe Pilates would be surprised by this fact.

Or if it was part of his plan all along… and for the record, an hour is PLENTY of time even if you will do nearly every exercise.

It is possible.

You’ll just not be dilly-dallying…


Again, my primary interest is in ferreting out Joe Pilates’ original order: his original intent and purpose behind the major piece of apparatus with which he endeavored to reform mankind.

I firmly believe that Joe had a reason, a super objective, for his specific arrangement of his exercises and I continue to seek his guiding hand. It’s a great bit of Pilates detective work for your body and mind.

There have been changes over the years, some slight and some significant.

Of the Mat exercises, we have at least early documentation in Return to Life.

On the Reformer, despite Joe’s affinity for photo documentation, the order of exercises is more slippery. As a major piece of Pilates apparatus, the Reformer order has had more hands on it over the years, often to the point of becoming unrecognizable.

No order?

Isn't that chaos??!

Please note this examination is solely about the order and the exercises themselves…not about who should be doing them or if one is ready to do them, etc…

That’s a subject for another post.

My experience of the Pilates exercises in my own body will of course differ from every other person. But Joe Pilates has a way of distilling us into the humanity that we are: the same body systems and parts that probably need a similar kind of maintenance.

Am I the only newbie surfer with a tight hip out there?


Click here for a list of all the exercises in this post!


This series is your segue from life outside the studio into your body, into your workout, into the here and now and your focus for the hour. The springs are sufficient to require you to anchor your body into the carriage and warm up the lower body.

The foot massage is an invigorating bonus.

The Hundred

Now that the lower body knows what to do and is getting hooked into your center thanks to the Footwork, the warm up continues with the upper body, some vigorous movement and deep breathing.

Together the Footwork and the Hundred make a good team.

Frog and Circles

I learned these 2 exercises as Leg Circles and Frog but Jay Grimes keeps them in Joe’s original order. The Frog is a simpler exercise to begin with and a throwback to the Footwork you have already completed. Your legs are also connected to each other which creates support.

The Leg Circles ask you to work the legs independently creating a further challenge. Both exercises work the connection of the lower body into the center.

So get ready…for what comes next.

For some individuals the Frog and Circles can remain here as a further warm up before the Overhead. For others they can be omitted and you can proceed right to the Overhead.


It’s not a surprise that this exercise ultimately begins in the same position as you will begin the Hundred. Legs long over the footbar (which is down) and arms straight up with the straps taut.

You have been properly warmed up with lower body exercises: Footwork, Frog and Circles, and you’ve connected your upper body into the center with the Hundred.

You’ve collected all the ingredients for success in the Overhead.

You’re good to go.


This exercise reminds me so much of the Double Leg Pull on the Mat.

I know, they all do right?

I enjoy the challenge of lengthening out, connecting into the inner thighs and the scoop of the stomach and then folding up into a tiny ball. Another opening and closing up exercise with deep breathing to work out the kinks.

I find it furthers the warm up before the first major exercise series: (don’t be scared) Rowing.

Here. We. Go.

The Rowing Series

A client of mine remarked recently that the Rowing series is challenging to do properly and that simply must be why it comes so early in the workout – when you are fresh and strong.

Hmmm. I like that.

The Rowing Series works to connect the upper body into the center, connecting the arms into the back.

Rowing 1+2 (Into the Sternum, 90°) work the front of the body and give a good lift and stretch to the back before the hard work it must do for Rowing 3-6 (From the Chest, From the Hips, Shave, Hug) which focus on the lift and strength of the Back.

Long Box 1


Whether done on the Long Box or on the Ladder Barrel, the Swan is a big flowing movement to get “the juices flowing” followed by exercises to work on the same long reach of the upper body connecting you to your back.

This theme of big movement followed by refining exercises will show up again and again: upper body free, lower body anchored.

Pulling Straps and T

Long Box 1 continues to refine the upper body connection. You're now on your stomach and working towards the same connection of the arms into the back.

Make no mistake, this is a full body exercise: upper body attached to straps, lower body free.


The arm movement reiterates the Rowing movements challenging the upper body connection in a new orientation. We have also added in the reach of the lower body, because we’ve already covered that in the Footwork, Frog and Circles and Overhead, right?

The addition of a second spring works to strengthen and prepare you for the Teaser, coming up next.

Don’t worry if your lower body connection is not perfect yet, you’ll get your chance to work more on this in just a bit…


The same connection continued from the Rowing, albeit with added challenge. Yes, get the lower body connection involved as well if you can.

This exercise is the ultimate in control and 2-way stretch.


What can I say? Is the work from the Rowing series paying off yet? Cause here we go again.

Big flowing movement? Check.

An echo of the Swan, the BreastStroke provides the upper body with resistance and gives support for the lower body.

Now for some refinement.

Hamstring Stretch

This exercise works on the strength of the muscles you have just encountered in the Breaststroke, and further opens up the front of the body.

You get your first direct connection into the straps with the lower body since Swan and the Frog and Circles – a little foreshadowing for what’s in store for you in the upcoming series.


Really just a Teaser flipped forward onto another angle, see how you do with that upper body connection, cause it’s killing me by now.

Oh and a little more foreshadowing of the Long Stretch series, using the lower body to gain strength by holding onto that box.

The Long Stretch Series

In the Long Stretch Series we begin our work on the connection of the lower body, the legs, hips and buttocks into the center. The upper body is now just for balance. Bonne chance!

Long Stretch

Straightforward. Just move the carriage in and out with your lower body. Keep everything together like a solid piece of steel.

I repeat: the arms are only for balance.

Down Stretch

First and foremost a breathing exercise, it can feel nearly impossible to close the carriage when your oppositional forces are in full swing.

Each end of the body fighting for dominance: the lower body wins as the carriage moves out, and it resists like hell while the lift of the waist drags you back in again to close the springs (if you're lucky).

Up Stretch

Try to get as much of a full body massage out of this one as you can. The undulating motion of this exercise can challenge the stability of the upper body.

Again arms just for balance, reach from the upper stomach all the way to the toes to move the carriage.


One of the 1st exercises we learn and a lifetime of opportunities to move it toward perfection, the Elephant is a lengthening of the entire back of the body, straightforwardly pulling the lower body into the center.

Long Back Stretch

The series of exercises on the Reformer often end with a “recap” exercise and this is one of them. The same reach out of the lower body now flipped the other way round.

Again NOT an arm exercise.

Stomach Massage Series

Now we regroup after the Long Stretch series with a familiar action in a new way. The lower body in the same movement pattern as the footwork, but no more lying down for you – you’ve done the Rowing right?

Let’s work on your lift in the Round and Arms Back. Can you keep it tall and taller in the Reach? Now let's move toward an entirely new element: rotation (Twist)!

Tendon Stretch

Holee fooooooook, the Elephant is back again with a vengeance!

Quick! Use what you’ve learned in the last 3 exercises: Elephant, Long Back Stretch and the Stomach Massage Series and tackle the Tendon Stretch.

Then show off your badass connection with the one-leg variations.

On the Order of the Pilates Reformer Exercises

Short Box Series

I sweat more during the Short Box series than I do in any other section of the workout.

This is the real workhorse section of the Reformer.

First you get a nice massage (Round) and then you’ll do some serious work on your standing in the air (Reach) your side-bending (Oh joy, Side to Side) and your rotation again (Twist and Reach)! Around the World variations challenge the reach in both directions from your strong center and ultimately the Tree gives you the first taste of your High Bridge, completely stretching your back and your front.

Short Spine Massage

Of all the exercises that have the word ‘massage’ in the title, the Short Spine Massage definitely delivers.

Positioned here after the grueling work of the Short Box, Joe Pilates finally gives us something nice. It is later in the workout, you are warm and you can really take full advantage of this deep stretch of the body.

High Frog

After the thorough stretch of the Short Spine Massage, the High Frog further pinpoints the strength of the lower body reach in preparation for what’s to come.

Semi Circle

Another of the ‘recap’ exercises, the Semi Circle builds on the articulation found in the Short Spine Massage and further prepares you for the subsequent exercises (Headstands, Chest Expansion, Thigh Stretch, etc…).

I like to think of it as a unique Long Back Stretch – LOL.

Headstands 1+ 2

You’ve cultivated the strength of the back, buttocks and hamstrings in the previous 2 exercises.

The Headstands will now put that strength to the test as you work towards performing them ultimately without holding on with the arms.

Look Ma, no hands!

Now you’ll find out if your butt is working.

Chest Expansion

I like to think of this exercise as the upright version of the Pulling Straps and T. With less support than you had lying on the Long Box, you’ll cultivate the same connection to the back muscles.

Since we've been here before you get the added challenge of a kneeling position on a moving platform.

Notice we are getting more and more upright and above the carriage as we get further into the workout.

This is not an accident.

Thigh Stretch

Work here on the strength and flexibility of the lower body for back bending cause guess what’s up next. In the Thigh Stretch you’ve got some assistance to bring you back up again.

Try not to get too used to it…


Backbends are really the ultimate in a thigh stretch, yes? Here you’ll use all you've cultivated in the previous exercises: the open front of the hips and the strength of the back to accomplish this challenging exercise.

You gotta ask yourself: Footbar up or down? Not for the faint of heart, this one.

Arm Circles/Swakate

The Arm Circles and Swakate further challenge the strength of the lower body. All of what you have been working on for the last 5 or 6 exercises, ostensibly the entire workout even.


Remember your Leg Circles not being about your leg?

The same applies here: make yourself solid as a piece of steel and use the circling of the arms as a further challenge for your rock-solid self. Find your length in the back again as a Joe Pilates Backbend-recovery system.


What can I say? Hope and pray you’ve got it all together because this one’s a doozy.

So many skills and variables are represented.

It's our first return to an exercise where only the hands and feet are connected to the apparatus since our old friend the Elephant and his Long Stretch series compadres.

I feel this is significant.

Now we have, among other things, another lower body exercise, but your feet are not on the moving carriage, they are on the stationary footbar.


Plus the extra-added benefit of challenging one side at a time, upper back extension and the Elephant all over again.

Et tu, Elephant?

Ooh and the one-arm version (foreshadowing!) will build strength for more challenging side exercises to come.

Can you tell I spend a lot of time thinking about this one?

Headstand with Straps

This is lovely spin on Chest Expansion, yes? Oh, this one's great – lots going on!

Building on Headstands 1+2, Chest Expansion and the preceding exercises, now in the Headstand with Straps you've got a more restricted position requiring (1) more flexibility and (2) more strength to control the resistance of the straps.

It can give a great stretch of the whole back and be a preview of the High Bridge. I have seen this exercise in a few slightly different locations in the order, always later on, when the body is very warmed up.

The next several exercises: Corkscrew/Tic Toc, Balance Control Off and Long Box 2: Grasshopper, Rocking, Swimming share a common theme.

For this group of exercises you find yourself on your own and without the resistance/assistance of the Reformer.


On the Order of the Reformer Exercises

Karen Frischmann has described this section as an interlude. Exciting, no?

As interludes go, it's perfection: round exercises, rotation and backbending.

See how you do!

This is a test. I repeat, this is only a test.

CorkScrew/Tic Toc

The twisting and working of the sides pairs the Corkscrew nicely with the preceding debacle exercise. I personally think of this one as “Snake Recovery Protocol” and the Tic Toc further completes the Twist-o-rama.

And of course, a bit of foreshadowing…

Balance Control Off

OMG I f@**ing love this one!!

There are the exercises we suffer through of course, and thankfully there are those that are just super fun and I wouldn’t mind doing a few extra times.

I know, a big statement.

But what’s it doing for you? Why now? This is a global stretch of the entire back of the body – if you can get it. And once you’ve got it all long and strong, why not stretch ALL the way over and roll up to standing only to tumble back on again?

If you can, you've simply gotta.

With complete control, of course. You've come a long way since lying down for the Footwork.

“I dare you,” says the Reformer.

Long Box 2

Way back in the Naughty Aughties I remember Lesa McLaughlin‘s description of this series:

“Just 3 little exercises.”

These ‘3 little exercises’ are quite challenging here as well as on the Spine Corrector they are also wonderful. In any event, Grasshopper, Rocking and Swimming are a good incentive to proceed to the next challenging exercise – and hey, at least it’s not another backbend…

Long Spine Stretch

Here the word ‘massage’ may lure you in, but I’ll venture you need at least 3-4 decades of Pilates in your body to actualize any sort of massage.

Placed here, Long Spine Stretch follows the group of exercises (the aforementioned interlude) where you are on your own – using only your own strength in several different positions.

Now with the Long Spine Stretch – ironically a strength exercise in my opinion – you've got support, but there's not a ton of it and part of it's moveable. True, it's better than nothing…

If you were pleased with the previous exercises' absence of support, you've always got the version without the straps… but again, that's kind of another post.

My understanding is that you are looking for a lengthened position in the round shape on the way up – not so easy in those long straps – and then a long straight position solid as a rock on the way down to the carriage.

Oh and each repetition a bit longer and more lengthened, please. Yes, I’ll get right on that…

Do your best, you may just be on to something…or at the very least you’ve developed a new way to cheat.



Included in the Reformer repertoire for those that need it, the Mermaid is a lovely thing. In theory it is a gentle exercise between two high-energy/high-exertion exercises: Long Spine Massage and Knee Stretch Series.

However, maybe there's a bit more going on…

JP does throw in a treat every now and then, but often it's a treat with a purpose.

The Mermaid returns us to the strength of the Side body for the first time since Snake/Twist (one-arm version). Here you've got lots of support and you're seated. Work on that lift!

Watch out for more strength of the Side body coming up.

High Bridge

The High bridge here helps you mine as much enjoyment out of the subsequent Knee Stretch Series as a backbend recovery system.

It’s also nice at the very end of the workout, followed by some rolling on the Mat.

The main point being: you are warmed up!

Remember way back at the Footwork? Under an hour and you're all ready to do an awesome backbend!

How cool.

Kneeling Knee Stretches

These 3 exercises are like the series of 5 abdominal exercises on the Mat: you learn them fairly early on and they never disappoint.

I like to refer to them as “the beginning of the end.” They are your last dash of strength, stamina and endurance.

And probably the reason that clients are so fond of Running (and lying down again).


Now you’ve been up, down, around and everywhere, so the Running is a lovely place to collect yourself, your center and return to the place where you began this wonderful journey.

Remember way back in the Footwork? What does your body feel like now on the Mat?

It is a great place to check in to feel the fruits of your labors. And to catch your breath.

‘Cause you’ve been busy!

Pelvic Lift

This exercise is a nice hearkening back to the lengthening work you did earlier in the Short Spine and Semi Circle exercises. Simply to lengthen the back of the body one last time before the big finish exercises.

You’ll find yourself in a long lengthened back position in the next series, but it’s got to be solid and strong.

Here you get one last chance to be nice to it…it doesn’t yet know what you’ve got in store!

Control Push Ups – Front, Back and Side (Star)

Another spin on the Long Stretch Series, this series promotes lift and length in the back and adds the element of one side at a time. See – all that Side strengthening a few exercises ago gets revved up into the Star! (:44)

Reminiscent of the Leg Pull Front and Leg Pull exercises on the Mat, the body must stay long and strong as you lift one leg up and move the carriage about: facing down, facing up or as a Single-Side Sensation.

Side Splits

The Side Splits are about pulling both of your standing legs up and under you.

Literally pulling yourself together.

I mean, you’ve got to walk out of the studio at some point after your workout, yes?

Test yourself now: How far can you open the carriage and still keep your integrity and ultimately close the carriage again? This one is full of bells, whistles, cadenzas and riffs on controlling the apparatus both open and closed.

No part of this exercise is a walk in the park.

Front Splits

This exercise works on the opening of the hips necessary for better lunges and front splits. What you’ll cultivate here, you’ll use in the subsequent 2 exercises.

If you are like me and you don’t have the bendiest splits, feel free to refer to these split exercises as “Hip Stretches” LOL.

And again a tall strong back position to finish this one… we are getting more upright!

Russian Splits

I must confess I like this exercise more and more even though it is getting harder and harder.

The more you know 🙂

Yes, they all get harder, it’s true.

The Russian Split is actually a great help for the Snake exercise or any of the exercises where you must use the lower body to move the carriage while the feet are on the footbar, the non-moving part of the apparatus. And yes, I realize this one is quite an exercise to be a “helper” exercise for any others…

So again, enjoy the hip stretch!

Big Splits

I have heard this one called “Grande Finale” and “Grande Ecarte.” You have worked on your strength and flexibility in the split exercises that precede this one, now both are paramount.

The strength and flexibility of your split must control the carriage in and out.


Russian Squats

Just when you have wrung yourself out, performed a full reformation, who doesn’t want to stand up on the Reformer?

The Russian Squats were originally classified as “Men’s Exercises.” They require strength, stamina and a will of steel to even make yourself step up onto the carriage to begin.

Please find a friend to assist you the first time you attempt the Russian Squats.


I love the Reformer. 

Just wanted to get that in there…

A few changes in the Order of the Universe

The order I have specified in this post is the one I currently use for my clients and my own workout. I learned a slightly different order initially from my training through Excel Pilates and Romana’s Pilates.

Several lovely colleagues shared their experiences to help me present as much factual information as possible regarding inconsistencies in the order.

Do bear in mind of course that in Pilates often there is no black and white, clear-cut answer.

Every teacher from Joe Pilates to Romana to you and I responds to the skills and needs of the body in front of them. I’d wager that led to an eventual alteration of the order nearly every time.

But it's all interesting, n’est-ce pas?

Some notables:

  • Where in the world is the Short Box?

With her older clients circa early 1990s, Romana would direct them to keep the box with them after Long Box 1 proceeding directly to the Short Box Series. Romana herself was probably moving the box for them in those days and those particular clients were most-likely not doing Long Box 2 anyway.

However apprentices at the time continued to take the box away and bring it back for its encore performance as the Short Box. This group presumably would be progressing to Long Box 2.

Indeed, older orders from both Joe and Romana place the Short Box series considerably later in the order.

  • Uhm, Long Box 2 anyone?

Any good discussion of where to place the Short Box must include Long Box 2. Back in the day if one was to do the entire Reformer repertoire, the Short Box would disappear after Long Box 1 and return after Long Box 2, immediately preceding the Long Spine Massage.

Another order from nearly the same era flip-flops them, Short Box, then Long Box 2, then Long Spine Massage.

Jay Grimes does not care how many times you must get that box, follow the order in this post and you'll schlep it thrice.

Record highs on the nerdometer I know.

However, all scenarios make the same kind of sense: at the level where one does all of the Reformer exercises both the Short Box and Long Box 2 are essentially a bunch of backbends.

All of which leaves you super-psyched to do the Long Spine Massage. Necessary!!!

  • The sweetness of Short Spine Massage

Teacher Training Programs organize the Pilates exercises into manageable installments of Beginner, Intermediate and Advanced exercises. This is a necessary codification to teach apprentices how to be safe and effective teachers.

In my initial trainings I learned to teach students at the intermediate level (which is a large number of our clients) to do the Short Spine Massage after the Hundred.

Early on.

Ok, eventually one will do the Overhead in its stead. Same dif, yeah?

Well, let’s look at the names of the exercises:

Overhead vs. Short Spine (also called Spine Massage)

To be honest, I prefer to have my massage later in the hour when I am warm, sweaty and much more pliable. One can get so much more out of the exercise then, as opposed to Short Spine as the 3rd exercise in the routine.

And for those that do not do the Overhead yet, Frog and Circles are not exactly for sissies.

a rose by any other name would smell as sweet

You may know the exercise by a different name. Or maybe there's an exercise that is new to you and you LOVE meeting new friends.

Use the image below as a guide (and for further proof I didn't resort to a stunt double).

If you would like to purchase a poster of the Reformer Exercises mentioned in this post (similar to the image below), I thank you very much. Visit the shop.

On the Order of the Pilates Reformer Exercises


Got deets to share?

A quibble or a question?

Drop me a comment and let's investigate further.

Read this post again and you'll need to workout!

The Universal Reformer: The Spring Remains the Same

The Universal Reformer: The Spring Remains the Same

I was fortunate to be in the inaugural class of The Work, a wonderful, thorough and humbling program of study under the direction of Jay Grimes offered by Vintage Pilates in Los Angeles.

Jay, Karen Frischmann and Sandy Shimoda helped me to understand and utilize all that the Reformer and the other springed apparatus have to offer as you make your way along your Pilates path.

The support, muscular action and connection you'll discover with the apparatus will be your best friend enabling you to take your workout to the Mat, bereft of springs, straps, handles, sans everything but you and your Mat.


The Premise of the Pilates Method

What can take years to correct on the Mat alone, you can address more directly and successfully through the use of the entire Pilates system.

OMG this just in from Benjamin Degenhardt:

In an interview from 1946 Joe Pilates discloses the purpose of the apparatus. He explains: “Of course you can exercise without machines. But it’s not as efficient – would take longer. With them, three or four hours work a week is enough.”

In the same interview, he further implies that one of the many purposes of his apparatus was to provide tactile feedback, much like a teacher’s hand:

“I invented all these machines. I thought, why use my strength? So I made a machine to do it for me. Look, you see it resists your movement in just the right way so those long inner muscles really have to work against it. That is why you can concentrate on movement.” (Read the full article here.)

Use it or Lose it

Recently I sat down with Karen Frischmann. Karen teaches an amazing workshop with the above title. Sadly I cannot claim that one…

The purpose of the apparatus is to offer support and resistance so that you can get deeper into the body.

You can find the connections more readily if you are reaching into something that offers you support or resistance: the spring and the straps and the handles.

The classical Reformer has a very solid wooden handle to offer you secure and supportive connection to the apparatus.

The Universal Reformer: The Spring Remains the Same

The footbar is a solid and unforgiving piece of metal. Sometimes it is covered with a pad. But I believe a firmer connection is gained when you ride bareback.

The Universal Reformer: The Spring Remains the Same

Everything about the Reformer, despite its moving platform, is stable, solid, giving you assistance and resistance.

You are being reformed!

The Reformer allows you to get deeper into the body with that kind of support so that when you do go to the Mat and we take that support away, you can still access the depth that you are getting on the apparatus.


The Reformer is there to offer you both assistance and resistance and if you are not fully using it, then why bother, just do the Mat.

We also discussed the value of Reformer work and how its effects can be found all around the studio, notably on the Mat.

The apparatus offers you opportunity for correct placement of the hands and the feet.

There's a lot of information that you can receive from how you hold the handles, how the feet are placed on the bar, how the foot gets placed on the carriage.

Whereas on the Mat there could be variances in the way the arms work, the Reformer helps to correct imbalances just by the nature in which you use the apparatus.

The Reformer can give you great information about your position in the exercise. Generally if a strap or handle is in your way (Frog and Circles) or you have slammed into the little wooden block at the back end of the Reformer, the Reformer is sending you a message:

Hey. Don't do that.

Karen Frischmann maintains that “you can learn from the Reformer, but it's not a replacement for a teacher. You need the eyes of the teacher and you need the understanding of how to correctly use the apparatus in order to allow it to teach you. It will inform the body, it will not teach you.”

The brilliance of the Reformer

The Universal Reformer: The Spring Remains the Same

What goes into the design and construction of this amazing apparatus?

Gratz Industries continues to make all the Pilates apparatus according to Joe Pilates' specific designs.

Comparable equipment is currently being manufactured by Pilates Designs by Basil, Tirado apparatus and Pilates Scandinavia.

I spoke recently with Fredrik and Elisabet Prag of Pilates Scandinavia. Fredrik and Elisabet, both Pilates teachers and beautiful practitioners, have operated their Stockholm studio for the past 40 years.

Pilates Scandinavia initially endeavored to create their own classical apparatus to offset the extreme cost of importing equipment from the US.

Fredrik Prag: 

We are Scandinavians and artists. I did 4 years in art school and became a graphic designer and artist. For some years I made my living as a painting artist. So this is of course a big influence in the process.

Elisabet is all about movement as a former dancer and has 3 decades of experience in Pilates and movement. All these experiences manifest in our line of equipment and of course we are also deeply inspired by the simplicity of the complex and powerful work of Joseph Pilates.

As a Pilates purist, it's hard for me to wrap my brain around the process of constructing a Reformer: to find the right mix of craftsmanship and humility to replicate this brilliant apparatus. 


The Reformer was the first apparatus we started on. We also did Mats, Wall units and the Wunda Chair. It was very, very difficult to put the reformer together! It felt like building a cello or something, it took years.

If you change 2 mm in one place it could completely change something else in a totally different place and/or exercise. Joe truly created a masterpiece in the Reformer. It is very complex and again extremely difficult to create one.

I believe from the experience of trying many different Reformers that the thought behind the Reformer is crucial. From all the information we gathered, in our opinion a Reformer that truly reflects the method does not exist today. Now it does.

Our Reformer, as we see it, is the only ‘old new' one on the market and absolutely one of a kind.  It took us around 10 years from the first idea to actually get it materialized.

I was excited to speak with Fredrik about the springs: how he selected them, where one finds them, etc… They are a crucial aspect of the Reformer's perfection.

And it's fun to nerd out and talk about springs, yes?


The springs we have made in Sweden and throughout the years we gained considerable experience. I remember a Reformer Elisabet got from England, a homemade one and the springs where so tough you did 10 repetitions of the first Footwork and your legs were burning.  

Today we are working more with the intention of the spring and what does it do? Today I know that due to the design of the spring I can bring life into the Reformer. The spring does not just pull the carriage back hard or soft. The spring gives space and time to the body and mind.

Yeah, that's what I'm talking about.

The spring gives the mind time to reflect upon what is happening. It's a very subtle but true sensation. So we have made the springs in this way to invite the body to move. 

But the spring all alone can’t do anything. This kind of spring needs the support of the wheels and the carriage. There is a fine-tuning aspect of all the aspects of the Reformer carriage that makes the spring ” sing” and the body can ”follow” into a new experience of resistance and support. 

In my opinion and experience the apparatus exists to bring a higher sense of presence into the body.

It enhances the vectors and directions and can bring more power into the body and break up the weakness of the body. One of our customers said after buying our Reformer “Its great! Now I don't need to explain everything they have to do, this Reformer teaches it to them and I can save my voice.”

For more information, visit

A big thank you to Karen Frischmann and Fredrik Prag for their contributions to this post.

Reformer word cloud created at

Read Alycea Ungaro's 3 Pilates Blogs to Follow.

Guess who made the list?

On the Order of the Pilates Mat Exercises…

On the Order of the Pilates Mat Exercises...


Click here for a list of all the exercises in this post!

I find it hard to imagine the Pilates Mat exercises without Joe Pilates' structure. As someone who enjoys following a good rule or two, the structure and prescribed order of the exercises have always appealed to me.

Sans Joe's order my focus would wane as I deliberated on which exercise to do next. I would surely omit an exercise or two that I don't like, much to my own detriment. We need them all, really.

What we hear from Joe on the subject:

Study carefully. Do not sacrifice knowledge to speed in building your solid exercise regime on the foundation of Contrology. Follow instructions exactly as indicated down to the very smallest detail. There IS a reason!

Joe Pilates toiled his entire lifetime of 80+ years indefatigably tinkering with and perfecting his method.

Jay Grimes insists no detail was left to chance or done by accident in the entire body of Pilates' work.

Like an actor mining his script for clues to construct the heart and soul of a character I feel it's my job as a Pilates instructor to look closely at the evidence and investigate fully with body and mind.

Why the Corkscrew now?

Or in an especially challenging exercise that maybe I don't like, why must I slow my steady pace to the Teaser with the Side Kick Series?

It is my belief that by using Joe's set order of the exercises on both the Mat and the Reformer I can experience in 2013 the full genius of Joe Pilates who died in 1967.

So my workouts include a lot of asking questions – investigating internally what the previous exercise has provided as a help for the bear of an exercise I must now tackle – and on a good day, the occasional revelation.


If you learn one new thing every day you will be a genius.


Thanks Romana, I need a good workout that will make me – albeit briefly – a genius.

Romana Kryzanowska!

I should mention that the order I learned from Romana's Pilates differs somewhat from Joe's original order. Circa late 1990s I am told Romana moved a few things around and added the mermaid to the Mat. The Side Bend was taken out around then too. I can't speculate on why she felt these changes to be necessary, but she is, of course, Romana.

Now my study of the Pilates Method focuses exclusively on the order Joe lays out for us.

So I thought I would articulate why I think the Mat exercises are arranged in the order presented in JP's Return to Life Through Contrology.  It will be a good exercise to attempt this ‘out loud', shall we say, and hopefully I just might learn something.

Who doesn't want to be a genius?

Please note that this examination is solely about the order and the exercises themselves…not about who should be doing them or if one is ready to do them, etc… That's a subject for another post. I'll be lucky if I can finish this one 🙂

My experience of the Pilates exercises in my own body will of course differ from every other person. But Joe Pilates has a way of distilling us into the humanity that we are: the same body systems and parts that probably need a similar kind of maintenance.

Am I the only sway-backed, blogger with a weaker side out there?


The Hundred

No matter how much you dislike this exercise, you cannot dispute its effectiveness as a warmup. It gets the blood and the air moving. Boom. You have arrived.

The Roll Up, The Roll Over, Single Leg Circles

These 3 exercises I am grouping together as they are the first stretches of your entire system that you get in the Mat repertoire. The Roll Up gives you a top-to-toe stretch of the entire back of the body, The Roll Over gives the opposite – a toe-to-top stretch of the very same thing. The Single Leg Circles is my favorite ‘stomach exercise in disguise' exercise and I believe it is a stretch of the entire system again now one side at a time…in any case, it's not really about your leg. We are a human! Not just a leg.

After all these initial stretches of our system – and hang on, cause they're gonna happen for a while, we are only 4 exercises in and still climbing in our intensity – we get something nice:

Roll Like a Ball

A nice massage of all the stuff we just stretched out. Now back to work.

Single Leg Pull and Double Leg Pull

These are the 2 exercises in the famed “Series of 5” that come from Joe Pilates. Romana added the other 3 (to which Jay Grimes says: “Because they're good”) in my understanding because she saw too many poochy bellies and Romana did not like poochy bellies.

And they are good. They never disappoint.

Single Leg Pull and Double Leg Pull are in my opinion ‘wind-relieving' exercises to help to stimulate digestion and ultimately rid the body of toxins. They are a great strengthener of the entire trunk and the deep breaths of the Double Leg Pull again lead to a stretch and a wringing out of the entire system: stretch out and lengthen, and then fold up completely. Just what we need to be doing.


Spine Stretch Forward

We now return to the stretching out of the entire system in a seated position, lengthening in both a Rounded and Tall position. I know, don't forget about the Tall. It's not easy to sit up tall. We are preparing for another massage of the entire system which will come next and take Roll Like a Ball to a whole new level.

The Rocker with Open Legs

A more challenging massage – if you can get it – requiring even more length along the entire back of the body. Oh and some balance and control aspects upping the ante as well.

The Corkscrew and The Saw

These 2 exercises I combine as they are the same exercise for both the lower and upper body. Stretching the back of the body in a new way, along the sides and with rotation. In a sense I feel that every exercise up to and including the Saw is warming up, stretching out and preparing the back of the body for the next 3 extension exercises. Soon the back must fight to keep it's length and integrity while it's made to do some hard work.

The Swan Dive, Single Leg Kicks and Double Leg Kicks

Now we have arrived at the extension exercises – a lot of tough work for the back – but now it's all ready to go, thanks to the previous 11-14 exercises. The Swan Dive is a big full move to get the juices flowing, followed by the Single Leg Kicks and Double Leg Kicks which aid in the stretching of the front of the lower body – and furthermore strengthen the buttocks and hamstrings for the tasks ahead.

Thigh Stretch

This is the first ‘task ahead' for which you strengthened the buttocks and entire lower body in the previous 3 exercises. Thigh Stretch is a hard exercise to do well and the name pretty much says it all.

The Neck Pull

Now we return to where we started with the Roll Up, but some rules have changed: Legs apart and arms all tied up behind the head. I see the Neck Pull as a counter stretch after the extension exercises as well as a test of the stability of the lower body which was strengthened with the Single and Double Leg Kicks and Thigh Stretch.

High Scissors, High Bicycle and Shoulder Bridge

An advancement of the extension exercises, these 3 exercises build upon what was started with the Single and Double Leg Kicks. Now the front of the entire body gets a stretch, but it's gonna cost you. Try not to topple over. Aren't you glad you got in all that strengthening of the upper stomach earlier in the workout?

The use of the seat and the back of the lower body will also be a help in the exercises that follow.

Spine Twist and Jackknife

These 2 exercises prepare the sides of the body and the entire back line of the body for the challenge of the Side Kick Series. In the Spine Twist the back is striving to stay tall in a seated position, nearly as hard a feat as staying ‘tall' and not getting lounge-y when you lie on your side for the Side Kicks.


No sexy on the Beach!   Romana Kryzanowska


The Jackknife warms up the entire lower body system in a straightforward way before you get to do it one side at a time in the Side Kick Series. Can you connect your lower body into the trunk? Great!

Now can you do it one side at a time?

Side Kick Series

Time for some multitasking! You must control one side as an anchor while you control the other side as it moves in various patterns. So much to keep track of. Ready? Switch!

The Teaser and the Hip Twist (Hip Circles)

Lower Body? Check.

Remember way back at the top of the workout from the Roll up to the Spine Stretch and Rocker with Open Legs when we lengthened the Upper Body primarily? Good.

Let's put it together with the lower body skills you learned in all the exercises thus far.

It's the Teaser and it's most infamous variation, The Hip Twist (Hip Circles). Basically these 2 exercises are a lengthening and stretching of the entire system, including a challenging spin at the end. Another shot at multitasking and a concept prevalent (relentless) throughout the Pilates system: Something anchoring combined with something else moving.

Not the first or last time this is gonna cross our paths, why aren't we used to it by now?


And now we bend the other way…oh and let's do it one side at a time while we're at it, cause we've been here before, right?

Leg Pull and Leg Pull Front

We've done our stretches of the front of the body before we get to this exercise, but now there's a little more at stake. Gone is the luxury of lying down, and my God, we still have to work each side separately.

Joe Pilates, have you no mercy??!

Side Kicks Kneeling

Evidently the answer to our plea is a big fat NO in the form of the Side Kicks Kneeling.

JP could not be reached for comment. Frownie face…

So we had our fun lying down in the Side Kick Series for some sexy on the beach…well evidently there is more to be had now that we'll be doing the same work of the lower body AGAIN and we have to hold ourselves up while we do it. Gaaawwwwd, FINE!

The Side Bend

As much as I personally struggle with this exercise, it is a nice big stretch like a cat. Joe Pilates' version of a treat after all that precedes it. A big wringing out of the sides that you just trashed in the Side Kicks Kneeling. And some time to breathe and collect yourselves for the big finish.

Boomerang, Seal, Crab

Initially I did not learn these exercises in this order. So 3 rolling exercises in a row was news to me. But I have come to adore it and I'm gonna tell you why. Pilates builds integrity in motion and 3 rolling exercises in a row really puts that to the test. Each of the 3 has their own rhythm and shape to the body. In the midst of tackling these exercises you can clearly see when you are a rolling stone and when you're not. By the time you get to The Crab you can challenge yourself to be a solid rolling machine.

The Rocking

The ultimate in front-of-the-body stretching and why not take a cue from the previous rolling exercises and rock around on the front of you for a while? You'll need all that strength of the back and buttocks for the next exercises anyway.

Control Balance

Is it not the ultimate goal? Control. And what do you have when you are in control? Balance. I think of this exercise as an extremely challenging lower body exercise. You are working against gravity, your greatest foe in the workout, and odds are in its favor. Reminiscent of The Hundred, Double Leg Pull (of course) and the Jackknife amongst others, this exercise is clearly all those exercises put together and more.

The Push Ups

I am sure Joe Pilates did not invent the Push Up, but at the end of the workout it is a perfect example of stretch and strength and control. You must roll down and place your hands onto the mat in front of your feet, you must take 4 precise steps out with your hands to your push up position and you must lower and lift the entire weight of your body several times.

Oh, and then you've got to walk back in, hands to feet, roll yourself up and do it all over again.


You can say what Pilates is in 3 words: stretch with strength and control. And the control part is the most important because that makes you use your mind.   Romana Kryzanowska

Another zinger from JP:

On the Order of the Pilates Mat Exercises...

Love the order of the exercises? Share your thoughts in a comment below.

Not a fan of the order? I'd love to hear about that too.

Really prefer the Reformer? Check out this post.

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