Fundamental Reformer Exercises: The Short Box Series

Fundamental Reformer Exercises: The Short Box SeriesIt's come to my attention that I have yet to create a brief video tutorial on the Short Box Series on the Reformer.

How can this be?

It's one of my favorite topics – I am obsessed!

There are quite a few posts here on the blog and elsewhere:


Let's dissect the Short Box Series further, shall we?

The Key Players

The Short Box Series is comprised of at least 5-6 exercises:

  • Round (Hug)
  • The Reach
  • Side-to-Side
  • Twist and Reach
  • The Tree

There are a few other variations you can add in as well, and several iterations of the Tree to explore, but these are the 5 major exercises we'll address in this post.

First: What's really going on here?

The Short Box Series is one of the first times you will be on the Reformer without the assistance of the springs. You are now attached to the Reformer only by the 2 straps on your feet.

This is significant.

Once we're seated, often we just consider our body from the hips up.

Don't forget about the lower body!

We will work diligently to perfect the shapes of the body as we sit atop the box, but let's pay even more attention to what's going on in the lower body.

The strength of the lower body will give us a firm foundation from which to soar even further upward.

At first it may be hard to exert sufficient tension on the straps to keep them tight and quiet.

You will get better with practice.

For now if the straps go slack or you scoot further forward on the box as you work the exercise, just back up and make the straps tight again. Over time you will work the straps more consistently.

For further info about the straps check out a related post on

Let us begin at the beginning…

At first you may not even do all of these exercises – maybe for now it's best just to work on the basics:

  • Round
  • The Reach
  • The Tree (the first part of it)

Sometimes it's helpful to shore up the first 2 exercises (Round and Reach) before getting all fancy and bending to the side. Remember the Reach is inherent in all the other exercises especially Side-to-Side and the Twist.


Fundamental Reformer Exercises: The Short Box Series

Also known as ‘The Hug,' the Round exercise on the Short Box is exactly the same as our old friend the Roll Up on the Mat.

Oh yes, now there's that box underneath your Roll Up

Other exercises in the system that share the round shape can assist you here to perfect this Round exercise. Helpful exercises include Rolling Back on the Cadillac, The Elephant on the Reformer and the Push Down on the Wunda Chair.

The Reach

Fundamental Reformer Exercises: The Short Box Series

First a word about the name of this exercise…

Lately I have been chewing on the name of the second exercise in our Short Box Series.

The Reach is the name Vintage Pilates and Jay Grimes use for this exercise. I am guessing it comes from Joe Pilates…but that remains uncertain at the time of this writing.

Originally I learned this exercise as “Flat Back.”

What a kettle of fish that word can unleash! I'm quite happy with The Reach.

This name is also helping me teach the exercise better.

The Reach is an exercise that we often teach to brand new students in the very first lesson. Now we have a name that implies action, not an elusive state of being.

They won't know how to be Flat, but they may know how to Reach.


Fundamental Reformer Exercises: The Short Box Series

The Side-to-Side exercise in this series was on the top of my list of most hated exercises for the first 10-or-so years of my Pilates practice.

In the previous exercise you've gotten the Reach in your back. Now you must lift and reach both sides evenly to bend to the side.

Not so easy to do for some folks…most folks…well, me.

I've found it helpful to lose the pole for this one and concentrate more on the center.

For a while.

Pole or No Pole?

Yes, traditionally a pole is used for the Reach, Side-to-Side, Twist and Reach and Around the World.

However, know that using the pole inherently advances the exercise as you will now reach further away from your center.

Losing the pole for a bit can be a great help in perfecting the Side-to-Side exercise.

Figuring out the Twist and Reach

Fundamental Reformer Exercises: The Short Box Series

Another multi-tasker is the Twist and ultimately the Twist and Reach.

Start with the simple Twist and if necessary you can lose the pole for this one too.

Soon the strength you will gain in your center will allow you to add the pole effortlessly as well as keep the all the work you've done sans-pole.

The Many Iterations of the Tree

Fundamental Reformer Exercises: The Short Box Series

The Tree is a glorious exercise. Often hated and sometimes loved, the Tree will change as you change providing new challenges as you progress on your Pilates path.

Versions of this exercise include the following:

  • Sitting up for just the seated initial stretch
  • The stretch and tipping back into position 3 times
  • The stretch, tipping back and climbing up and down the leg a little 3x
  • The stretch, climbing up and down the leg until you're nearly parallel to the floor 3x
  • The stretch, climbing up and down 2x as above and then going all the way back on the 3rd
  • The stretch, climbing up and down all the way 3x
  • Same as above now adding a reach back to hold the frame and/or the Leg Circles and a foreshadowing of the High Bridge

Enjoy this 15 minute vlog on the Short Box Series. 

Leave a comment if you've got questions and let's chat!

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  1. Alessandra says

    Thank you again Andrea! Fantastic informative post and great vlog!!
    I love the way you have broken the exercises down to make them more understandable for us and more accessible to our clients.
    I’m off to practice, practice, practice ????
    #rockon Andrea ❤️

    • Alessandra – thank you so much for your kind words. I am so happy you enjoyed the video tutorial, I had fun making it. And I need to do some Short Box today too LOL. Have a great week!

  2. Great post Andrea! Thank you for sharing.
    It amazes me that after practising Pilates for 14 years I now think I’m competent on the short box! I like the simplicity with the tree (I learned far too many variations and probably all being exercised sans a Center!!) and the name “reach” rather than “flat back”. You’re right that the word “reach” implies action, whereas “flat back” implies lying flat on my back having a nap! Lol. Keep posting. I learn so much from you.

    • Hi Carmen,

      Thanks so much for reading and watching and for sharing your thoughts here. I feel the same way you do. I have been practicing Pilates for so long as well and feel like I am just getting to be proficient in the Short Box exercises. They are not easy to do well. I struggle to be succinct with my words when teaching the Reach and it finally occurred to me that I could just tell them to reach – and use my hands to say from where and hey, it’s a step in the right direction! Have a great week 🙂

  3. Happy 4th to us, your devotees; so great you posted on this US hot-dog-lovin’ loud holiday.

    Nothin’ makes you sweat like the Short Box 😉 Super duper post and video; your reach and lift are enviable! It’s true…if you just break it all down to a Mat exercise, it suddenly seems doable. Really, since the “crunchy” Round simply became Roll Up, it made it so much more accessible for me and I’m sure others!

    Tree question: You know how some say you are supposed to grab-n-tuck your leg in so tight and close to your gut that it doesn’t matter if your leg straightens out…then others say lift tall, hold the leg in and do get that leg straight…so ultimately, not so tucked in. Benefits to one vs the other? I feel like if I pull my leg all the way in I’m using too much arm strength and my leg barely straightens, which seems ‘meh’ since you want that nice hammy stretch, no? What’s the dizzle?

    Thanks for breaking each of these down for us! Happy Fireworks!

    • Corrie,

      Let me make sure I am understanding your question – in Tree keep thinking that the exercise is about the global stretch of the back, not just the leg. So if the back lifts the leg will receive the stretchy benefit. Sometimes I find it feels like I am far away from my leg if I am really reaching and scooping…let’s go over this on Friday because I want to make sure I am understanding you correctly. Thanks so much for reading and watching and chatting with me here 🙂
      Happy Pilates workouts to us both until we meet on Friday… xox

      • yesum! I’ll show you what I mean…I bet I’m not lifting up in the back enough 😉 imagine that!…

        • Oh no! How can that be??? I know, probably a case of more stomach! Until we meet again my sweet… 🙂 xox

          • Alessandra says

            Alas I cannot see you on Friday as am in the wrong country!! Just kidding…but would love to hear the outcome of Corrie’s spot on question…I too, have been taught the first part of the tree in both ways….hmmm…

          • oh yes – I think it is the question of whether to bring your body as close as possible to your leg with a “straight” back or to be in more of a round shape a la Spine Stretch Forward over your leg… I will clarify on Friday and then I’ll add an update to the comments here if you would like. The round shape allows for the opening of the low back – which is what we are after 🙂
            Stay tuned!

    • Mystery solved! :)…so as per yesterday’s sesh, the leg fully straightening 3x is not crucial to the beginning part of Tree and in fact isn’t meant to stretch the hamstring at all. I tend to always sink in my low back, so pulling my leg in super close to my stomach is actually better (for me) because it forces me engage my stomach to both sit up super straight and keep the leg in close. Whereas before I would pretty much cheat and use mostly arm strength to hold my leg in tightly in while trying to get it straight 3x. And Andrea, also you mentioned…Jay said that the the bending and straightening of the leg is really just to loosen it up since it was tightly under the strap for so long pre-Tree. #stillworkingonittoo Alessandra 🙂

      • Yes, you did a great job on Friday Corrie 🙂 Thanks for sharing the information here for everyone. And yes, keep remembering that the Tree is really about your back…not that flashy leg doing all kinds of fun stuff LOL. Rock on Pilates peeps!!

  4. Adrienne says

    Andrea, just what I’ve been looking for! A detailed break down of the short box. Thanks so much. Really helpful as the short box is my ongoing bete noire. We’re getting friendly slowly and your advice will certainly help 🙂
    You touched on a slumping in the round and collapsing in the reach. They were brief comments and it would be great if you could expand and give us your advice on how not to slump and collapse. For me, sitting out of my hips and maintaining the turnout in my thighs is something I have to constantly focus on. It feels like it’s not getting any easier so I would appreciate your advice. Thanks AW

    • Hi Adrienne,

      Thanks so much for reading and watching and for sharing your questions here. Yes, you are right, to not slump or collapse is a challenge here on the Short Box. Using the 2-way stretch so you are reaching always away from the center in 2 directions can help. Also I find that sometimes my mind is too busy thinking (in the Round) that this is a round exercise and that can sometimes lead us to be crunchy or slumpy. Remember that the round shape is a very lifted curve – lifting high in the low back and then the curve is at the upper stomach/ribcage area similar to the position of the 100. Use the pretend-it-is-the-roll-up technique and try to keep lifting in and up (on the inside) as you move back and forth (on the outside)in the exercise. I hope that makes sense.
      Also as long as the strap is tight-ish, keep thinking that the heels reach under the straps and away rather than getting too turned out in the hips – the reach away and the lift up will activate the lower under part of the seat we’re all after…drop me a line if you want to clarify further – and again thanks for chatting 🙂
      Have a great week!

  5. That was awesome! Thank you for doing that. Short Box Series…always a work in progress for students and teachers????

  6. I’m 5’10” and I always feel like I’m too tall for shortbox especially when I do the Tree. It feels like my bum is either too close to the edge of the box so it’s uncomfortable and unstable to go backward, or I have to bend my knees to get the footstraps tight. Is that ok to bed knees? I like the safe feeling when the footstraps are tight and holding me, but for Tree especially they feel loose especially at the beginning. Tips? Tricks for a tall person? I hope I’m explaining it correctly! Thanks

    • Hi Mira,

      Thanks for your great question. I have a some tips that may help, but please know I am basing my suggestions on my Gratz Reformer. Your Reformer may be different, but see what you think.
      On my Reformer you can place the Short Box really 3 different places depending on the height of the student. For average height I place my Short Box behind the shoulder rests and IN FRONT OF the eyebolt that the handles rest upon. For tall students I place the Short Box BEHIND the eyebolts. And although it’s not really a big amount of space, it gives taller people just enough room to get in position with tight straps.
      At 5’10” unless you are very short torso and long legs, I bet this would work. Maybe your Reformer has a similar option?
      Check out where you sit on the box – it’s nice to have about the width of 4 fingers between you and the back edge of the box so when you so the first exercise – Round – you are not on the edge of the box as you are right to not enjoy LOL.
      Also put the straps on your ankles and press the legs apart to keep the straps tight. Aim for the legs to be about hip distance apart with tight straps.
      And if necessary with extremely tall people the knees might be bent, but I suspect yours can be straight.
      For Tree when you remove one leg from the strap you will have a loose strap but just until you have your leg in place and tip back to reach your leg – Tree – up. Once that happens the strap will be tight. Notice if you move backward when you get to the one leg in strap part. If you do tighten the strap then when you tip back into position you will be on the edge.
      I hope this is helpful – if you’d like more clarity you know where to find me 🙂
      Thanks again for reading and watching and reaching out to connect here with your questions.

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