SemiCircle on the Reformer: What’s really going on here?

SemiCircle on the Reformer: What's really going on here?

SemiCircle on the Reformer is definitely a new favorite of mine.

I recently remarked to Jay Grimes about several exercises I truly dreaded… until recently.

“You know, I've really been enjoying the Grasshopper lately…”

To which he responded: “Well, the better you do them…”

It's no surprise that Jay is spot-on. Greater proficiency in an exercise makes it feel so good in the body. Even if the exercise is still challenging and difficult to repeat with connection, it just feels so good.

In a “Hey, I needed that,” kind of way.

Et tu, SemiCircle?

I've always enjoyed the SemiCircle on the Reformer. It's got such a unique starting position. When else do you get down into the bowels of the Reformer and commune with springs?

Not that I really knew what all the fuss was about…yes, I knew it was a thigh stretch and hip opener…but mostly I thought it was about arching my back.

Let's be honest, I want to arch my back in every exercise. It's what I do…

In the last few years at Vintage Pilates, I've been learning to do the SemiCircle more properly and not only am I getting an awesome thigh stretch, but my back feels fantastic!

The Major Tenet of the Pilates Method

I'm a firm believer in Joe Pilates' dream for humanity: to achieve both a strong and supple spine.

If your spine is inflexibly stiff at 30, you are old. If it is completely flexible at 60, you are young.

The SemiCircle is just one of our exercises which features spinal articulation and length in the back.

(We've got over 500…)

Set Up

  • The Reformer must have 2 springs on the outside. Remember your hips will reach down to touch the springs and you want some room to get down there. #nomiddlesprings
  • The headpiece is up – find out why in the video below…
  • The footbar is down. SemiCircle can also be done with the footbar up. For our purposes here we'll focus on the version with the footbar down.

Move yourself into the starting position for this exercise with minimal moving of the carriage. Do your best.

Hands, Feet and Heels

  • Place the palms and heels of your hands firmly against the shoulder blocks. The thumbs will be with all the fingers toward the outside of the Reformer.
  • Place the balls of your feet, heels together and toes apart on the footbar. Use pads for security if necessary.
  • The heels should never touch the frame of the Reformer. Remember Pilates is up and forward…
  • Begin the exercise with the carriage closed as much as it is possible.

Ok, now what's really going on here?

We'll work on the SemiCircle to serve the objectives of the exercise:

  • articulation of the spine
  • length in the back
  • thigh stretch

Take a closer look at the thigh stretch aspect of the SemiCircle in a related post.

The Order of the Universe

Post-Short Box we're off to the races in a series of exercises which will strengthen the entire back of the body including the bottom.

Short Spine Massage immediately precedes SemiCircle.

Short Spine and SemiCircle share the same kind of spinal length and articulation. Joe Pilates gives us both a nice position to accomplish this (Short Spine) and also a disadvantageous one (Semi Circle).

Remember the role your bottom must play in finding length in the back?

Post-SemiCircle with your supple back and strong seat you're ready to tackle the Headstands and then take it more vertical with the Chest Expansion series (Chest Expansion, Thigh Stretch, Backbend, Arm Circles, Snake/Twist, Corkscrew, etc…)

A Reformer Love Fest

If you simply cannot get enough of the Reformer and its amazing exercises, check out my most popular post On the Order of the Pilates Reformer Exercises.

I thank you, dear readers for your devotion to all things Reformer.

My Universal Reformer Poster is now back in stock!

A BIG thanks to all who have purchased…and stay tuned for another Pilates poster in the near future.


Enjoy this short video tutorial.

Want more videos like this one? Let me know in a comment below.

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  1. Two reasons I love learning from you: your clear, concise language as you precisely explain an exercise; and your humility, which makes me actually really enjoy learning from you and not feel like I’m being talked down to like some teachers make you feel. That video was great! I think I learned semi circle totally wrong! LOL so now I get to “unlearn it” and “relearn it ” ????

    • Steph,
      Wowza, thank you so much for your high praise…and just as you say, I too had to unlearn and then relearn this exercise…but I assure you it is well worth it! And thank you so much for reading and sharing your thoughts here. Have a great Pilates week!

  2. …speaking of articulation…WOW. You got that sooo down! Super tips here; as you know I pretty much blow this one every time but I just tried it while envisioning doing the Short Spine and … that def. took the work out of the thighs, however I seem to always lose my seat; that darn seat always wants to free load 🙂 which is why I am now post-it-noting the exercises from “Strategies for a Tight Low Back: Getting to the Bottom of It” as must do’s in every practice session. I would love to see the Semi Circle vs Short Spine compare and contrast video!! “Length versus Crash” = my new motto. THANKS as always!

    • Corrie,

      I love reading your comments 🙂 You are not alone…I spend SO much time cultivating the seat and getting out of the thighs. Persevere! LOL I love the new motto – when in doubt use length and don’t just crash. A good plan ha ha. Thanks for the input regarding a compare and contrast video with Short Spine and SemiCircle…stay tuned – I think it will be a fun one. Just filmed my first epic exercise battle which I will share soon – it was a fun and surprising help for me so I hope you will find it helpful as well.
      Have a happy holiday Monday! xox

      • Epic Exercise Battle!! can’t wait! remember “battle of the network stars”? i loooved that as a kid circa 79ish…I saw some of it on youtube recently and as surprised the “dunk tank” was considered a sport. hilarious. Just think, even in 1979 Pilates was practiced!

        • OMG I too loved Battle of the Network Stars – how funny!! Yes, I was thinking along the lines of Alien vs. Predator…LOL
          This only works if both of the exercises are animal names I guess – but yes, coming soon Elephant vs. Tendon Stretch: the epic battle! xox

  3. Hello! I’m finally catching up with myself over here in London!! Been meaning to try this out for a while and finally made the time for my semi circling with you!! Great teaching as always!! I originally learnt this exercise with the foot bar up – but I much prefer this version with foot bar down…I find the foot bar up version seems to load my low back more?? An guessing not enough length somewhere?!! Anyhoo – really felt the difference keeping heels lifted – or trying to!! But I really struggle to keep the heels connected throughout…. Is that not enough seat?? Hmmmm…. Another one to add to my ever growing ‘exercises I need to practice ‘ ???? #illgetthereintheend????????????
    #rockon Andrea ♥️????

    • Hi Alessandra 🙂

      Thanks so much for your kind words on this video.

      I enjoy the version with the footbar up as well. It is much more demanding and the back must lengthen even more – although you do get a bit of help from gravity…but really resist the arching in that one. Would it be helpful to have another video on the footbar up version?

      The heels not wanting to stay together could be a couple things. Yes, it could be that you need more seat, but it also may be due to a tightness in the hips/thighs. I bet if you continue to do this exercise regularly you will eventually be able to keep the heels together. Add some other hip/thigh opening exercises at the end of your workout – OMG like Spine Corrector! – to help out. I think that is in the same camp as the feet needing to move around for a while until one is able to keep them solidly in one place on the footbar.

      Hope to see you again soon and thank you so much for being an awesome Pilates person and subscriber!! xox

      • Thanks so much for your speedy response and kind words???? Have just tried this again and this time it seemed to go much better….this time I was better warmed up,.. I managed to keep heels together , although not that easy for me (Pilates! Easy! ?? Did I just say that??!!????????LOL!) and found I really needed to concentrate (Pilates? Concentrate? Who knew!! LOL) on keeping both lift in the waist and length through my tailbone…. That’ll be #gettingmy2waystretchon ????????????
        And yes please…..a video tutorial on the version with the foot bar up would be marvelous ???????????????????????? .. Meantime I’ll keep practicing….????????
        #rockon Andrea as always ????xoxo

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