Exercise Relationships to Build Proficiency: Reformer Edition

Control Push Ups on the Reformer

Hey there!

I've been thinking about you. Thanks for sharing your time with me and for becoming a subscriber.

Did you get a chance to read my bonus blog post How to Fall in Love with Exercises you HATE?

I hope so.

Click here to subscribe if you missed out on this little gem…

The more you know…

Tree on the Short Box

Speaking of exercises you hate… it's time for another footnote to last week's post.

Oh the Pilates Method… so many opportunities for learning.

Lost in a sea of traditional order options it's easy to get muddled.

And that's what Pilates friends are for! A big shout out to Samantha Walley of Vital Balance Pilates for remembering all the things from our time with Jay Grimes that I have forgotten.

Last week I considered relocating the Short Box Series to later in the order when adding the 2nd Long Box.

Well that, friends, is one option I learned from Romana.

It is Romana that allowed for just keeping the box with you after the 1st or 2nd Long Box, then turning it to be the Short Box. I make a case for this option in an older post that you've all showered with love: On the Order of the Pilates Reformer Exercises.

Done in this manner you are saved one trip to get the box: You'll go get it for 1st Long Box (1), and get it again for the 2nd Long Box (2), finally keeping it for the subsequent Short Box Series.

Jay Grimes, however, doesn't care how many trips you make to get that box. You'll fetch it thrice (1st Long box, 2nd Long Box, Short Box), enjoying a welcome passeggiata each time you need it.

You've got all these options available to you within the structure of the order of exercises.

There is no wrong, only better and better choices to be made depending on any given scenario. And your Pilates education and experience will help you to choose wisely.

And in any event, there's always another Reformer workout on the horizon for you to begin. Again.

Exercise Relationships

Joe Pilates never leaves us unprepared.

How many times can I tell you why I love the Pilates Method?

Reason #196 is that your path is well-thought-out. Follow the path with “patience and persistence” and you'll always arrive at a complex exercise with confidence.

Joe Pilates is a master of taking a familiar skill and turning it (literally) on its head.

To progress your workout, it's helpful to revisit the basics to see where the seeds of a complex Reformer exercise first begin to germinate.

Oh boy, the plant metaphors… just one peril of being a plant parent!

Headstand 2

Headstands 2 on the Reformer

I've been working on The Headstands on the Reformer for probably decades. They are not great, but you don't get better at exercises by leaving them out. For the past few years, I've been toiling in the fundamentals building my proficiency and whittling away at a bad movement habit.

So now they're back. They're already better than they've ever been.

“When one exercise gets better, they all get better.”

The Pilates fundamentals do their magic. But how do you arrive ready and (sort of) willing to do the Headstand 2?

Ladies and Gentlemen… the Tendon Stretch!

Ever notice we have many exercises all called the Tendon Stretch?

And a bunch more exercises that include an element reminiscent of the Tendon Stretch?

Coincidenza??

Tendon Stretch: Footwork Edition

Tendon Stretch in the Footwork Series

Yes. It all begins with the Footwork. Never thought I would be that person.

The lift you cultivate here, all “comfy” and supported from head to toes will serve you well once you've upended yourself into the Headstand 2.

Stomach Massage Series

Stomach Massage Series on the Reformer

Essentially the sitting-up-now version of Footwork, the Stomach Massage Series sets you well on your way to the Headstand 2. This series, like Footwork, also goes on for a long while, building (beating) the skill into you.

Just sayin'. Again probably not an accident.

Full-On Tendon Stretch

Tendon Stretch on the Reformer

Looks can be deceiving but this iteration of the Tendon Stretch has all the components of its lying down Footwork relative: you must stand on your feet and use your crazy lift to survive the exercise instead of riding the carriage like you're at Disneyland.

SemiCircles

SemiCircles on the Reformer

Finally back in the ballpark of the Headstand 2, the SemiCircles force you to keep your lift or forever be squashed into the gaping maw of the Reformer.

And now upside-down and backward, you arrive at Headstand 2.

Now it's all making sense, right? Your Pilates teacher has been harping at you to lift since the workout began and boy, do you need it now.

Gravity's a bitch. But it's also very communicative.

The Complex Reformer Project

Control Push Ups on the Reformer

Tracing the roots of the Headstand 2 back to nearly the very beginning of your Reformer workout is just one example of Exercise Relationships.

If this sounds like your kind of fun, join me in the month of February for a new online workshop, The Complex Reformer Project.

In a total of 8 workshop hours, you'll tweak the Pilates Project POV to look for skill sets in the fundamentals for all those fancy exercises just like the Headstand 2.

Overhead I hear you cry?

Snake/Twist and High Bridge?

Star even?

Oh yes.

Space is limited. Reserve your spot today.

And stay tuned for my March workshop where you'll link it all together with transitions!

The Short Box Series: I Stand by my Pre-Judgment.

Side-to-Side on the Short Box

Welcome to a brand. New.Year. And the rest of your life!

A big thank you to everyone who joined my January workshop, The Cadillac Project. We are a full class of 10 and I'm super excited to get to play Pilates with you on Thursday.

So many Cadillac exercises there are. I watched a bunch of Star Wars movies over the holidays.

Yoda talks about control A LOT.

“Control! Control! You must learn control!” and also another goodie “Your path you must decide.”

If you missed out on this month's workshop, check out my February and March workshops (both on your favorite apparatus, the Reformer).

Also, I've got a new offering in the works that I will share with you very soon.

Meanwhile, back to the Reformer…

Today's post has been a long time coming.

If you've been following for a while you know that I continue to be fascinated/frustrated by The Short Box Series on the Reformer. I have spent considerable time building my Short Box proficiency and I've shared my thoughts with you here, here and here.

I talk about The Short Box Series everywhere… here's an old one I wrote for Pilates Style Magazine.

Kiss Today Goodbye…

Twist on the Short Box

I am a big fan of applying my Pilates workout to balance out all the zest and pleasure I pour into my life. And in the midst of the 2 biggest holiday weekends of the year, oh, Reformer exercises, how I love thee!

Let me count the ways!

This Christmas season I didn't travel (shocker) and Joe and I created our own traditional Italian Christmas Eve Feast of the 7 Fishes. As a family of two, we only made it to 5 fishes, and it was delicious.

After a few days of lying around, binging the aforementioned Star Wars saga (well most of them) and finding myself permanently attached to my wine glass, I needed a dose of the truth.

I try not to judge my workout too harshly when I really just need to MOVE. That's the beauty of Pilates. those exercises are working even if you don't think you're particularly good at them. And really, it's the sucky ones that can be magical. Evil magic for a while tho…

Back in the Day

Kinda goes without saying here, but I love the Pilates Method.

I love the exercises, the specified apparatus, the way there is a protocol for getting on and off of the apparatus, the order! I have loved the way the exercises make my body feel literally since my very first Mat class way back in Washington, DC.

A big shout-out to all the amazing peeps at Excel Pilates DC!

I loved my Mat classes and later, when I became apparatus-curious, I enjoyed all the “new” Pilates exercises I got to learn in my small group apparatus class. Hey, I can do that same crazy thing over here on the Reformer?? Sweet!

I loved it all.

EXCEPT for those damn Short Box Exercises.

All the fun of straps and springs were nowhere to be found and I was stranded up there trying to make things happen in my body: Round! Now Tall! Bend to the Side! Twist and REACH!!!!

At least during the Tree I got to be upside down for a little bit… but too little too late. And then when Tree got super interesting along come more fricking leg circles?

WTF, Joe Pilates?!

Although make no mistake, Leg Circles are the gift that keeps on giving…

Aw Crap, Back to 2020…

Round Back on the Short Box

Each time I visit the Short Box exercises in my workout, I try to talk myself down from the ledge.

This stuff is good for me, and you always gotta love the exercises you don't like…

My mantra continues…

And as a Pilates teacher, I understand the value of the exercises on the Short Box. Everyone needs these exercises!

We need to learn how to sit up and lift ourselves and move in all planes of motion, and globally stretch the back of us.

Blah, blah, BLAHHHHH…

But last week, in the midst of a recent romp on the Reformer, I had HAD it.

I didn't know anything about the Pilates System or my body all those years ago. All I knew was that I REALLY didn't like the Short Box Series.

I stand by my pre-judgment!

It's like Joe Pilates created this series just for me. On the Short Box, I'm confronted with the most challenging skill I will encounter in my workout:

There's nothing to stand on. I gotta figure out that part right off the bat.

And with nothing to stand on, there's no supportive carriage, footbar, etc… to lift up and away from. I gotta generate it ALL.

OMG it's like a test! Do you have it? Often I do not.

All the help I expect from the Reformer in lots of the exercises is nowhere to be found.

And sitting on that box? It's a recipe for a grip-fest.

Does this sound familiar? Well, I've got an idea…

It's time for a noble Pilates experiment!

I knew you'd be excited.

Attention all Order Nerds:

Rocking on the Reformer

All of you, dear readers, have enjoyed my most viewed post, On the Order of the Pilates Reformer Exercises.

This post examines the reasoning behind what I'm gonna call ‘the old skool order' of the standard Reformer repertoire from Joe Pilates.

The ‘old skool order' assumes that once you get on the Reformer, you will do it all.

Doing it all includes the Second Long Box.

Fess up now if you never include this series in your Reformer workout.

Guilty.

If the existence of the Second Long Box is truly news to you, welcome to the longest series of 3 exercises since the Teaser (or the Horseback).

And when you include the Second Long Box, the Short Box Series gets “saved” and plops down right afterward.

Therefore you are really warmed up and perhaps a little tired.

In any case, I want to see what happens to my Short Box Series if I place it later in the order – not randomly, but where it goes in the later part of the Reformer exercises.

Will I have more skills in my body by that point in the workout?

Or will I be too pooped to care anymore?

The suspense is killing me.

The Best Laid Plans…

Any deviation from your usual order of exercises shows you that old habits die hard.

A ton of mental activity must run concurrently with your workout to successfully move stuff around and not forget anything.

Like the Second Long Box and the Short Box Series.

Yeah.

So much for my brain getting a workout.

Sometimes you find out that the Reformer is smarter than you are.

Ok so here's how it went down.

The Plan

The Reach on the Short Box

  • My Long Spine Massage is in the shop (Cadillac) at the moment, so I planned to put the Frog and Circles at the end, right before the Mermaid and the Knee Stretch Series.
  • I'm including the Headstands as well.
  • I also wanted to put in the Headstand with the Straps instead of the Backbend after Thigh Stretch for now.

Other than those bits it was all going to be in there: from Footwork to the Russian Splits.

Lately I've been setting a timer for 1 hour and willing myself to finish before the timer squeals at me. As a reformed slowpoke, knowing the clock is ticking helps prevents me from micromanaging certain exercises (I'll bet you can guess).

It was going so well.

When I finished the Russian Splits I looked at the timer:

5:52 minutes remaining!

I tidied my apparatus and contemplated an ending sequence: a few rolling exercises or a couple of Cadillac exercises or…

Wait a minute.

In the tenuous moment of inserting Frog and Circles for Long Spine Massage, all my thoughts of Second-Long-Box-then-Short-Box went out the window.

Blast.

But I've got those extra minutes. Plenty of time.

And technically the Short Box Series was still (very) late in the workout.

Another Pilates problem solved!

So how did it go?

Tree on the Short Box

The premise: Would my Short Box skills be more available to me if I use the “old skool” order of exercises which places the Short Box much later in the workout?

The simple answer is yes. I did feel more prepared for Short Box. The skills I needed from the Reformer were more in my body. I didn't have to desperately search for them quite as much.

Now granted, I essentially ended up doing the Short Box after the workout.

But it's not like I'm never getting on the Reformer again… I'm about to hop on again in an hour to see if my brain will be better this time round…

Here are the extra exercises between where I planned to put the Short Box Series and where I actually did it:

  • Frog and Circles
  • Mermaid
  • Knee Stretch Series
  • Running
  • Bottom Lift
  • Control Push Ups Front and Back
  • Star
  • Side Splits
  • Front Splits
  • Russian Splits

Looking at this list now I feel like Tree is your splits-before-the-splits exercise.

On the Reformer in 2021

Thank you so much for joining me for this noble Pilates order experiment. The Pilates Method gives such riches. You are always rewarded by diligent practice.

The Reformer also has a quiet way of making you check your ego at the door.

Join me in February for more Short Box FUN!

We'll take a hard look at all your fundamental Reformer exercises and determine how they prepare you for the complex exercises “conveniently” placed in the latter part of your workout.

That's right, It's a workout just to get to them LOL

Your fundamentals are the building blocks for all those exercises with a bad rap: Overhead, Snake/Twist, Star and the list goes on.

If all this sounds like your kind of fun as well, reserve your spot today.

And stay tuned for my March workshop where you'll link it all together with transitions!

Got questions about exercises or wondering if these workshops are for you?

Hit me up in the comments and let's 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.

Footwork

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.

Subscribe to receive a Special Bonus Blogpost
How to Fall in Love with the Exercises you Hate
We respect your privacy and never share your information.