Pilates: 3 Quick Tips For a Full Body Workout

Pilates: 3 Quick Tips for a Full Body Workout

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

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

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

Fast Forward…

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

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

Simple enough, right?

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

Surprised, I had to ask:

“Why is that so hard?”

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

“Now you've got everything working.”

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

A full body workout.

A New Obsession

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

1. The Pilates 2×4

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

Pilates: 3 Quick Tips for a Full Body Workout

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

Bereft of apparatus = the Pilates Mat exercises

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

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

Read more about this little gem in these posts:

2. The Magic Circle

Pilates: 3 Quick Tips for a Full Body Workout

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

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

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

Pilates: 3 Quick Tips for a Full Body Workout

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

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

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

Pilates: 3 Quick Tips for a Full Body Workout

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

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

It's not to kick your ass.

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

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

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

Everything working.

The Full Body Workout!

That's what I'm after.

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

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

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

All brought to you courtesy of the Magic Circle.

It's done all your work for you 🙂

I like to call this phenomenon a scrubbing bubbles exercise.

Curious? More deets in these posts:

3. The Order of the Universe

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

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

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

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

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

The Swan

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

Pilates: 3 Quick Tips for a Full Body Workout

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

Pulling Straps and T

Pilates: 3 Quick Tips for a Full Body Workout

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


Read more about cultivating the lower body:

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

Try out these tips yourself in your next Pilates workout.

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

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


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

The Silver Lining of Injury

The Silver Lining of Injury

At the end of February I picked up my heavy Reformer carriage in a bad, bad way.

Already with a tendency toward tightness, my back seized up and got crazy frickin' tight. Basically all the stuff I cultivate consistently in my Pilates workout disappeared for a bit and all the tight stuff got freakishly tighter.


Of course this incident happened just before I planned to do a nice big Reformer workout. Well, that would have to be on hold for a bit while I sort out if I should apply ice or heat?

That's the first thing I learned.


Miraculous stuff really.

Today, aside from a lingering LUSH obsession created while caring for my back, I am stronger than ever. And despite mixed feelings of annoyance and embarrassment (yeah, I know. Whatever…) there are always Pilates lessons you learn when you must dial back your usual tricks to be good to your body and to speed the healing process.

Did I mention I'm a terrible patient?

Speaking of terrible patients…

One of my clients, Sharon, has a tendency to over-do at her job, lifting things that are too heavy when she should really delegate, and occasionally arrives for her Pilates lesson walking like a little old lady.

This particular client is as vivacious as the day is long, so it's immediately apparent that she is not 100%. She has a great sense of humor and of course wants to do all of her exercises and assures me that she is fine.

Okay…let's hobble to the Cadillac.

She once famously appeared for her session with one arm in a sling and declared herself ready for anything (NO).

No more feetsies

Randomly, for several months Sharon was recovering from a foot injury. We of course did a lot of Mat, some Reformer exercises that did not involve her feet and a bit on the Cadillac that she loves.

As a result of taking her feet and therefore her legs out of the equation, Sharon's center got lots of attention. She learned to get more mileage out of her powerhouse, specifically her upper stomach and buttocks.

She ended up learning a great deal about her body that she could carry through in her workout after recovering (very quickly) from the foot issue.

My weekly lessons

Karen Frischmann is such a great momma. Her “prescription” for my speedy recovery?

  • Epsom salt baths – yes she is to blame for my steady LUSH habit (or is she?)
  • Spine Corrector exercises everyday until the tightness in my thighs and low back subsided.

What a beautiful world it would be if everyone did their daily Spine Corrector exercises. We so need that thing!

It is indeed “The Corrector!”

So what did I learn?

  • My tight-ass back really hit home the importance of length. AGAIN.
  • The exercises in which I could access the muscles of the seat to aid in the elongation of the low back felt fine and well-supported. When I could not find my seat, I would feel my back.

Pretty clear.

  • Only my ego was in pain, the rest of me was just super stiff.
  • I have even greater empathy for clients that have back issues through my own personal experience. Injury is a great teacher.

Everybody now: “Fetch me The Corrector!”

Please note that I am sharing my personal experience with a back issue. I am not suggesting that everyone with a bad back should leap onto the Spine Corrector. There are lots of different kinds of backs out there. Just sayin'.

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!

Pilates Side-Bending: The Mermaid obsession?

A curious phenomenon occurs when we bend to the side…

Pilates Side-Bending: The Mermaid Obsession?

Pilates Side-Bending: The Mermaid Obsession?

photo courtesy of Ben Bertucci of Vintage Pilates

The Mermaid is quite the smile-inducer. What makes this exercise supremely pleasurable?

And look at those hands of his!


Usually I am not so jazzed about the Pilates side-bending exercises.

Most notably: the Short. Box.

Who knew how difficult it could be to bend to the side?

It's no secret that I love the Short Box Series on the Reformer.

But love is complicated.

Swelling feelings of warmth juxtaposed with the moment you fear your love will destroy you.

And I'm not talking about the Tree.

Gray skies are gonna clear up…

The Short Box and I have had a stormy relationship.

When I began Pilates it was always amazing. Awesome. Invigorating. I loved all the stuff we did on the Mat.

I eventually got used to the apparatus and its benefits, yes, the Reformer was definitely growing on me.

Then. We sit on the Short Box.

There aren't even any springs…??!

The first thing I learned about Side-to-Side on the Short Box:

Oh yes, this is the one where she comes to fix me.

Gradually I came to understand that the side-bending exercises (of which initially I enjoyed exactly zero) are very beneficial for me.

I know, another Pilates ‘Duh!' moment. Oh there were lots of those…

We've got all those wonderful Mermaid exercises – clearly everyone loves them.

(evidently even me)

Torturous, I tell you.

Generally I find them to be torturous. So exactly zero of them got practiced by me.

For years.

Back to the Short Box

14 years later, (1) I understand at least intellectually what needs to happen to execute the Side-to-Side exercise with optimum form. And (2) I know I'll have the rest of my life to work on it a little bit each day.

What's changed? you may ask.

What's changed other than persistence, stubbornness and the super-helpful-in-this-case passage of time?

One glimmer in the hazy world of what goes on behind me (on my back) is semantics.

Love lifts us up

The word lift can apply to any Pilates situation. For years I have been caught up in bending to the side.

Let's translate bending to the side into lifting both sides up and reaching to the side!

Back to Jay's hands for a moment:

When assisting clients on the Short Box, I watch Jay's hands give a firm but gentle help in lifting the low back.

Usually I have been more preoccupied with discouraging the lift of the shoulders and all kinds of craziness going on up there, which may be appropriate as well for some cases I suppose…

But overall, isn't positive reinforcement (what you should be using) better than a negative correction (shoulders DOWN!)?

Pilates things that make you go Hmmmmmm…

Feline inspiration

Add a little stretching like a cat to the mix as well, it can't hurt.

Don't lose yourself in striving to be the perfect Side Bend. Sometimes we can get bogged down in the Pilates Dogma or the endless checklist we have in our heads that will make everything properly aligned, lifted, scooped, etc…

Move like the animal you are!

Read the iconic Sports Illustrated article on Joe Pilates and his method and be re-inspired.

Originally published in 1961 and accompanied with the famous photos of I.C. Rapoport, the author reminds us that Joe Pilates took inspiration from the animals, the cats he observed while interned on the Isle of Man.

He saw them, when they had nothing else to do, stretching their legs out, stretching, stretching, keeping their muscles limber, alive. He began working out an orderly series of exercises to stretch the human muscles, all the human muscles.

On a sad note, author Robert Wernick passed away recently. Photos appear below courtesy of I.C. Rapoport.

In the first photo Wernick works with Joe Pilates in the 1960s. I met him at the age of 95 when he lived on the 5th floor of a walk-up apartment building in Paris and proclaimed he did the Hundred every day.

“In my 80s I decided to omit backbends,” he told me.

His posture in his 90s is lifted and tall, and with a mischievous look in his eye he spoke of ladies in their 70s who puzzled to guess his age. They decided he couldn't possibly be over 90 because of how tall and upright he was standing!

Pilates Side-Bending: The Mermaid Obsession?

Joe Pilates works with client Robert Wernick

Pilates Side-Bending: The Mermaid Obsession?

Goxwa (neighbor), Robert Wernick and I.C. Rapoport

Short Box-related posts:

More on Robert Wernick:

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 pilatesequipmentscandinavia.com.

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

Reformer word cloud created at tagul.com

Read Alycea Ungaro's 3 Pilates Blogs to Follow.

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