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.


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.

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  1. Michele says

    This post on overhead early on made perfect sense for the first time!
    Thank you so much.

  2. Andrea! Super great nerdy breakdown of the how and why. Love it! Used to be when I’d get to Overhead (which can seem awfully quick since it’s 4th on the ol’ list) it was like…”oh boy, here we go…” But I have found, since you corrected my -lack of center commitment- mainly in Frog/Circles, it has become, dare I say, easier. Not easier to execute per se but easier in that the body actually feels ready to go for it after totally committing to the first three exercises! The “oh boy, here we go…” starts at Footwork now 🙂 And whoa, Short Spine is a challenge even after Short Box, I can’t imagine even trying it that early in! I’m soooo grateful I learned the order from YOU: 23,000 viewers agree 🙂 xo

    • Corrie,

      Oooh good for you working on those key 3 preceding exercises and whipping your Overhead into submission…mostly 🙂 I don’t think I said it in this exact way in the post, but all the lower body stuff in the lying down mode is both strengthening and organizational since in a moment you’ll lift the lower body up up and away! I know that “oh boy here we go” feeling…sometimes when you get it – or whatever exercise – to be more manageable it takes a while for the “Oh boy here we go” thoughts to go away…LOL you are funny – have a good week and see you soon! xo

  3. Tried it today-it makes so much sense to my body and mind!! Thank you, thank you for helping us become better practioners and instructors!

    • Karry!
      How are you? Thanks so much for reading and sharing your thoughts here. I am glad you found these Overhead tips to be helpful. It is the old Pilates anticipating-what-will-come-next again LOL. Hope you and your are well and keep up the good work! I hope we can see each other again soon. xox

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