The Pilates System: Rowing Series on the Reformer, Part 2

The Pilates System: Rowing on the Reformer, Part 2

Thanks again to the lovely Lesley Logan for collaborating with me on this YouTube video series.

If you missed last week's post – the first installation of this series – you can view it here.

Over the course of 3 posts we'll take a closer look at the 6 exercises which make up the Rowing Series on the Reformer:

The 6 Rowing Series exercises as they appear in the order of the Pilates Reformer exercises:

  • Rowing 1: Into the Sternum
  • Rowing 2: 90° 
  • Rowing 3: From the Chest
  • Rowing 4: From the Hip
  • Rowing 5: Shave
  • Rowing 6: Hug

So for this week's video collab we'll look at the middle 2 exercises in our Rowing Series.

Rowing 3: From the Chest

The Pilates System: Rowing Series on the Reformer, Part 2

I find this Rowing exercise – From the Chest – to be a choice nugget of Pilates goodness.

It's just so perfect.

The support you receive from the straps helps to lift your tall back up and forward. And next there's a brilliant moment where the support of the straps goes away and yet you must maintain your lift!

Twice. Twice this moment happens!

Our first moments of (albeit supported) Reach!

Let's unpack it:

  • Sit tall.
  • Reach arms straight out to eye level. Imagine the lower back lifts and follows the trajectory of your fingertips.
  • Keep the lift and reach into the handles toward the carriage, forward and down.
  • Lift the lower back and reach forward continuing arms all the way up overhead.
  • Pause.
  • Lift your chest and gaze. Lift your whole-self. This is the raison d'être of this exercise!
  • Keep the lift of the back and reach fingertips side to side in your periphery with control.
  • Repeat 3x.

Rowing 4: From the Hip

The Pilates System: Rowing Series on the Reformer, Part 2

Rowing 3+4 just may be my favorites of the Rowing Series. Keep a long lifted body as you reach first toward your heels and then forward and all the way up to the same finish as Rowing 3.

Challenge yourself further by holding the carriage still on your journey to the upright position.


  • Sit tall with hands on the mat beside you.
  • Lift and round over the lower body as you reach your fingertips along the mat and forward.
  • Reach below your heels if possible.
  • And now for a wonderful moment of foreshadowing. Use your reach a là Swan on the Barrel and bring the entire torso upright with arms overhead.
  • Pause. Keep the lift and S-L-O-W-L-Y reach fingertips side-to-side in your periphery. Don't rush this moment!
  • Repeat 3x.

Enjoy this short tutorial collaboration.

Thanks for watching!

Wanna see more video collabs like this one?

Suggest your favorite exercises in a comment below!

And here's where to find me in 2018

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  1. Nice Nuggets of Insight! You make those look soooo easy. Will try harder and go slower on the strap release asap; plus I’m looking forward to becoming my own WINE opener (yaaaaas) I need a visual to stay lifted as I seek the ruby juice!

    Question: The back is always lifting…but here, the back is straight up and down (3&4) vs. the slight tilt forward (but still straight) in Shave…and then return to straight up and down in Hug….right? I always get a bit discombobbled with these back positions.
    Another question: Often in #4, I can really flex my feet (too much) allowing too much leg. What is the purpose of the foot position changing? Just curious….
    And: hands on the handles…fingers always straight? I ask because fingers wrapped can accommodate my pinky (PTTP!) to work a bit more thus allowing more strap assist and access to the back. hmmmmm
    Going to experiment 🙂 THANK YOU!!!!!

    • Hi there –

      Ooh you’ve got lots of good questions – glad you are enjoying this series 🙂

      Regarding the back lift and up and forward-ness of Rowings 3,4,5,6 – Keep thinking that you are slightly up and forward (on the inside) for all of these. Initially you’ll be perhaps more on a diagonal up and forward for the Shave, but I think ideally the position is more straight up and down just like Hug but with the lift up and forward on the inside. For a while I think the more diagonal position for Shave is more manageable, but I believe the goal is to Shave straight up from a Tall back.

      Regarding the foot position change from Rowing 3 to Rowing 4: My interpretation of the thought process here with these 2 exercises is that #3 is working on prepping the back for what’s to come (#4 and beyond) with super tall lift throughout the exercise – so that in #4 you can get more of a global stretch of the back of the body similar to Spine Stretch Forward on the Mat. So think of the foot position more as a reach of the heels forward creating the maximum amount of length in the back of the body, rather than a “flexed foot” position. Does that make sense?

      On the handles you could keep the fingers long, or use the grip. Sometimes when I think I need more connection I use the grip, but often Jay sses it and tells me to use the long fingers – I suspect because the grip may cause me (and perhaps others?) to get tense in my upper body? Not entirely out of the question for me LOL… See what you think…

      Thanks so much for sharing these thoughts and questions here – #rockon you #awesomePilatesgeek
      See you on Friday!

      • Alessandra Niccolai says

        Hmmm.. you do look good when you do those exercises lady..???? … something to aspire to!
        I think I can add something on to Cor’s question about flexed feet in from the hip (no 4) – as you say it’s like spine stretch forward which we also practice with flexed feet… in Thomas Myer’s book (yes, I have a nerdy copy????) he describes the superficial back line (of fascia) which runs from the top of the forehead right down the back of the body under the soles of the feet ; hence when we’re in round back, think spine stretch forward, rollover, roll up, elephant, push down etc I’m thinking we have flexed feet to complete the stretch of the back line…? And so your description of reaching the heels away rather than pulling toes in would fit this perfectly ???????????????? #supernerd????
        Also… with regards to the slight forward tilt in these exercises I find that by thinking I’m tilting forward it kind of helps me to keep the connection of my ribs into my back and in fact I’m probably just sitting tall, if that makes sense? I feel the same way in the reach and side to side on the short box. Otherwise my ribs are pokey☺️ … now I’m realizing there’s a lot more to these exercises than I had thought…???? ….love this nerdy chat..???? #geekon my friends ???? you are my favorite #happyshinypilatespeople????????????

        • I think we should all plan to meet at an anatomy trains Fiji conference. Hmmmmm. Thanks for this, Yes, right, it’s not about the FEET but the whole loooong line of the back body! I’m going to try and visualize this when I Row….I think I’m so focused on my “row” that my feet just seem to be an annoying flex or straight thing to worry about but….no, alas, it’s about the connection. I also tried Rowing on the Tower, and indeed! yes! when I have something to push my heels into vs the empty well of the Reformer the connection is much greater….hmmmm #nerdonpilatespeople

          • Alessandra Niccolai says

            I’m with you sista ????there’s a lot going on in rowing… ???? on the tower..???? that sounds interesting.. must try it! Assuming you face the tower and use arm springs? Connected feet sounds good ???????? helps to find the lower body reach I’m thinking ????…. anatomy trains Fiji sounds fun.. ????.. would need winning lottery ticket for that one though ????????

          • You are correct. I learned to keep the legs together for Rowing on the Cadillac/Tower, but placing the heels on the upright poles for better connection is also a way the exercises are done – facing the arm springs for rowing 1+2 and facing away from them for 3,4,5,6. They are no joke on the Cadillac, but yes, worth investigating and then later, exploiting on the Reformer 🙂

          • Ooh that is a good hack for the heels reaching position to do it with the arm springs on the tower or Cadillac. Well done! Then you can take your connection to the Reformer Rowing 4. Nice!

      • ah, of course! It’s never the feet but the long back body reach putting them in a flexed position can give you. duh. Guess I’m not quite getting that connection yet!! Makes sense tho! Ok, got it up and lifted, slight diagonal to start but with the goal to be straight up and down always…Thanks for all the answers #willkeeptrying 🙂

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