The Pilates System: Russian Splits on the Reformer

The Pilates System: Russian Splits on the Reformer

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All Hail the Russian Splits

The Russian Splits in our order of the Reformer exercises is potentially the very last exercise of your Advanced Reformer workout.

Now we'll work into the full split for which our Front Split exercise has deftly prepared us.

Like our Side Splits and Front Splits, the Russian Split is 3-exercises-in-1.

For security in this exercise, place a pad on the headpiece of the Reformer and also, if necessary, on the footbar for your back foot.

  • Facing the back of the Reformer, stand on the carriage with both hands on the shoulder blocks.
  • Place your back leg into position on the footbar first.
  • Support yourself with your hands on the shoulder blocks and step your front foot into position halfway onto the headpiece.
  • Keep the back leg straight. Bend your front leg into a deep lunge position.
  • Holding onto the shoulder blocks, extend your front leg forward 3x. Be careful not to lock out your knees.
  • Now repeat the same thing but with no hands: arms cross in front or place hands behind the head.
  • Bring your hands back to the shoulder blocks, straighten both legs and close the carriage.
  • Now for that split: without locking the knees, power the exercise with the back leg and center, reaching the carriage out for a full split 3x.
  • Despite the seductive split, work to close the springs with control. Find your Elephant for efficient carriage-closing goodness!
  • To exit the exercise, bring the front foot onto the carriage first and then bring the back leg down.
  • Repeat on the other side.

What could go wrong?

For years I struggled to keep my back leg even remotely straight.

Tight hips and a sluggish butt make this split exercise a challenge. The next day you may wonder “Why does my butt hurt so much? What have I done? Oh yes… the Russian Split…”

Giving your heel a firm placement on the footbar will assist you as you reach through the back leg.

I like to imagine I am working my back leg (although it remains stationary) in tandem with the movement of the front leg.

I smell 2-way stretch!

Work to find your center to power the action of your front leg. Pull your leg into center more than pushing out the carriage.

Finding your seat will help to marginalize the thighs and hips which may try to take over…

Balancing in this deep squat position can be a challenge. Work this exercise well with your hands on the shoulder blocks before you take your hands away.

30 Day Wunda Chair Challenge: UPDATE!

Today is Day 6 for me.

Even with only a few days into the challenge I feel a new strength in my standing positions. And I mean in life – standing at work all day long and feeling my center instead of in my hips and legs.


Day 1 got my hopes up for the Star. I felt very strong and successful in the exercise.

Alas, on Day 2, my Star skills were nowhere to be found. Oh well, 28 more days to go.

To soothe my ego after the Star debacle, I added the Twist for myself as a yummy stretch and a feel-good ending.

Find more information on the Twist here.

Lest we forget our trusty companion the Small Barrel…

For the record, I continue to work my Small Barrel exercises before hopping onto the Wunda.

We need our skills of Frog and Scissors wherever we go in the Pilates studio.

On the Wunda Chair we have a wham-bam series of 3 exercises at the end: Going Up Front, Mountain Climb and Star. The Small Barrel skills remind us the center is king!

I am amazed at the ease one can find in the strength of the center. We must resist! the tendency to make the Mountain Climb a max-out-your-legs exercise.

Thanks to the Small Barrel – and of course Karen Frischmann – I was surprised and delighted to have greater stamina, balance and control despite being perched high on top of Mt. Wunda.

Although some #pilatesproblemsolving will be necessary for the Star… stay tuned!

Enjoy this short tutorial.

Stay tuned for more tutorials on the Wunda Chair exercises. Leave your requests in a comment below.

And here's where to find me in 2017!

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  1. ah…I see. Great tute. So, in a nutshell, the Russian’s are really about keeping that back leg/heel connected and reaching to the Footbar (no wonder I find these so difficult)…more than say, the front leg/center moving the Carriage? I would imagine this could easily turn into a thigh/hammy exercise if one is not diligent in keeping that back leg connection (hello Mountain Climber!) You make it look sooo easy, like you are in a FULL SPLIT almost! Ok, will get to these Russian’s as soon as I master the Wunda Challenge; this is proving tough for me! My body knows it is so challenged on the Chair, it’s like…um, let’s just do the Barrel so we can lay flat. NOOOO!! Must strengthen! Def. a challenge, and the STAR….my body seriously is like…ok, just hanging out here standing on the the Pedal…luckily I can easily transform to the One Leg Pull Up to feel something was accomplished. LOVE IT ALL! THANK YOU! xo

    • Corrie,

      Sounds like you have a wonderful plan…yes, the Russian Splits can get leggy and quaddy if you are not concentrating on your center. Keep up the good work! And I always think Star is like Side Kicks Kneeling on the Mat comes back with a vengeance. LOL. Looking forward to seeing you tomorrow! xox

      • so six weeks later…mustering up these Russians! The one really glaring thing I notice is when moving the foot “up” the headrest (heel in crease) I have that same weird moment like in one legged Tendon Stretch, where everything completely falls apart (=lose stomach, butt, standing foot connection). It’s veeeeeery interesting! Perhaps the Russians will help with my Tendon 🙂 I’ll show you Friday! 🙂

  2. Really love what you’re doing here, Andrea! (Haven’t checked in in a while…). Thanks! I love your point about using the seat rather than the hips…such a challenge…

    • Hi Lisa!
      Thanks for your kind words – and I hope you are doing well 🙂 And yes, Russian Splits – SUCH. a challenge. xo

  3. Alessandra says

    Eek!! My list of exercises to practice is getting very long!! This is a new one for me -Russian splits – yikes I think this is another one for me to aim for when I’ve mastered the front splits !! If ever…. #keeppracticing????
    I’m sorry to say that I’ve fallen behind with the wunda chair challenge… ???? I’m not as familiar with this repertoire but am looking forward to seeing you very soon to sort this out????????????
    However , on another note, I’m still practicing the barrel exercises and can report that when doing the leg Spring series yesterday I really felt a proper connection of my arms into my back when I pressed my hands up into the tower and my ribs finally anchored down on the mat….so yay!! Bit by bit, it’s all coming together , so to speak! And am thinking that’ll help me with exercises like the pull up on the chair….so I’m getting there….slowly…..☺️
    Looking forward to seeing you soon Andrea???? #rockon #pilatesgeeksontour????

    • Hi there –

      Full disclosure – I am falling behind on my own Wunda Chair challenge. More deets on this in an upcoming post. So many exercises to work on – I know. Suffice it to say this Wunda challenge is not the warm, fuzzy and feel good land of our friend the Barrel… your progress and awareness sounds amazing and I cannot wait to see you in London. So much to catch up on! #pilatesgeeksontour #nextstopUK

      • Alessandra says

        Ha ha???? Life just gets in the way sometimes doesn’t it!!
        What I’m now realising is how each piece of apparatus helps us with another… even if I don’t practice the reformer every day , as long as I practice something, it all helps when I go back to the reformer, if you see what I mean…. ???? … #itsallconnected #seeyousoon???? Will three days be enough?!! ????

        • Hey there!
          I too am loving the interaction of all the apparatus in our beloved system! It just gets more and more interesting when we return to the Reformer 🙂 Lovely to see you up close and in person last week and looking forward to our August date. More on this to come. Keep up your fantastic work!! xox

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