The Universal Reformer: A Brief Tutorial on the Tree

The Universal Reformer: A Brief Tutorial on the Tree

For Tessa

Thanks so much to everyone who attended my Cadillac workshop this past weekend at LauraBPilates studio in Raleigh, NC.

It was a pleasure to meet and work with so many awesome readers. You guys rocked it on the Cadillac and the Standing Arm Springs!

The Universal Reformer: A Brief Tutorial on the Tree

Gifts from Joe Pilates

Joe Pilates has bestowed numerous gifts upon us. My favorite one is of course the gift of repetition. Do your exercises frequently and your body will reap the benefits. Even if you don't think you're particularly good at your exercises, it's the doing it anyway that counts.

And you're probably better than you think…

Lately I've come to feel a kind of Pilates déjà vu in my workout.

Hmmm… I've been here before…

The Tree is chock full of moments just like this.

See if you can find the moments of Spine Stretch, Open Leg Rocker, the Roll Up, Single Leg Circles, Double Leg Pull and High Bridge all jam-packed into one workhorse of an exercise.

Thank God for the Tree

Early on in my Pilates journey I was decidedly NOT a fan of the Short Box Series.

The Tree was the exception.

A fundamental exercise in our order of the Reformer exercises, the Tree, succeeded in making the entire Short Box Series just that much more bearable fun. 

The Tree is a versatile exercise that continues to grow and blossom along with our Pilates practice.

Even the basic version is not easy.

Later on you can turn on the jazz with your first taste of High Bridge.

Tree Time

If we distill the Tree down to its very essence it could look like this:

The Universal Reformer: A Brief Tutorial on the Tree

Sit up as tall as you can and reach your leg as much as possible without sinking in the back.

Your lift inward and upward must increase as your leg reaches further away from center.

Further progressions could include just setting up your Tree position:

The Universal Reformer: A Brief Tutorial on the TreeThe Universal Reformer: A Brief Tutorial on the Tree

Maybe you control yourself into this position and then return upright 3 times.

Later you'll learn to lower your upper body away from the center – just a little bit at a time. Remember to only roll backward as much as you can successfully return.

The Universal Reformer: A Brief Tutorial on the Tree

Over time you'll work your way all the way back and into the well if you are able.

The Universal Reformer: A Brief Tutorial on the Tree

And once you're completely comfortable upside down you've got some fun options:

The Universal Reformer: A Brief Tutorial on the Tree

Reach for the frame and pull everything in toward your center.

The Universal Reformer: A Brief Tutorial on the Tree

Ultimately you can add an empowering precursor to the High Bridge with lovely support from our friend the Short Box.

Here you may add the Single Leg Circles from Pilates Mat fame.

Holy stomach exercise, Batman!

And it's all leading up to where we began very simply: a global stretch of the back of the body in our final moment of Tree:

The Universal Reformer: A Brief Tutorial on the Tree

What's going on here anyhow?

Take another look at our final moment of the Tree. Every exercise in the Short Box Series is leading to this point: a global stretch of the back of the body.

That final moment of the Tree is the money note, the big kahuna, your raison d'être…

Often in this exercise we become preoccupied with stretching the back of the leg. We all feel so incredibly inflexible in this exercise, even the most loosey-goosey among us.

The back must take precedence over the leg. And the more lift you find in your back – ooooh that tight leg will get a fantastic stretch! See what you think.

Further Reading

Want even more info on the Tree and the Short Box Series?

Check out these related posts – you know I'm completely obsessed with all things Short Box…let's see if you are too!

Enjoy this short video tutorial.

Thanks for watching!

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  1. Missy Zderadicka says

    Hi Andrea!! I would love to see a tutorial on swan on the reformer!!!

    • Hi Missy,

      Wow – that is a big kahuna! But yes, I will add the Swan on the Reformer to my list. I do quite enjoy this exercise now so I have some tips that will be helpful I think… Thank you! And stay tuned 🙂

    • Oh yes please, I’d love that too! Because I literally just slide all around when I have tried it…like once…so I end up just skipping it and heading over to the LB!

      • You got it – it’s a favorite exercise of mine now – and I REALLY can’t believe I am saying that – so I am happy to help 🙂 Stay tuned! xo

  2. Hey there!! Yippee!! An exercise I can do!! ???? I ❤️❤️ Tree! It most definitely is my ‘raison d’être’ with that fabulous full back body stretch at the end!! However, great to have it broken down in detail like you do???????? I’ve kind of been taught the choreography but realize that I’ve been missing those subtle nuances that you highlight so well!! Love the ‘press your leg into your hands to get more lift’ -that definitely worked for me and my eternal quest to find more LIFT on the short box…
    Also the references to spine stretch forward helped me to get a rounder shape -I think!! I’ll be showing that to you in our next skype session!!
    I was definitely taught to straighten my leg at the beginning and this definitely made it feel more like a leg stretch than the full body stretch experience you refer to!! Good to have clarity on the different back shapes this monster exercise incorporates….
    Phew! #rockon Andrea ???? #pilatesgeeksunite
    Now I’m off for a martini after all that work!! ????????????????
    Happy Stretchy Holidays ????????????????

    • Alessandra,

      Oh all this news sounds great – glad to be of help 🙂 Cannot wait to see your new Tree! xox And yes, Martinis shall be had this week! xox

    • OMG. Grrrl, we have the SAME Pilates quest I swear…”Love the ‘press your leg into your hands to get more lift’ ” was exactly my thought too! This was an excellent tip that actually granted me that back lift before tipping back into the yonder!

      • Exactly! We need to r-e-a-c-h back instead of collapsing down the hole..LOL ???????????? #tryingtofindmorelift ???? #pilatesgeeksunite ????????????

        • Ok you guys are AWESOME!! Let’s throw out some dates for a Solana Beach Martini party. We should invite Samantha too 🙂

          • Coolio???????? I’m sure I’ll be over in the summer, if not before! I’ll keep an eye on the Vintage Pilates website to check for upcoming workshops so I can try to plan my trip around those..or any that you teach in the LA area….????????????????

  3. Tessa Millis says

    WOW! You look amazing, Andrea! I am going to have to work hard on this one, but with your help, I’ve got a bit more energy to keep at it!! Thanks so much for your kind thoughtfulness and attention to requests from your peeps out here! 🙂
    “Flexibility for Longevity!” You got it!

    • Tessa,

      Awww… thank you so much – how sweet of you 🙂 It’s my favorite the Tree – so good for me – and it used to be a fun time, now it’s gotten harder, but in all the right stretchy sweaty ways… Stay tuned for a few more requests coming your way in the next few weeks: a bit of Footwork and the Teaser! Woot Woot! Thank you so much for watching!

  4. Great tutorial as always, Andrea! Once again, you’ve reminded us it’s about THE LIFT in the back. (I see a common theme! Ha!) Thanks! 🙂

    • Ha Ha you are right Julie! Lift is always a common theme…our 3 best Pilates friends: Lift, length and control 🙂 Thank you so much for watching!

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