The Universal Reformer: A Tutorial on the Side Splits

The Universal Reformer: A Tutorial on the Side Splits

For Corrie

Full disclosure: Side Splits on the Reformer has never been a favorite.

While not as formidable as exercises like Snake Twist and the Neck Pull, Side Splits has always felt a bit scary and precarious for me.

And I think I know why…

I've just completed the bulk of my Reformer workout. I'm wrung out. Sure I've been lying down for a bit. Thanks to Joe Pilates' order of exercises, I've used Running and Pelvic lift to bring myself back to center.

What a great time to stand up on the Reformer???!


The Series of 3

Side Splits is the first exercise in a series of 3 splits. Stay tuned for future tutorials on Front Splits and Russian Splits (If I am truly feeling generous – and brave – I'll upload a video on the 4th split exercise we have, the Big Splits also called the Grand Écarté).

But I'm getting ahead of myself…

Side Splits on the Reformer

At first glance this exercise comes out of nowhere. It's an exercise that makes me think “Hmmm, how is this exercise like all the others?”

Lest we forget our mantra:

The Universal Reformer: A Tutorial on the Side Splits

Upon closer inspection, the Side Splits is a full-on powerhouse power move.

Now into the standing portion of our hour-long workout, soon we'll need to walk out of the studio and into our daily life. Thanks, Joe Pilates for an amazing send off!

Let's not get distracted by the split maneuver. Remember our primary objective is to close the springs with control.

And the action of the Side Splits makes us have to  – literally – pull ourselves together.

Side Splits Step-by-Step

Use 2 springs if Side Splits is a new exercise for you. Ultimately you'll do the exercise on 1 spring.

  • Step up onto the carriage 1 foot at a time.
  • Place 1 foot onto the frame of the Reformer.
  • Keeping the carriage closed, work your foot on the carriage (heel-toe) across to be in front of the shoulder rest and directly in line with your foot on the frame.
  • Press your feet into the Reformer and lift in and up in your center.
  • Press the carriage out and hold 3 counts.
  • Bring the carriage in completely and hold for 3 counts.
  • Repeat 3 times.
  • Bring the foot on the frame onto the carriage and turn toward the springs to get to the other side.
  • Repeat on the other side.

What's this about an embellishment?

  • On the 3rd repetition hold the carriage open as you lower your body over your legs.
  • Roll back up to standing.
  • Close the carriage.
  • Repeat the embellishment with the carriage closed and then proceed to the other side.
  • On the other side you'll do a standing version of the Saw in the same manner: with the carriage open and then with the carriage closed.
  • More deets about these embellishments in the video…

Update: The Small Barrel Project

Today I am 15 days into my self-imposed posture intervention, the Small Barrel Project.

Wowza. Halfway there!

What amazing fabulousness has happened in week 2?

  • I've gathered more intel about the little twist in my body and how it's all tied into strengthening my weak side. Not new information but a new tangible experience of it.

Ah now I understand…

  • I've gained a new understanding of just how much work the center must do to effectively work the seat and open the hips. This will give me plenty to work on in the remainder of this challenge…
  • My neck is now happiest during my exercises. My neck is often annoyed that I am not perfectly postured in every waking moment. Well, at least I'm on the case.
  • I've found a delicious and unexpected Arm Chair moment on the Small Barrel: our old friend the Hug. I'm thoroughly enjoying the open-arms-out-to-the-side position: maintaining a strong anchored-into-the-barrel position with the barrel as a template for my upper back.
  • Most importantly I've noticed the Small Barrel exercises are a microcosm of the skills I work on in my Reformer workout: shoulder blades anchoring into the back, effective use of my seat, connecting to and stretching the sides of my body to my arms and hands, stretching the fronts of my thighs, working my weak side. Perfect your skills here and take them all around the studio. Again not a surprise, just a refreshing reminder.


Enjoy this short video.

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  1. Thanks again for this! I agree, by the time you are near the end it’s like “really!!” I gotta get up there still and move the Carriage with one leg and embellish too!? Hmmmm. Having this “how to” guide on the ol’ SS has really helped me; I think I over thunk them and psyched myself out or just hopped up and sloughffed through them = bad…but getting it demo’d by the great PA is super! I can’t toe heel my leg out all the way yet…but I’ll get there…oh, and keep the Carriage still…right. oops. Suddenly the SS are a mega CHALLENGE!!
    Barrel updates! Yes! As I geeked out to you…
    Tree: I can go back with out a tweeky lower back = more control.
    Semi Circle: Back goes down willingly into the well. Amazing!
    …other tid bits arising too…Mat seems more “connected” in all things and in general, my back simply feels better, elongated and shoulders feel way less slouchy! I think the Barrel shall stay in the regime always 🙂 Maybe we’ll grow unicorn horns after 30 days = BONUS! xo

    • Alessandra says

      Hey there!! Yes I totally agree (again) with you Cor on your observations on the barrel updates… back feels longer and more free and I definitely feel much more anchored during mat work…as I noted during my lesson with Andrea this week when she put me through my mat paces???? – love you really Andrea????- more length in my tailbone and have started to get more lift in my waistline when inverted????????
      Also definitely longer looser hamstrings… the list is endless… and another two weeks to go!!! Yes this will become a permanent fixture to my daily routine????… not sure about the unicorn thingy though..???????? #stilllovingthenarrel ❤️ #pilatesgeeksunite????????
      PS will get back to you on the SS.. it’s on my ‘to do’ list????

      • Alessandra,

        Your Mat exercises looked so good! Keep up the good work – I am so glad you are on the Barrel challenge as well. I am so looking forward to seeing you in London in May. There will be much laying on of hands ha ha. I am seriously considering the barrel exercises as a permanent fixture in my daily routine. Clearly these are valuable exercises !! xox A

        • Thanks for your kind words of support ????!
          Update on SS.. which I added on to my reformer workout today????.. what else does a pilates geek do on a cold rainy Sunday in London….?!! Agree with Cor , toe heel-ing out tricky, keeping carriage still double tricky!! I can’t manage foot all the way to shoulder rest, but always nice to have something to work towards ???? Must admit I rather like the stretchy long limb aspect of this exercise and I rather enjoy it… which probably means I’m not doing it right…. hmm… one for our next session I think!!
          xox ????

          • Of course – let’s look at your Reformer exercises and add in the Side Splits when I see you next. Sounds like a plan to me 🙂 Keep up the good work! xox

    • Corrie,

      Keep up your awesome work – it was a pleasure to see you on Friday. Your back looks amazing! Let’s look more closely at the 2 split exercises next time – that way you can work on the Side Splits and the Front Splits in your Reformer workout. I am with you. My back simply feels better. I have been liking doing one set of my Small Barrel exercises the last thing before I go to bed. I feel even more amazing in the morning…well I did them late on a Saturday and got to sleep in on Sunday, so maybe that’s a help too LOL. Keep looking for those Barrel connections in all your Rowing series… ah- maze- ing! xox see you soon

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