Top 6 Best Pilates Reformer Exercises for All Levels of Experience

Whether you are new to exercise as a whole, new to Pilates, or just someone who wants to get a great full-body workout, Pilates reformer exercises offer a great way to improve your general health and fitness. Maybe you already are familiar with the benefits of Pilates reformer exercises.

These include increased bone and muscular strength, improved posture, and better range of motion. But one of the best things about Pilates reformer work is that exercises can be scaled to any experience level. Here are the six best exercises for anyone, arranged in no particular order.

1. Leg Circles

a young fit woman doing a leg exercise on Pilates reformer

Though they are sometimes called a beginner exercise, leg circles offer an easily scalable exercise. Through reducing or increasing the resistance, this is an exercise that can challenge every fitness level.

To perform leg circles, you will need to lie on your back on the reformer. You will be using the leg cables. However, if you are very new to exercise, you can always practice this exercise on the ground without resistance.

Because the concept of progressive overload (or gradually and systematically increasing the challenge of an exercise) is vital to progress, it is important to challenge yourself further each time the exercise begins to feel too easy. So, for this exercise, you may want to start on the ground and then move to the reformer with a low-tension spring.

First, you will need to bring your legs up, so they are perpendicular to your body. Then, you will need to sweep them open and around, pause, and return to starting position. While this exercise involves leg motion, it does an excellent job of engaging and working your core.

2. The Short Box Series – Flat Back

a young fit woman working with the short box on Pilates reformer

This exercise is also a great abdominal builder, and it is helpful for people of all fitness levels. To perform this exercise – which is basically an elevated abdominal crunch – you will need to sit on a short box that is placed on the reformer. Then, you will need to flex your feet beneath the strap. This will help hold you in place.

Thinking about engaging and pulling from your abdomen, you will then need to lean backward, come up, and return to the starting position. When doing this exercise, it is important to think about engaging to the core and moving slowly.

3. The Hundred

a young woman performing the hundred exercise on a Pilates reformer machine

This classic is one of the most popular Pilates reformer exercises, and by adjusting the resistance as needed, you can make it as easy or as challenging as you please. To perform the hundred, start by lying on your back on the reformer.

Bend your legs so your thighs are at a 90-degree angle with the rest of your body, and so your calves are at a 90-degree angle with your thighs.

Then, you will need to pull the straps to the level of your abdomen, curl your head and shoulders up off the headrest, and move your arms up and down in a pulse-like motion. As the exercise name suggests, you want to repeat the pulse motion 100 times. However, if you are new to Pilates, you can pause and rest if needed.

4. Pulling Straps with Long Box

several people pulling straps with long box on Pilates reformers

This exercise works to build the muscles of the upper back, which in turn will improve your posture. This exercise, like the short box abdominal exercises above, makes use of a Pilates accessory called the long box.

To start, place the long box on the reformer and lie on top, with your chest just over the edge. You will then need to extend your arms above your head to grab the straps. In a smooth motion, pull the straps down to your hips. This motion will move your body forward.

5. The Pike

a young woman doing the pike exercise on a Pilates reformer

Most Pilates reformer exercises have a handful of variations that practitioners can use to make the exercise easier or more difficult, and the pike is no exception. This full-body exercise is an excellent choice for beginners and experienced exercisers alike who want to build core strength and full-body flexibility.

To start, hold a plank position with your feet on the frame and your hands on the reformer carriage. Then, pull your weight back to your feet. This will move the carriage toward you and raise your hips into the air. Return to the starting position and repeat the motion as needed.

This may be a challenging motion even for those who are in good shape. Because of this, it may be a good idea to start without using any springs, as this exercise is challenging enough as-is. If the pike becomes too easy, you can always add springs.

6. Reverse Knee Stretch with Alternating Leg Lift

a woman doing the reverse knee stretch exercise on a reformer

Reformer Pilates instructor John Garey advocates this eye-catching exercise that promotes full-body strength and stability. As with many Pilates reformer exercises, it may be helpful to start with little to no resistance and then add resistance if it becomes necessary. Start by kneeling on the carriage with your hands grasping the sides of the frame.

Then, you will pull one knee forward while extending the other out behind you. Garey says that it helps to think of taking “giant kneeling steps.” While this exercise is called a “knee stretch,” it actually has several great benefits for the hip flexors. As you become more skilled at performing this exercise, you may want to add higher-tension springs to continue progressively overloading your body.

Bottom Line

While the benefits of Pilates reformer exercises are excellent, the variety of exercises to choose from is seemingly endless. For beginners and experienced Pilates practitioners alike, it can be challenging to choose which exercises will make up each workout.

While the above list is only a sampling of exercises, it offers a selection of reformer exercises that work equally well for all experience levels. After all, one of the greatest benefits of Pilates reformer exercises is the fact that each can be scaled to the user’s ability. If you haven’t yet added reformer Pilates to your exercise routine, start today!

Image sources: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7

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