Beginner Pilates Reformer Workout in Photos

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Beginner Pilates Reformer Workout

Two woman doing leg exercises on pilates reformer machines. Rear angle view with legs straight up. Click below for more in this series plus my other working out and staying fit images:
Eliza Snow/E+/Getty Images

This beginner Pilates reformer workout shows you the exercises and their sequence as taught at The Pilates Center of Boulder. Each photo includes equipment notes, safety tips, and a few cues. These Pilates pros show their expertise so you can see where you are going with the exercises, but please don't be intimidated!

This is intended to be a reminder photo reference for those doing home reformer workouts in conjunction with Pilates classes. The exercise instructions are not detailed and the tips are not intended to replace live Pilates instruction which is critical for optimum benefit from Pilates equipment exercises.

We have cited the number of springs we are using. Your reformer and spring resistance might be different.

Breathe fully -- deep inhales and full exhales. In general, breathe in as you take the carriage out. Exhale as you bring the carriage in. I have noted places where that varies.

Start the Beginner Pilates Reformer Photo Sequence

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The Reformer Footwork

pilates reformer footwork
3 foot positions. (c)2011, Marguerite Ogle

Footwork Notes:

  • 4 springs. Headrest up.
  • 10 reps each foot position - out on the inhale, in on the exhale

Foot Position Sequence:

  • Pilates V - balls of the feet on foot bar, heels lifted, knees no more the shoulder width
  • Bird on a Perch - legs together
  • Heels - legs together
  • Heels Lower Lift

Reminders on Reformer Footwork

  • The footwork is done in neutral spine with engaged abs.
  • In Pilates V, the lift of the heels helps engage the inner thigh and pelvic floor.
  • Go for length -- both on the inhale and the exhale.
  • Make sure the whole leg is working, especially the back of the leg -- this is not just a quad exercise.
  • Press the backs of the arms into the mat.

Learn Pilates footwork on the mat

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The Reformer Footwork Continued - Heels Lower and Lift

reformer exercise
Heel lower lifts on the reformer. (c)2011, Marguerite Ogle

  • Return the feet to Pilates V, heels lifted, balls of feet on footbar.
  • 10 sets

Footwork Tips:

  • Press out, stay out, then lower the heels for 3 counts and raise for 3.
  • Heels lift to come in.

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The Hundred on the Pilates Reformer

pilates reformer hundred
(c)2011, Marguerite Ogle

  • Footbar is down.
  • Take the handles.
  • 10 sets - 5 pumps in-breath, 5 pumps out-breath.

Tips on the Hundred on the Pilates Reformer

  • At the beginning level, the exercise starts with curling the head and upper spine up as the legs fold in - arms straight.
  • The legs are then taken to a table top position, or extended straight up at 90 degrees, or slightly lower as shown.
  • Hold the position, belly drawing in as straight arms pump up and down.
  • For details, review the hundred on the mat.
  • Safety tip: the legs must not go so low that the back is peeling off the mat.
  • If you are more advanced, you could insert the rowings series next.
  • Beginners and Intermediates move on to leg circles.

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Leg Circles on the Pilates Reformer

pilates reformer exercise
(c)2011, Marguerite Ogle

  • 2 springs. Headrest up.
  • Thread the long straps through the loops and handles. Be sure the metal clip is on the outside.
  • 5 circles each direction.

Tips for Leg Circles on the Pilates Reformer

  • Legs up and together, externally rotated. Rotate outward from the hips.
  • Beginner legs go no lower than 45 degrees.
  • Exhale to bring the legs up. Inhale to sweep open. Exhale to bring them together and up.

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The Frog on the Pilates Reformer

pilates reformer exercise - frog
(c)2011, Marguerite Ogle

  • 2 springs.
  • Long straps are still on.
  • Headrest is still up.
  • 5 Reps.

Tips for The Frog on the Pilates Reformer

  • Frog is done in neutral spine.
  • The legs are rotated outward at the hips
  • Keep the inner thighs engaged. Do not take the knees beyond shoulder width.
  • Also see frog with exercise band
  • If you want to take your workout up a notch, you can insert the reformer rowing exercises at this point then come back and continue with stomach massage.

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Stomach Massage - Rounded

pilates stomach massage
(c)2011, Marguerite Ogle

  • 4 Springs.
  • Headrest up.
  • 8 Reps.

Tips for Stomach Massage - Rounded:

  • Sit close to the edge of the carriage on non-slip pads if you have them. This is a deep C-curve position.
  • Start with feet are in Pilates V with heels lifted.
  • Inhale to press out, exhale takes the heels down, inhale lifts the heels, exhale to bring carriage in with a deep crease at the hip.

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Stomach Massage - Arms Back

pilates stomach massage
(c)2011, Marguerite Ogle

  • Drop a spring - 3 Springs.
  • 8 reps.

Tips for Stomach Massage - Arms Back:

  • Sit close to the edge of the carriage on non-slip pads.
  • Feet start in Pilates V with heels lifted.
  • Lift through the whole rib cage, not just the front. Use the arms back to open the chest.
  • Start with feet in Pilates V with heels lifted. Inhale to press out, exhale takes the heels down, inhale lifts the heels, exhale to bring carriage in.
  • Use your abs.
  • Work the inner thighs and backs of the legs. Go for a deep crease at the hip when you come in.

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Short Box - Round Back

short box exercise on the reformer
(c)2011, Marguerite Ogle

  • The short box goes over the shoulder blocks.
  • Flexed Feet go under the strap.
  • 5 Reps.

Tips for Short Box - Round Back

  • Sit up on the sit bones and think of the up the front and down the back feeling through the legs.
  • The exercise starts in a deep, long, C-curve and you keep that curve as you curl the pelvis under and onto the legs to go back. This is an abdominal exercise. Don't just hinge of your thighs.
  • Inhale to go back. Exhale to come up.

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Short Box - Flat Back

  • The short box goes over the shoulder blocks.
  • Flexed feet go under the strap.
  • 5 reps.

Tips for Short Box - Flat Back

  • Sit up on the sit bones and think of the up the front and down the back feeling through the legs.
  • Be sure to keep the torso in one piece, in line with the pelvis. Lift up and back through the belly. Don't arch back. Keep the arms engaged in the back.
  • Inhale to go back. Exhale to come up.

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Short Box Series - Flat Back with Pole

Pilates reformer short box series
Arms connected to the core, shoulders down. (c)2011, Marguerite Ogle

  • The short box goes over the shoulder blocks.
  • Feet go under the strap.
  • 5 Reps.

Tips for Short Box - Flat Back with Pole

  • Sit up on the sit bones and think of the up the front and down the back feeling through the legs.
  • Be sure to keep the torso in one piece - lift up and back through the belly. Keep the arms engaged in the back and in your peripheral vision.
  • Inhale to go back. Exhale to come up.

If you do an intermediate workout, you can add climb a tree here, then move on to elephant.

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Elephant on the Pilates Reformer

Elephant on Pilates Reformer
(c)2011, Marguerite Ogle

  • 2 Springs.
  • Headrest up.
  • Footbar up.
  • 8 Reps.

Tips for Elephant on the Pilates Reformer

  • Be sure to connect down through your heels.
  • The carriage moves in and out because of the lift of your abs, not just a hinge at the hips.
  • Use your exhale to bring the carriage in briskly.
  • Feel the springs and footbar feeding into your center.

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Knee Stretch Series: Round Back

Pilates knee stretches
(c)2011, Marguerite Ogle

  • 2 Springs.
  • Footbar up.
  • Headrest up.
  • 8 Reps.

Tips for Knee Stretch with Round Back

Once you establish your beautiful round back and scooped belly, keep it. Knee stretches are just an opening and closing at the hip. Nothing else moves. Be sure your belly is doing the work.

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Knee Stretch Series: Arch Back

Pilates knee stretches
(c)2011, Marguerite Ogle

  • 2 Springs.
  • Footbar up.
  • Headrest up.
  • 8 Reps.

Tips for Knee Stretch with Arched Back

Once you establish your beautiful extended back and lifted abs, keep the position. Knee stretches are an opening and closing at the hip. Nothing else moves. Be sure your belly is doing the work.

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Running on the Pilates Reformer

Pilates running exercise
(c)2011, Marguerite Ogle

  • 4 Springs.
  • Headrest up.
  • Footbar up.
  • 20 Sets.

Tips for Running on the Pilates Reformer

Be sure to pay attention to the articulation of the feet. Emphasis is on the lift of the heel and the energy from the back of the leg.

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Bottom Lift on the Pilates Reformer

Pilates bottom lift
(c)2011, Marguerite Ogle

  • 4 Springs.
  • Footbar up.
  • Headrest up.
  • 5-8 Reps.

Tips for Bottom Lift on the Pilates Reformer

  • Be sure the turnout comes from deep inside your hips, not your knees.
  • The pelvis lifts only fist height above the carriage.
  • Neutral spine. This is not a tuck of the pelvis.
  • Take advantage of the press of the backs of your arms on the mat.

Grateful appreciation goes to the The Pilates Center of Boulder. The photos here were taken at The Pilates Center of Boulder and feature the Centerline reformer. Centerline Pilates equipment is based on Joseph Pilates' designs and available through Balanced Body Pilates. Our exceptional model is Pilates instructor Paula Kirkland and the shoot was coached by Deborah Kolwey.

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