Before and After - Correcting an Exercise on the Pilates Reformer

A Sagging Plank on the Reformer

pilates reformer exercise
A "Before" Photo. (c)2010, Steven Boshoff

In this tutorial we take advantage of some photos sent in by a reader. Steve, a Pilates instructor in training, was kind enough to send us a couple of photos of himself making progress, with the help of his instructor, on a very difficult Pilates reformer exercise.

Before you panic, we are not going to be learning this exercise. What we are going to do is look at the elements of Steve's form that you can apply to many Pilates exercises you do, from beginner through advanced.

What we have here is a basic plank position. What is making this exercise extra difficult is that Steve is doing it perched on the Pilates reformer with his feet on the foot bar and his hands on the shoulder rests, which means that the carriage of the reformer can slide away from him unless he really engages his Pilates powerhouse. From this position there are reformer exercises that are even harder, like control balance front, or leg pull front reformer.

In this first view, Steve is showing us some classic things that can go wrong with a plank position - and it doesn't matter if you are doing basic plank, push up, leg pull front, or long stretch on the reformer, these issue appear.

What we want to see is long line from ankle to ear. What you see so far is that Steve's head is dropped and he is getting very little support from his core. Those factors are conspiring to overload his shoulders and the outsides of his arms. You can see that, right?

Note that when we feel unstable, as anyone would in this precarious position, we tend to load onto whatever area we think is our strongest. In men, that's usually the shoulders. If this was a woman you might see her in more of a pike position trying to get weight and power into her legs and hips.

Next, lets see the first improvement Steve makes.

Pilates Reformer Correction: Lifted Abs

pilates reformer exercise
Correcting the Line with Abdominal Lift. (c)2010, Steven Boshoff

Look what a difference it has made for Steve to engage his abdominal muscles. He's found core support by pulled his deep abdominal muscles in toward his spine. The whole line is much better and the energy is starting to balance out. Now that the all-important core is doing its work, there will be enough security for Steve to lift his head.

Next, more improvements. And how YOU can get here.

Pilated Reformer Correction: Getting a Longer, Straighter Line

pilates reformer exercise
A Long Line on the Reformer. (c)2010, Steven Boshoff

Much better. With the abs working and head lifted, Steve has close to a long, straight line from ankle to ear. Do you also see that Steve's legs look stronger and more engaged with the midline? A sharp eye might note that his triceps (back of the arm) are turning on too.

There is still a lot of tension in the shoulders and neck. Steve has the core, but he's not fully trusting it yet. Can you see that the invitation here is for Steve to lengthen out of his ribcage letting his shoulders roll back and down? That would allow more freedom for his neck, open his chest, and connect him more to his core support. Imagine what a pretty, balanced line that will make.

You might be thinking: Wait a minute, the guy is precariously perched on a Pilates machine that could slide out from under him and you want him to lift his head and make a "pretty line". How am I even going to get there?

The answer is that you are going to build up to it. Here are some exercises to get you started:

  • Kneeling Arm/leg Reach - an easy exercise that starts building the back and belly strength you will need.
  • Plank (of course)
  • Swan - this is where you will find that lovely, supported extension out of the rib cage.
  • Push Up - will improve arm and shoulder strength as well as help make the full body connection you need in order to maintain the form as it moves.
  • Leg Pull Front - an intermediate move that will build pelvic and shoulder stability.

Before we go, thanks to Steve. This is a very challenging exercise and he did a great job with it. And, of course, thanks to instructor Irene Apostolides from Core Connection Pilates as well. Images like this are so helpful to all of us!

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