Is your ideal workout one that doesn’t involve huffing and puffing? Then you’ll enjoy doing Pilates reformer exercises. Aside from giving you toned muscles and a fit body, a Pilates machine can also improve your posture, balance and flexibility in the most relaxing way. The best part is, even beginners can pull off these simple but effective Pilates moves!
Pilates for Beginners
If it’s your first time to perform Pilates reformer exercises, don’t worry. The beauty of Pilates is that it suits all fitness levels. And it doesn’t matter if you haven’t attended Pilates classes before either. The fundamental moves are simple to do, and there’s a variety of exercises to choose from for targeting specific body parts. More importantly, you have full control of your workout intensity and pace.
To help you get started, here’s a list of Pilates moves that you can put together to make a personalised routine. Mix and match these beginner reformer exercises to break the monotony, or combine options that’ll work your entire body!
Pilates Reformer Exercises for the Lower Body
Reformer footwork (toes)
- Target. This form of exercise strengthens your leg muscles, including your adductors, glutes, quads, hamstrings and calves, and aims to align your body.
- Reformer setting. Start with two to four springs and the foot bar and headrest up.
- Start position. Lie down straight on the carriage with your head looking up and the shoulders against the blocks. Place your toes on the foot bar and keep your heels together. Have your knees bent and raised, with your kneecap aligned with your toes and shoulders. Your hands should be at the sides and your palms flat on the platform bed.
- Movement. Use your legs to push the carriage and your body away, straightening your knees. Hold this position for a moment before bending your knees again to revert to the start position. Inhale as you extend your legs, then exhale as you contract. Repeat this move up to nine more times.
- Variations. Apply the same movement with your foot arches resting on the foot bar next. For this variation, your feet should be in C-shaped form. When done, perform the footwork exercise with your heels resting on the foot bar this time. Finally, perform the same movement with the toes back on the foot bar but with your heels slightly raised. We call this variation the tendon stretch.
- Target. This move stabilises your pelvis and hip joints. It also stretches your adductors, glutes, quads, hamstrings and calves while keeping the abs engaged.
- Reformer setting. Start with two springs for resistance and the extension straps attached.
- Start position. Hold the straps, then lie down on the carriage with your knees bent and your feet resting on the foot bar. Slide the carriage back to slip each foot into the strap loops. Stretch your legs up and position them at a 45-degree angle. Keep your toes pointed, hands on the side and palms flat on the platform.
- Movement. Move your legs in small outward circles, sliding the carriage back and forth as you go. Inhale as you rotate outward from the hips, and exhale as you bring your legs up. Perform this exercise five times, then move your legs in the opposite direction.
- Variations. You can do this exercise one leg at a time if you prefer. This move is also doable with a Pilates Mat.
Pilates Reformer Exercises for the Abs
Knee stretches (round back)
- Target. This move strengthens your abdominal muscles together with your knee joints, hamstrings, quad and calves.
- Reformer setting. Start with two springs for resistance and the foot bar up.
- Start position. Kneel on the carriage and place both of your hands on the foot bar. Position your feet against the shoulder rests. Then round your back, forming a C-shaped spine from your neck down to the tailbone.
- Movement. Use your abdominals and glutes to push the carriage back and forth. Make sure to maintain your C-shaped form. Keep your knees under the hips with every push. Also, inhale as you push the carriage back, then exhale as you return to the starting position. Repeat the move up to nine times.
- Variations. Once you master this exercise, you can apply the same movement with a straight spine or flat back this time. Another variation is to maintain your round back form, then slightly lift your knees off the carriage. Now, do the same movement with your knees hovering a bit above the carriage.
- Target. This abdominal exercise also warms up the body and gets your blood pumping.
- Reformer setting. Start with two to four springs, extension straps attached and foot bar down.
- Start position. Lie down straight on the carriage, then reach for the straps. Keep your arms up and bend both knees towards your chest.
- Movement. Curl your head and shoulders up. Simultaneously, pull the straps down to your sides (aligned with your abdomen), then stretch your legs up at a diagonal angle. Now, pump your arms five times as you inhale, then do five pumps more as you exhale. Return to starting position after every ten pumps. Perform this move nine more times to make a hundred.
- Variations. For a seamless Pilates routine, try doing the hundred right after your footwork exercise. Also, if this movement is a bit difficult, you can always reduce it to 50 pumps. Another alternative is to keep the legs in tabletop position as you pump instead of extending it diagonally.
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Pilates Reformer Exercises for the Back
- Target. This form of exercise works your arms and shoulders. It’s an ideal Pilates move for improving upper body strength.
- Reformer setting. Start with a medium spring, extension straps attached and foot bar down.
- Start position. Sit tall on the carriage, facing the back of the Pilates machine. Your back should be a hand-distance away from the edge, so you have room to support your lumbar spine later. Keep your legs stretched out and straight with your ankles crossed. Then reach for the straps and hold them with your palms facing each other.
- Movement. Bend your arms and bring your hands towards your sternum. Inhale, then slowly slide and lean back. Simultaneously, extend your arms sideways, rotating your arms internally. As you exhale, flex your body forward over the legs and move your arms back. Finally, lift and circle your arms back to the front while rolling your back up to the starting position. Repeat this move up to three times.
- Target. This Pilates move benefits your back in conjunction with the abs.
- Reformer setting. Attach all springs to keep the carriage stable. Bring the foot bar down. Then place the short box attachment onto the carriage over or in front of the shoulder blocks. Its position should depend on your height and body needs, so make sure to set it accordingly.
- Start position. Sit tall on the short box, keeping a fist-distance away from the back edge. Then slip your feet into the strap attached to the foot bar. Next, wrap your arms around your waist, or place them in front, stacked on top of each other.
- Movement. Curl your tailbone towards your heels, then slowly lean back, rolling one vertebra at a time. Maintain the C-shaped form as you gradually curl back up to starting position. Inhale as to lean back, then exhale as you come up. Repeat this move up to eight times.
- Variations. One alternate move for this exercise is the flat back. Here, you put your arms up straight while holding a stick or bar. Then lean back, keeping your spine straight and flat. Another variation is the tilt, where you subtly lean forward while maintaining the flat back position. Then lean and twist your body slightly to the right, keeping your left hip pressed onto the short box. Return to the centre before switching to the other side.