Pilates Workouts

7 Pilates Reformer Exercises That You Can Mimic Without Any Equipment

Rachel Lapidos

Rachel LapidosMay 29, 2020

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Photo: Speir Pilates

Mat Pilates is the Ariana Grande of workouts: It seems sweet and gentle, but you soon realize that there’s some kickass fire behind it. To up the ante even more, you can mimic Pilates exercises that you’d typically do on a Reformer machine (the standard piece of Pilates equipment that you’ll find in studios) on the mat for an added burn.

“You can basically do every single exercise that you’d do on the Reformer on your mat without equipment,” says Sarah James, founder of Pilates by Sarah James and former professional ballerina. “Doing these brings variety to traditional mat work and is great for those who miss taking Pilates classes in a studio on equipment.” She points out that the inventor of Pilates, Joseph Pilates, taught exercises on both equipment and on the mat, which goes to show that you don’t need to have a Reformer in your living room in order to reap the benefits of the workout.

Though plenty of Pilates Reformer exercises can be done without any tools at all, some can incorporate props such as a towel, light dumbbells, or sliders. Keep scrolling for some to try in your own at-home Pilates workout.

How to mimic the Pilates Reformer on the mat

1. Pulling straps

Andrea Speir, founder of Speir Pilates, dubs this one of the ultimate classical Pilates exercises that’s done on the Reformer. “It lengthens, strengthens, and stretches the postural muscles, which is so important when we’re sitting on Zoom calls all day,” she says. James is a fan of this one, too, noting that it strengthens the lats and back muscles. You can choose to use a light set of weights, but you’ll feel the effects without them—just be sure to never let your arms rest on the floor throughout.

Lie on your stomach with your arms opened wide to your sides hovering an inch or so off of the floor. Draw your arms back towards the hips while gently lifting your head and chest, then open your arms wide to the side as you lower your chest back down. Try eight to 10 reps.

2. Leg pull down

This exercise, when done on a Reformer, shifts your weight into different positions. “It does this to challenge your core and upper body, but done on the mat, it replicates the same style of movement, which gives you a fantastic full-body challenge,” says Speir.

In a high plank position, with your hands underneath your shoulders and shoulder-width distance apart, lift one leg up to over off of the mat. Shift your weight backward, then shift it forward, doing 30 seconds on each leg. “Think about your shoulders dragging down your back and be sure to activate the glute of the extended leg, then lift your abdominals in and up along your spine,” says Speir.

3. Side bend

Speir likes this exercise to replicate the side sit-ups that are done on the Reformer, and it’s a classic for strengthening your obliques and outer hips.

Sit on one hip with your legs bent in and staggered, and place your hand down in line with your hip with your other arm resting on your legs. Lift your body up into a side plank while lifting the top arm off of your legs and reaching over your head. Bend your knees and lower your arm as you return to starting position. Maintain length in your torso and do 10 reps on each side.

4. Overhead

James likes this exercise for strengthening the abdominals. “It’s similar to a jackknife exercise, and uses your back to roll down with control and intension,” she says.

On your back, lift your legs and your arms up to the ceiling. Keep them coordinated as you pull your legs over your head with your feet parallel to the floor and your arms press down to the ground. From here, raise your legs up to the sky in a jackknife position, and roll down slowly one vertebrae down at a time. When your hips reach the ground, your arms float up. Repeat.

5. Knees-off series

For this one, James recommends using a towel underneath your feet to slide along the floor and work your core muscles. You’ll also feel this in your shoulders as you hold yourself up to crunch in.

Place your hands on your mat from a kneeling position. Tuck your toes and lift your knees so that they’re hovering off of the mat. Your back should be in a “C” curve position. Use your abdominals to pull your knees forward towards your nose, then lengthen as you push them back. Squeeze your stomach and tuck your tailbone as you pull your knees in and lengthen them away. Repeat.

6. Plank series

If you used to frequent souped-up Pilates workouts, it’s easy to replicate those on the mat, too (praise be). Solidcore trainer Triana Brown reveals just how to burn out your abs in a plank series—all you’ll need is a towel or sliders. Watch the video above for a core-quaking core workout, which features side planks and an army crawl, that only takes eight minutes.

7. Lower body slider workout

To hit all of the muscles in your lower body (seriously, they’re going to shake), try this 15-minute long slider workout. This one will also use a slider or towel, and you’ll work through various squat and lunge variations that you’re going to feel in your butt and legs afterwards.

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