List of Pilates Reformer Exercises

A Pilates Reformer is one of the most versatile pieces of exercise equipment you can find in a gym. Not only can it be used to strengthen a variety of different muscle groups, but training with a Reformer has also been shown to improve low back pain, increase flexibility and restore balance in the elderly. Multiple different Reformer exercises can be incorporated into a well-rounded strengthening regimen.

The Pilates Reformer is a a multi-functional piece of exercise equipment. (Image: LUNAMARINA/iStock/Getty Images)

Hip Abduction

This exercise targets the gluteus medius, a muscle on the outside of the hip that helps to stabilize your pelvis when walking or running.

How to: Stand sideways with your right foot on the end of the Reformer and your left foot stabilized against a sitting box on the platform. Bend your right knee slightly and keep your weight over this leg and through your heel as you slowly move your left leg and the Reformer's platform away from your body. When you are unable to move it any farther without shifting your weight, slowly return the platform to the starting position.

Rows on a reformer activate your scapular retraction muscles. (Image: ImplementarFilms/iStock/Getty Images)


Rows activate the muscles that retract your shoulder blades, including the middle trapezius and rhomboids. These muscles help you maintain a proper posture while sitting or standing.

How To: Sit on the Reformer's platform facing the head of the machine as you hold a handle in each outstretched arm. Bend your elbows as you pull the handles toward your chest and squeeze your shoulder blades together. Make sure not to let your shoulders shrug as you do this. After holding this position for 1 to 2 seconds, slowly release the machine's tension.

The hip extension exercise works your gluteus maximus muscle. (Image: razyph/iStock/Getty Images)

Hip Extension

This exercise strengthens the gluteus maximus in the posterior of your hip. This muscle helps you generate power when jumping and also controls your posture while running.

How To: Lie on your back on the Reformer's platform and raise both legs straight in the air so they make a 90-degree angle with your body. Fasten a strap around each foot and slowly lower your legs toward the reformer as you pull yourself away from the base. When your legs are in line with the rest of your body, raise them back up in the air in a controlled manner.


Planks are a great way to target your transversus abdominis, a muscle deep in your abdomen that stabilizes your spine.

How To: Rest your toes on the Reformer's foot plate and place your forearms flat against a sitting box on the machine's platform. Slowly push the platform away from your toes as you allow your spine to straighten. When your buttocks are in line with your body, maintain the plank for 5 to 10 seconds before returning to the starting position. Do not allow your pelvis to tilt or sink as you hold the plank.

Horizontal Adduction

The horizontal adduction exercise isolates the muscles that give stability to the front of your shoulder, including the pectoralis major, the anterior deltoid and the latissimus dorsi.

How To: Sit erect on the platform of the Reformer facing the base with your legs crossed in front of you. Extend your arms out to the side like you are making the letter "T" and hold a handle in each hand. Slowly bring your hands together as the platform moves and the tension builds. When they meet in the middle, pause for a second or two before allowing your hands to return to their initial position. Your elbows should remain straight the entire time.

Heel Raises

Heel raises activate the gastrocnemius and soleus muscles. These calf muscles are responsible for generating the power to "push off" when walking, running or jumping.

How To: Lie on the platform with your feet positioned shoulder width apart on the foot plate. Slowly raise your heels off the plate as you roll up through your second and third toes. Hold your feet here for 1 to 2 seconds before allowing your heel to return down again. Keeping your knees completely straight while you do this exercise will activate the gastrocnemius, while maintaining a slight bend in the knee activates the soleus muscle.


To maximize the effects of exercising with a Pilates reformer, strength training sessions should last about 15 minutes. This may be done up to six times each week. Be sure to work with a certified Pilates instructor if you have any concerns about beginning a new regimen or are experiencing any pain when using a reformer.

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