This Workout Recreates Your Favorite Reformer Pilates Class at Home

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There's a reason reformer Pilates classes are primarily taught in studio: It's pretty hard to get that exact set-up in your home. For starters, reformer machines are pretty expensive and take up a lot of space, so you may not want to buy one for your living room, either.

You don't need the studio — or a Reformer — to re-create your favorite Pilates class.
Image Credit: fizkes/iStock/GettyImages

But when your go-to studio is closed, you can still reap the low-impact, core-strengthening benefits of the springs and straps of the machine to sculpt and tone your entire body.

"Pilates builds not only excellent core strength, but it helps build bone density without impact, builds full-body strength without straining the joints, and emphasizes strong alignment and moving correctly more than anything else," says Kat Wiersum, certified Pilates instructor at Amplified Pilates and interval instructor at Studio Three, both in Chicago.

So why not re-create your beloved reformer Pilates class right in your living room using items you already have on hand?

Get tips on how to stay healthy, safe and sane during the novel coronavirus pandemic.

How to Do a Reformer Pilates Workout at Home

"A huge part of working on the reformer is the moving carriage on the frame working against the spring tension, or using a stable surface to anchor yourself while moving the carriage," Wiersum says.

You can mimic the action of moving your whole body on the carriage with by using towels, sliders or gliders, paper plates or even socks while doing moves like sliding forearm planks, plank-to-pike, glute bridge hamstring slides and sliding push-ups, she says.

"Resistance bands are another great option to mimic reformer work. You can have bands that are a long straight band or bands that are a small circle/loop (referred to as a mini band)," she says.

Mini bands are great for adding extra work and resistance when you're doing glute bridges, side-lying glute work, clams/fire hydrants and other hip work, as well as a few upper-body exercises, like triceps extensions.

Long resistance bands can be looped around your feet, shoulders or even a doorknob. That way, you can do strap work, kneeling/standing rotation work and shoulder work, like raises and presses, biceps curls and even stretching once you've finished your session, Wiersum says.

"The key with all of these props is to move slowly and deliberately. Imagine you are trying to move through a full swimming pool, [where] the water is pulling against you and you have to fight to just move," she says. That slow pace is a key part of Pilates work and how you can fatigue your muscles without huge movements or high cardio impact.

Try This At-Home Pilates Reformer Workout

Looking for a killer reformer Pilates workout to do at home? Here's something to tide you over until your regular studio reopens. The exercises — courtesy of Wiersum — use towels, sliders and bands.

Move 1: Seated Rollbacks With Band

Move 1: Seated Rollbacks With Band
Image Credit: LIVESTRONG.com/Kat Wiersum
Region Core
Activity Pilates
Reps 10
  1. Sit with your legs straight out in front of you, knees bent enough to sit up really straight.
  2. Wrap a long resistance band around both feet and hold an end in each hand against your middle ribcage.
  3. Start with a tall, lifted posture and tuck your pelvis under, slowly rolling back onto your lower back, as far as you can go without your feet lifting or abdominals pushing up.
  4. Sit back up as if you are rounding over a beach ball.
  5. Repeat 10 slow reps.
  6. On the tenth rep, hold halfway back, with your lower back touching the floor, and very slowly pulse half an inch up and down. Pulse 10 times, then sit back up tall.

Move 2: Band Rollback With Twist

Move 2: Band Rollback With Twist
Image Credit: LIVESTRONG.com/Kat Wiersum
Region Core
Activity Pilates
Reps 6
  1. Sit with your legs straight out in front of you, knees bent enough to sit up really straight.
  2. Wrap a long resistance band around both feet and hold an end in each hand against your middle ribcage.
  3. Roll down halfway, stopping with your lower back touching the floor, and twist from the ribcage from one side to the other.
  4. Leading with your elbow, try to keep the scoop of your lower back and twist slowly and as far to each side as possible.
  5. Twist 6 to 8 times in each direction, then sit back up.

Move 3: Seated Hinge With Band

Move 3: Seated Hinge With Band
Image Credit: LIVESTRONG.com/Kat Wiersum
Region Core
Activity Pilates
Reps 10
  1. Sit with your legs straight out in front of you, knees bent enough to sit up really straight.
  2. Wrap a long resistance band around both feet and hold an end in each hand against your middle ribcage.
  3. Keep your spine straight as you hinge back from the hips.
  4. Keep your feet glued down and imagine growing taller through your spine to sit back up.
  5. Repeat 10 times.

Tip

Do not round your spine. Sit tall on your sits bones. You can also bend the knees for a little less of a challenge.

Move 4: Glute Bridge With Mini Band

Move 4: Glute Bridge With Mini Band
Image Credit: LIVESTRONG.com/Kat Wiersum
Body Part Butt
Activity Pilates
Reps 10
  1. Lie on your back, knees bent and feet on the floor hip-width apart. Loop a mini band around both legs just above your knees on your thighs.
  2. Push your arms into the floor as you squeeze the glutes toward the hips and push your hips up toward the ceiling, keeping a slight pressure outward on the mini band the whole time.
  3. Lower your hips back down, tapping the tailbone lightly on the floor.
  4. Repeat this for 15 reps.
  5. On the last rep, hold the hips at the top and pulse outward, using the resistance of the mini band, and do not let your hips drop. Do this 10 times.

Move 5: Side Lying Glute Series With Mini Band

Move 5: Side Lying Glute Series With Mini Band
Image Credit: LIVESTRONG.com/Kat Wiersum
Body Part Butt
Activity Pilates
Reps 15
  1. Place the mini band around both legs above your knees and lie on one side, propping your head up with your hand or forearm.
  2. Bend your knees so your feet are in line with your tailbone and keep your legs and hips stacked on top of each other.
  3. Your feet and heels stay together as you lift the top knee up toward the ceiling, into a clamshell and close back down. Only go as far as you can without hips shifting.
  4. Repeat 15 clams.
  5. Bring your feet forward so they're in line with the knees, making a 90-degree angle at the hips and knees.
  6. Lift the whole top leg into a fire hydrant shape and only come down to hip height.
  7. Repeat 15 times, then hold at the top of the last rep.
  8. Draw softball-sized circles with your knee in one direction, then the other.
  9. Do 10 circles in each direction.
  10. Flip over and repeat on other side.

Move 6: Hamstring Curl from Bridge

Move 6: Hamstring Curl from Bridge
Image Credit: LIVESTRONG.com/Kat Wiersum
Body Part Legs
Activity Pilates
Reps 10
  1. Lie on your back, knees bent and feet on the floor hip-width apart. Place towels, sliders or paper plates under both feet. Lift your hips up into a bridge.
  2. Extend one leg straight out without letting your hips drop.
  3. Drag the leg back to the bent starting position.
  4. Alternate sides, doing 10 on each side.
  5. The hips can come down for a re-set before going back up into bridge, but then do 10 reps with both legs extending and curling back to the starting position.

Tip

Don’t let the hips rock side to side or drop down. Keep your hips still and high throughout the exercises.

Move 7: Ab Curls with Band

Move 7: Ab Curls with Band
Image Credit: LIVESTRONG.com/Kat Wiersum
Body Part Abs
Activity Pilates
Reps 10
  1. Lie on your back with legs in tabletop position, with your hands holding the resistance band shoulder-width apart. Slightly pull the band apart, arms up toward the ceiling over your shoulders.
  2. Inhale to prep and exhale to lift the head, neck and shoulders off the floor, reaching arms and band over shins.
  3. Maintain a slight pressure outward, pushing into the band, and try to lift up to the tips of the shoulder blades. Don’t let the legs creep in toward your face.
  4. Inhale and tap your head back down, arms up towards ceiling.
  5. Repeat 10 times.
  6. Hold on last rep and pulse half an inch up and down 10 times.

Tip

Keep zero pressure in the neck and shoulders. This is not a crunch! The neck and shoulders should be relaxed as the abs do all the work.

Move 8: Kneeling Chest Expansion with Band

Move 8: Kneeling Chest Expansion with Band
Image Credit: LIVESTRONG.com/Kat Wiersum
Body Part Chest
Activity Pilates
Reps 15
  1. In a tall kneeling position, hold the ends of the band in either hand, the band stretched across your thighs.
  2. Keeping your shoulders relaxed, with no arch or round in the back, pull your hands back as far as possible, engaging your upper back and triceps.
  3. Your arms should stay straight and the joints of the body should stay stacked and lined up.
  4. Relax the arms back forward and repeat for 15 reps total.
  5. On the last rep, pull the arms back and hold for 10 counts, reaching arms straight with the wrists long.

Move 9: Sliding Planks to Bear and Pike

Move 9: Sliding Planks to Bear and Pike
Image Credit: LIVESTRONG.com/Kat Wiersum
Region Core
Activity Pilates
Reps 10
  1. With feet on top of sliders, towels or paper plates, get into a high plank with your hands under shoulders. Keep your upper back active, neck long and lower back slightly tucked.
  2. Without changing the upper body position or letting hips lift, bend both knees and slide legs into a kneeling hover plank position. The upper body stays totally still.
  3. Bend and extend legs from hover to full plank 10 times.
  4. Re-set to start position, keeping legs straight, and lift hips up toward the ceiling, into a pike.
  5. Slide back down into high plank. Use as little momentum as possible, and move slowly.
  6. Repeat 10 times.

Tip

For the pike, your hips should lift like someone is grabbing a seatbelt across your lap and pulling it up toward the ceiling. Your legs and arms stay straight, as your head drops to look back at your feet.

Move 10: Kneeling Plank Slides

Move 10: Kneeling Plank Slides
Image Credit: LIVESTRONG.com/Kat Wiersum
Region Core
Activity Pilates
Reps 10
  1. Start in a high plank with your knees on towels, paper plates or sliders. Keep your back straight with a slight tuck in your lower back. But no arching!
  2. With hands starting under the shoulders, push into the floor without moving your hands to slide the knees back.
  3. Keeping belly button to spine, pull yourself back to the starting position with your shoulders over wrists.
  4. Repeat 10 times with slow control.

Move 11: Rotation With Band

Move 11: Rotation With Band
Image Credit: LIVESTRONG.com/Kat Wiersum
Region Upper Body
Activity Pilates
Reps 10
  1. Tie a resistance band around a doorknob or something that's sturdy and about torso-height.
  2. Grab onto the band with both hands, wrapping one hand over the other and bringing arms out away from body as if you're holding a big beach ball in your arms.
  3. With knees slightly bent and abs active, twist to one side from the ribcage, keeping hips still, rather than shifting or turning.
  4. Inhale as you turn and exhale as you return to the start position.
  5. Repeat 10 times, then turn to the other side and repeat another 10 times.

Tip

Walk closer to or further away from where the band is tied for less or more resistance, respectively.

Move 12: Kneeling Inner Thigh Side Splits

Move 12: Kneeling Inner Thigh Side Splits
Image Credit: LIVESTRONG.com/Kat Wiersum
Body Part Legs
Activity Pilates
Reps 10
  1. Kneel with each knee on a towel, slider or paper plate. Keep your spine straight and hips aligned over knees.
  2. Slide knees apart from each other.
  3. Draw knees back together by drawing inner thighs together and think of lifting up from your torso.
  4. Repeat 10 times slowly with full control.

Tip

Imagine tweezers coming together. Don’t let your hips reach back or the chest fall forward, but rather stay tall and straight. Think of both legs working together, equally.

Move 13: Sliding Lunge

Move 13: Sliding Lunge
Image Credit: LIVESTRONG.com/Kat Wiersum
Body Part Legs
Activity Pilates
Reps 12
  1. Start with one foot on the floor and the other on a towel, slider or paper plate.
  2. Keeping your back leg straight, bend your front knee and start to slide your back leg back, coming into a deep lunge.
  3. Hinge the torso forward just slightly and push into the front heel to stand back up to the starting position. Slow and steady on both the way down and the way up for the greatest burn.
  4. Make sure the front knee stays right over the ankle and not forward on the toes.
  5. Repeat 10 to 12 times on each leg.
  6. On the last rep, hold at the bottom of the lunge, keeping that bend in the front leg, and bend and extend the back leg 10 times.

Move 14: Forearm Plank Slide

Move 14: Forearm Plank Slide
Image Credit: LIVESTRONG.com/Kat Wiersum
Region Core
Activity Pilates
Reps 10
  1. Start in a forearm plank with a slider, towel or paper plate under your forearms. Your arms are parallel to each other and your shoulders are over your elbows.
  2. Slide your arms forward a couple of inches.
  3. Pause, then slide your arms back to the starting position. The elbows start and end right under the shoulders.
  4. Keep hips and lower body in a stable forearm plank and move just from the shoulder joint.
  5. Repeat 10 times slowly.

Move 15: Single-Leg Mountain Climber

Move 15: Single-Leg Mountain Climber
Image Credit: LIVESTRONG.com/Kat Wiersum
Region Core
Activity Pilates
Reps 15
  1. Start in a high plank with a towel, slider or paper plate under one foot.
  2. Bring the knee without the slider in toward your chest, as if you were doing mountain climber position, and quickly switch, sending that leg straight back off the floor and dragging the foot with the slider into a hover plank position.
  3. Repeat 15 times per side.

Tip

Keep hips level with shoulders and stay active in the upper back. You can tack on a bit of speed for this one!

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