Reform Your Practice

Whether you are new to Pilates reformer or a long time enthusiast, are you getting everything you can out of your sessions?

Learn about 5 mistakes that are easy to make and see if you can transform your Pilates practice, and yourself the next time you hop on the apparatus.

1. You’re Allowing Yourself To Get Bored


To improve your performance on a specific skill, you must repeat it. Years ago I stopped thinking of Pilates as my “workout” and instead it became my practice. My routine. My ritual.

I estimate that in my lifetime so far I have done footwork, the “warm up” of the reformer order roughly 1,500 times. You better believe I still need it. It’s not that I haven’t managed to find proper form within those 1,500 attempts, it’s that the value is in the routine performance of the skill - not if I’m feeling the burn a different way.

There’s a time and a place to introduce variations and to have lots of fun within the method - playing with new exercises, introducing props, changing pacing and speed are all ways to shake it up, but always remember the value in repetition of the order so that you can accurately evaluate your progress. If the routine is so varied that you’re not ever doing the same thing, how can you see your improvements?


2. You Rely Solely On Your Instructor To Make You Work Hard

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It’s your teacher’s job to deliver cues and directions to challenge you and help you reach your potential and to be engaging and motivating. That being said, with Pilates you get out what you put in.

The secret sauce of the Pilates method is the concept of opposition, or two-way-stretch required for all of the movements. It’s so much deeper than learning and performing the choreography or movements. Each student must put their focus internally to maximize their session. As teachers, we do a lot, but we can’t put ourselves in your mind and body, only you can be in there!

In all movements, parts of your body should be actively pulling away from each other. In elephant (pictured) you can see the arrows pointing in the direction of the effort. The arms are reaching long, but also plugging the shoulders in. The abs are pulling up but there’s still a push through the heels. There’s a lot happening, and this is before anything even moves!


3. You View The Reformer As A Weight Machine

Photo Credit: Steel Fox Crossfit, Burlington, MA

Photo Credit: Steel Fox Crossfit, Burlington, MA

Yes, the springs do provide resistance, so in theory you are resistance training. In most cases however the reformer is a tool to get YOU to work harder within your own body. The reformer is there to support your movements, and the springs, straps and springs are there to put your body in the right position. They encourage the appropriate amount of reach and opposition for each exercise.

You’ll get some benefit out of loading up your springs and using the straps for traditional fitness exercises, but the true perks of Pilates are found in the subtle nuances - like that concept of opposition and two-way-stretch.

As a beginner, your springs may be lighter on certain exercises and as you progress you may increase the spring tension to increase the challenge. There are many exercises where it’s the opposite - as you progress you’ll lighten the tension to make it harder. For many though, your springs will stay exactly the same as you progress because you’re developing your body’s ability to work within itself, not it’s ability to move more and more weight. I’ve been doing Pilates for 15 years, and I love to weight train, but I still do footwork on three springs.


4. You Are Not Breathing Properly (Or At All)

Breathing is integral to reaping the full benefits from your Pilates practice. As a non-breather myself, it’s hard to focus on the breath sometimes. It doesn’t come naturally for me and there’s just so much to think about all at once: “Pull your abs in! Roll your shoulders back! Grow taller through the top of your head, reach through your fingers… oh, and BREATHE!!”

In Pilates we emphasize breathing laterally, rather than diaphragmatic. What does that mean and what’s the difference?

  • Belly Breathing (Diaphragmatic Breathing)

    • Lie on your back with knees bent, feet flat on the floor. Place your hands on your belly. Inhale and feel your belly rise up like a balloon. Exhale and feel your belly fall. That’s breathing using your diaphragm, a muscle that pulls air into your lungs. This is how you should breathe throughout the day - and a wonderful mindfulness exercise to center your body and your brain.

  • Rib Cage Breathing (Lateral Breathing)

    • Now, move your hands onto your ribs. Inhale and try to expand your rib cage side to side, like an accordion filling up with air. Now exhale and feel the rib cage narrow. You’re opening up all the small muscles between your ribs (your intercostals) and engaging those and other deep muscles to narrow the ribs again.

Why do we breathe this way in Pilates? So that we can maintain the deep connection of the abdominal muscles while moving and still pull all that lovely oxygen into our bodies.

Learn more about lateral breathing in Pilates from


5. You Compare Yourself With Others In Class / You Don’t Take Modifications

Don’t worry about the person next to you. They are not you. Each one of us has a 100% unique body with strengths, weaknesses, flexible spots, tight spots and different proportions. Most students require some level of modification during a reformer session. It doesn’t mean you need it because you’re not strong enough or not trying enough.

I make adjustments in some exercises because I have a rotation in my hips. I became aware of it in my early 20’s. I do advanced work, and I still work very hard and get great results, but I certainly modify and adjust based on my body’s structure - and so should you if you need to!

If at any time you’re leaving class feeling physically worse than when you came in, talk to your teacher. Pilates can work for every body, but sometimes we need to modify, even if just temporarily, to make each movement effective.

Amy CieslikComment