5 Best Stretches You Can Do on the Pilates Reformer Machine

The Pilates reformer machine is a great tool for stretching. Build core strength, tone muscles, and increase flexibility with these exercises.

If you’re looking for a low-impact workout that will increase your core strength and tone your body from head to toe, you should consider pilates classes and barre classes. Both help improve flexibility and cardiovascular endurance. These exercises also help you to build lean muscle, particularly if you use a Pilates reformer machine.

Pilates classes can either be done via a series of floor and mat exercises or on a reformer machine. It can be done as your main fitness routine if you enjoy low-impact workouts, but it also makes a great cross-training program if you like to mix high-impact and low-impact workouts. If you enjoy running long distance or playing intense sports, Pilates reformer workouts can be a great way to stretch your muscles.

Want to learn more about floor and mat pilates? Check out the best Pilates exercises for beginners and best Pilates mat exercises for your glutes.

What Is a Pilates Reformer Machine?

Woman being trained on a pilates reformer machine

The reformer machine was invented by Joseph Pilates, the founder of Pilates, in the early 1900s. Joseph Pilates was interned as an “enemy alien” during World War I in England. While there, he wanted to help bedridden patients exercise. He rigged springs to hospital beds, enabling patients to use the springs’ resistance to work on gaining muscle strength without having to leave the bed. The Pilates reformer machine we know today is modeled after these hospital beds.

The Pilates Reformer machine has a flat platform called the carriage that is attached to one end of the reformer by a set of adjustable springs. At the top of the carriage are shoulder blocks to help keep you stabilized, and the bottom (where the springs attach) has a foot bar that allows you to push the carriage up and down. The carriage has wheels beneath, which allows it to roll back and forth and enable you to perform smooth fitness moves. The springs offer resistance and can be adjusted to make your movements easier or harder. There are also long straps with handles on them that you can hook your arms, hands, or feet into to work different muscles.

What Impact Does Pilates Reformer Have on Your Body?

The Pilates reformer is a great tool to build strength while working in correct alignment. It increases strength and stability, and you can also stretch on the machine. With the reformer you will find you can lengthen longer and stretch deeper, getting into the belly of your muscles to relieve tension.

Let’s look at five of our favorite stretches that can be done on the reformer machine.

1. Single Thigh Stretch

The single thigh stretch can be done either on a mat or on a reformer machine. It’s an especially good move for tight hip flexors occurring in people whose jobs keep them at a desk for six to eight hours a day.

How to Do the Single Thigh Stretch on a Reformer Pilates Machine

  1. Set your foot bar to position #4 and the pulleys to cover #1, and attach one spring.
  2. Face the foot bar and hold it with two hands for support. Place your right foot on the floor and your left knee on the carriage with your left foot against the shoulder rest.
  3. Exhale and slowly press your left foot back. You should feel a stretch as your leg glides back, opening up your hip flexors. When you’ve reached your max stretch, hold for five seconds.
  4. Inhale and bring the leg back forward.

How Many Reps Should You Do?

Repeat the stretch five times, then switch to the other side. Do this three times for three sets of five.

How Often Should You do Single Thigh Stretches?

This is a great stretch if you’re a runner, but it’s also a great stretch in general. It feels good, and it helps loosen you up and keep you flexible. If your hips are tight or if you’re in marathon training or other intense training, you may want to do these 3-4 times a week. If your workout routines are a bit less intense, consider doing them 2-3 times a week.

2. Leg Circles

Leg circles are another great hip opener. Just like single thigh stretches, they can be done either on the mat or on the reformer machine. In addition to opening up your hips, leg circles can help strengthen your abdominal muscles.

How to Do Leg Circles on a Pilates Reformer Machine

  1. Attach two springs.
  2. Lay back on the carriage and place both feet in the straps.
  3. Place your palms face down, exhale, and extend your legs straight and together at a 90-degree angle.
  4. Exhale. Press straps down and lower your legs to a 45-degree angle.
  5. Inhale. Open your legs out wide and circle them around, ending in a 90-degree angle.
  6. Reverse the circle.
  7. Repeat.

How Many Reps Should You Do?

Do two sets of 15 reps.

How Often Should You Do Single Thigh Stretches?

Do this exercise two or three times a week.

3. Stag

The stag is a great stretch for your hamstrings, groin, and quadriceps. If you’re a runner or have been doing a lot of bar classes, this stretch will feel great.

How to Do a Stag Stretch on a Reformer Pilates Machine

  1. Attach two springs.
  2. Lie down on the carriage with the headrest up, and place your feet in the straps.
  3. With your spine, hips, and pelvis in a neutral position, put your legs together.
  4. Inhale. Open one leg out to the side. Flex the opposite knee, and bring that foot down the center line of your body.
  5. Flex the ankle of the bent leg.
  6. Keep equal tension in both foot straps and only move your legs as far as you can without disrupting the stability of your pelvis and spine.
  7. Exhale and return your legs to their starting position.

How Many Reps Should You Do?

Alternate three to five repetitions on each side.

How Often Should You Do Single Thigh Stretches?

This exercise is best to be done two or three times a week.

4. Elephant

Rumor has it that Joseph Pilates created the elephant stretch to help women who had “elephant” skin on their outer thighs. Whether that’s rumor or true, it’s still a great, straightforward and easy stretch. You’ll feel it in your hamstrings and Achilles as it works to lengthen the muscles and help smooth your skin.

How to Do the Elephant Stretch on a Reformer Pilates Machine

  1. Attach four springs and put the headrest up.
  2. Stand on the reformer. Your head should be facing the foot bar and your heels against the shoulder pads.
  3. Bend forward slowly and grab the foot bar, keeping your elbows straight. Turn them out towards the sides of your body, keeping your feet planted and your legs as straight as possible. Your hands should be shoulder-width apart.
  4. Make the elephant trunk pose! Tilt your hips towards the ceiling, sucking in your stomach and keeping your hands and feet planted. Exhale and hinge your upper body upwards at the hips, elongating your spine. Extend your arms forward from the shoulder blades, and tuck your chin towards your chest.
  5. Slide your feet backward as far you can, keeping your upper body still. Lift your head so it’s facing the foot bar. Exhale.
  6. Tuck your chin towards your chest and roll back in, engaging your lower abdominal muscles as you do. Lift your head up as you slide.

How Many Reps Should You Do?

Do five to eight repetitions.

How Often Should You Do Single Thigh Stretches?

Do the elephant stretch two to three times a week.

5. Short Spine

The short spine might be a little intimidating at first, but it’s an excellent stretch for the lower back. This is one stretch you may want to have supervision for if doing it for your first time. It’s great for core strength, spinal articulation, and even your triceps.

How to Do the Short Spine on a Reformer Pilates Machine

  1. Attach two springs and make sure the headrest is down.
  2. Lay down on the carriage and place your feet in the straps in the Froggie position.
  3. Exhale and straighten your legs towards the foot bar at a 45-degree angle.
  4. Inhale. Keeping your legs straight, move them over your head, sliding the carriage all the way up to the stopper. Dock your carriage.
  5. Exhale. Push into the batt and roll up through your spine to your shoulder blades. Make sure to keep tension in the straps the entire time and keep the carriage still.
  6. As you inhale, bend your knees and lower them down facing the shoulder blocks. Keep your feet over your head.
  7. Exhale and bring your legs down, keeping your heels glued together. When your tailbone touches the mat, go back to the froggy position.

Stretching is an important part of working out. It increases blood flow and circulation, increases flexibility, and keeps your body even on both sides for good posture. Make sure to breathe through each stretch to get good blood flow to the muscle.

Click next to learn about other exercises to try.