Pilates Reformer Footwork Series on the Mat

This is a Pilates mat exercise series, but "footwork" understates all of the systems involved. Here, the abdominal muscles have to work hard, as do the inner thighs and hamstrings.

This set of exercises is usually done lying on the Pilates reformer with the feet on a footbar. Taking the bar away creates an extra leverage challenge for the abs, and makes you work extra hard to stabilize the pelvis.

This series is shown at an intermediate/adv. level with an upper body curl. To modify this set, do it with your head down, arms along your sides, and your legs high.

Set Up for Pilates Reformer Footwork on the Mat

pilates reformer on the mat
Studio doggie Isabel is watching, so you had better do it right!. Claudia Miller, Pilates for Life (c)2009, Marguerite Ogle
  • Lie on the mat with your legs parallel, knees bent, feet flat on the floor. Breathe deeply, and feel the weight of your pelvis and shoulders on the floor.
  • Let your abdominal muscles drop into the space between your ribs and pubic bone.
  • Leave your shoulders down and put your hands behind your head, elbows back.
  • Pull your abs down to the floor as you do an upper body curl. Don't pull on your neck, please.
  • Bring your legs up with your knees shoulder width apart and feet in Pilates V — heels together, toes about 3" apart.
  • The emphasis is in your abs, not your hip flexors or thighs. As your legs come up feel a deepening of the crease at the hip and keep your pelvis stable.

Pilates V — Legs Extend and Bend

pilates exercise
Pilates V. (c)2009, Marguerite Ogle
  • Keep your heels lifted and legs bent as you press through the balls of your feet as if you were going to press them onto a surface.
    Your hamstrings and inner thighs stay engaged throughout.
  • Inhale: Extend your legs at about a 45 degrees. Beginners go higher, more advanced go a lower if you can do it without peeling your back of the mat or shaking too much.
  • Let the legs come together as they extend. Feel as if you are pushing the footbar away.
  • On an exhale, fold at the knees and hips to bring the heels back. Knees shoulder width apart.
  • Repeat the bend and stretch 3 more times.
  • Release your upper body curl and take a deep breath.

Bird Feet

pilates mat exercise
Bird Feet. (c)2009, Marguerite Ogle
  • Resume the upper body curl.
    If you are very strong you can keep the curl through all the positions. But remember, like Joseph Pilates said, fatigued muscles are like poison (Return to Life) — better to take a break, realign, and start again.
  • Change your leg position so that your legs are hugging together all the way from the very top to the toes.
  • If you had the reformer bar, you would curve your feet around it like a bird on a perch. Do the same thing here, without the bar. Try to balance the energy of sides of your feet as well as the upper part and heel part.

Bird Feet — Legs Extend and Bend

reformer mat exercise
Legs Parallel, "Bird Feet". Claudia Miller, Pilates for Life. (c)2009, Marguerite Ogle
  • Inhale: Extend your legs. Hug them together and track your midline. Keep your upper body curl.
    (I know your shoulders and neck are not overworking — right?)
  • Exhale: Use your abdominal muscles to pull your legs back in. Deepen the scoop of the abs as you do.
  • Repeat the bend and stretch 3 more times.

Heels — Legs Extend and Bend

pilates mat exercise
Feet Flexed, Legs Parallel. (c)2009, Marguerite Ogle
  • Now that you got the basic pattern, continue with the same upper body curl and bend and stretch pattern, but change the foot position so that feet are flexed and you extend our energy out through our heels.
  • Extend and retract your legs 4 times.

Alignment Check:

  • Abs are pulled down to the floor
  • Spine is lengthened along the floor and does not peel up as you extend your legs
  • Pelvis remains stable as you move
  • Shoulders are down, elbows are back
  • Hold the upper body curl with your abs
  • Hamstrings and inner thighs are engaged
  • Breathe deeply (review lateral breathing)
  • Keep an energetic connection between your heels and your sit bones.

Point and Flex — Legs Extended

pilates mat and reformer exercise
Legs Extended Point and Flex. (c)2009, Marguerite Ogle
  • Extend your legs and rotate them outward from the top of the leg. Your heels will be together and your toes about 3 inches apart.
  • Keep your legs out as you point and flex your feet for 4 sets.
  • Feel the inner thighs engage as you move between point and flex.

You can also do this pattern with the legs together, but not rotated out. It's different and worth experiencing.

Great work! Once you know the sequence you can start working on your sense of flow so that each move connects one to the other, and all is coordinated with the breath.

Footwork With the Exercise Band

exercise band exercises
Footwork with the Exercise Band. Courtesy of Kolesar Studios

You might like to try this whole series with the exercise band.