We love Pilates because you don’t need to build up a sweat or wear your body down to the bone to achieve great results.
However, if you want to use Pilates to lose weight or gain muscle even faster, you can turn up the pressure with your own Pilates reformer machine.
These machines come in several varieties, including a high-end Pilates Cadillac reformer or simple Wunda Chair that provides big resistance and adds a new element to our workout routine.
While many people turn to reformer Pilates to develop core strength and practice mindfulness, reformer Pilates can be a great workout tool to help you on your weight loss journey.
By following this list of Pilates reformer exercises and using these helpful tips, you can shed weight quickly and build lean muscle with a Pilates reformer.
Does Reformer Pilates Burn Fat?
Yes, reformer Pilates burns fat by boosting your basal metabolic rate and increasing the number of calories burnt each day.
A typical reformer Pilates exercise can help burn anywhere between 200-400 calories, depending on the length and amount of resistance with each workout. Considering the average person burns up to 1800 calories per day living a sedentary life, this could result in a 10-20% increased caloric burn.
Most importantly, reformer Pilates helps burn unwanted weight by boosting lean muscle. With that said, you may keep on some weight, but Pilates will transform that weight from fat into lean muscle.
With this in mind, the results you achieve from reformer Pilates will depend on your body composition and the frequency of Pilates reformer exercises, and the degree of difficulty of each Pilates reformer exercise you do.
How Many Days a Week Should You Exercise Using a Pilates Reformer?
Ideally, you can achieve great results by doing 2-3 full reformer Pilates exercises each week.
If you want to increase your caloric burn and lose weight quicker, you could up this to around four times a week.
However, you may risk overworking your muscles and damaging your recovery if you work out too much, which could end up harming your body more than helping it.
We recommend doing small, daily reformer exercises with your at-home equipment on those days when you don’t do a full 30-45 minute workout. For example, Joseph Pilates, the creator of Pilates, recommended doing daily 10 minutes exercises to increase blood circulation and give you energy throughout the day.
Follow the proceeding tips to increase the efficacy of each workout and achieve the best results.
Tips to Lose Weight with a Pilates Reformer Workout
1. Strategically Use Resistance
Decreasing spring resistance may feel counterproductive, but it encourages your muscles to work harder during balancing exercises. For example, if you’re making a crescent lunge on a reformer machine, less spring resistance could put more pressure on your core and back leg to stay straight and work those muscles.
On the other hand, increasing resistance during bicep curls or footwork routines will give you a bigger burn and tone those muscles up.
2. Alternate Muscle Groups
Overworking specific muscle groups will impair muscle recovery and make you less likely to continue with a weekly workout regimen.
Your muscles need time to recover to build more muscle, which allows you to add greater resistance with each workout. Failing to allow muscles to recover could impact your weight loss journey and leave your body susceptible to additional harm and inflammation.
Be sure to alternate different muscle groups between exercises or space out days that work out your full body.
3. Take Slow and Purposeful Movements
The beauty of Pilates lies in its slow, focused, and controlled movements. Be sure to take long, purposeful stretches that elongate your body, increase blood flow, and allow you to hold those positions for optimal caloric burn and muscle fiber tear.
Making rapid, jerky movements will give you no benefits and leave your body susceptible to injury.
4. Incorporate a Wunda Chair
Pilates chairs are considered some of the most challenging pieces of Pilates equipment and can give your arms and legs the best resistance available.
The Wunda chair consists of a flat bench with an angled apparatus to grip with your hands or rest your feet. Most advanced models also feature two elevated handles that elevate the body and use gravity and your body weight to create resistance.
Wunda elevates the intensity of basic exercises like the Extended Swan or Pushups to create more gravity resistance. Additionally, Wunda Chairs with handles add more optional exercises, such as tricep dips that allow you to build thick muscles.
5. Use a Short Box
If you don’t want to upgrade your single pedal reformer with a Wunda Chair, you could settle for a Pilates short box. The short box is an affordable piece of equipment that lies under your lower back to add massive resistance to core exercises.
Essentially, the short box adds extra resistance using your body weight and shape to workout out your core muscles. The short box doesn’t use springs and just relies on two straps to keep your feet secured and a bar to keep proper posture during exercises.
Using the short box, you could do a lot of basic core exercises, like The Tree, The Hug, or the Reach, that leverage that extra gravitational resistance to work your core muscles deeper.
With that in mind, let’s outline some of our favorite reformer Pilates exercises to help you lose weight quickly and build lean muscle.
Pilates Reformer Exercise List: 15 Workouts to Lose Weight
This list of Pilates reformer workouts helps activate specific muscles to develop better tone and these lists can be used in a circuit to help you alternate between muscle groups or combined for a full-body exercise.
1. Bicep Curls: Biceps
Sit crisscrossed with a neutral spine and wrap your palms around the outside of the straps of your bar. Then, with palms facing up, lift the bar toward your chest and pull your body forward, working those bicep muscles.
2. Pushups: Chest/Triceps
Place your feet on the foot bar and assume a pushup position with the carriage stabilized and your arms straight. Slowly descend downward, keeping the carriage stable, and push up, keeping the carriage stable, until your hips slightly flex upward and your shoulders square.
Add resistance to this exercise as needed, although one heavy red spring will work. You can also do variations, such as moving your knee to your chest at the top of your pushup to work your core.
3. Hug the Moon: Shoulders/Abdominal Core
Kneel down facing on your carriage facing to the side with your one arm locked into the strap of the reformer. From a neutral spine position, start with your arms facing inward toward your belly button. Slowly lift your arms to assume an arched position above your shoulders, feeling the burn on one of your shoulders as the strap adds resistance.
Repeat this exercise for the other shoulder and adjust spring resistance as necessary.
4. Chest Extensions: Chest/Upper Back
Kneel down on the carriage facing forward with the straps securely around the palms of your hands and your fingers pointing downward. Assume a neutral spine position and brace your core as you move your arms backward, feeling your shoulder blades and back flex as you move your arms a couple of inches behind your back.
Brace your core and sit up straight to avoid using your spine or lower back.
5. Draw a Sword: Shoulders/Triceps
Kneel down with a neutral spine, facing sideways with the carriage secured. Place your hands at the bottom of your core near your pelvis and grab one strap with the hand further away from the straps. Pull that arm outward like you’re drawing a sword from its sheath and keep your elbows straight until your reach a height slightly above your shoulders. Slowly reassume the same position and repeat with your other arm.
1. Board Jumping: Glutes/Quadriceps
Lie down on the carriage with your spine supine and your shoulders secured to the shoulder boards on the carriage. Set your spring to medium resistance and bend your knees to assume the starting position. Slowly straighten your legs and engage your calf muscles to jump off of the board, catching the board with your feet as you slowly descend back to the starting position.
2. Side-Lying Leg Work: Hamstrings, Quadriceps, Calf, Glutes
Lie down on your side with your bottom shoulder secured by the shoulder strap on the carriage. Maintain a neutral spine and straighten your body leg out fully. Bend your top leg and place it on the foot strap to begin the workout. Slowly bend and straighten out your top leg to push the carriage outward and feel the resistance down through your thigh and calf.
This exercise can be set to any resistance, but the heavier, the better.
3. Crescent Lunge: Hamstrings/Glutes
There are many variations of lunges, but the simplest is the Crescent Lunge. Place one foot on the floor, shoulder-width apart, and another on the carriage, using the shoulder blocks to steady your foot. Set your machine to a heavier resistance and then assume a forward-facing position away from the straps with your arms fully extended and your hips slightly bent. Brace your core and push the carriage back with your foot on the shoulder block. Slowly return to the starting position and repeat for each leg.
4. Leg Circles: Glutes/Abductor Muscles
Lying in a supine position with your shoulders firmly grasped by the shoulder blocks, place your feet in the straps and place them together, fully extended forward. Next, bring your legs back to your body and fully extend them upward, engaging your core. At the top of this motion, you will flex your abductor muscles to push your legs outward (fully extended), and in a circular motion, extend your legs forward and return them to the starting position while pushing your body away from the straps.
This exercise may be tricky at first but satisfying once you master it.
5. Feet in Straps: Hamstrings
Lying in the same supine position, with your shoulders secured to the blocks and your feet in the straps, fully extend your feet until your knees are straight and your hips are flexed at a 45-degree angle. At the top of this position, you’re just going to lower your legs, overcoming that resistance and bracing your core to avoid hurting your back. You’ll feel an immediate burn in the back of your thighs.
Core and Spine
1. Swan: Lower/Middle Back
The swan is most recommended for reformers with a box but could be performed without one. Lie face down on your stomach with your elbows slightly bent and clutching the foot bar. Extend your entire body, keeping your legs straight and spine straight. From this position, slowly straighten your arms and push the carriage back to stretch your entire body and back. Return to the starting position slowly by bending your elbows and letting the carriage glide back.
2. Snake: Abdominal Core/Obliques/Lower Back
Perhaps the most complicated, there are many variations of the snake. With your hips facing upward, you’re going to grab one of the shoulder blocks with one hand and leave the other hand pointed backward toward your feet. Cross your legs to extend your bottom leg further out on the platform with both feet touching the foot bar. Next, facing downward, with your hips fully bent, and your body hanging sideways, you’re going to push the carriage forward with the shoulder block and slowly raise your one arm over your shoulder and toward the ceiling. As this occurs, you will open up your chest and move your head to face up toward the ceiling with your arm, uncurling like a snake. Once fully extended, you will return to the starting position by sucking in your stomach and allowing the carriage to glide back using your body weight as resistance.
It may take a few videos to get the hang of this, but it will be a part of your everyday Pilates workout once mastered.
3. Kneeling Abdominal Crunch: Abdominal Core/Obliques
Face toward the straps with your knees secured to the shoulder blocks, your feet facing upward, and your hips bent at a ninety-degree angle forward. Maintain a straight spine and push your knees toward your chest, embracing your core throughout and returning to the starting position.
4. Reverse Crunches: Abdominal Core, Obliques
Lie on your back facing the straps and assume a crunch position. Place a Pilates bar over the top of your knees and with one arm behind your back, slowly push the bar toward your chest with your knees and flex your hips upward. Engage your core for the best results.
5. Pelvic Tilt: Lower Back/Abdominal Core
Lie supine with your shoulders secured to the blocks and your feet on the footbar. Bend your knees with your legs at a 45-degree angle and slowly extend your body until your legs are straight. Once there, engage your tailbone and glutes to pull your body back to the starting position. The lighter the resistance, the more the burn.
Pilates reformer exercises are a great way to shed fat quickly, build muscle, and level up your workouts. Best of all, there are literally hundreds of Pilates reformer workouts to keep you occupied and always engaged with your exercise.
Using this list of Pilates reformer exercises and incorporating new ones, you’ll see results in no time and become obsessed just like us!