Pilates is My Cardio

Kick your heart rate into high gear—and give your strength, flexibility and endurance a major boost—with this joint-safe jumpboard series that uses the principles of high-intensity interval training to make sure you get your sweat on.

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By Andrea Speir • Edited by Amanda Altman

While teaching privately over the past 10 years, I’ve had clients who loved their Pilates sessions, but went to the gym afterward to sit on a bike for a bit of cardio. That’s a lot of time to carve out for your daily workout!

I became inspired to incorporate cardiovascular elements like HIIT (High Intensity Interval Training) into the elongating and sculpting Reformer work, and soon, my group class fusion studio, Speir Pilates, was born. By taking some of the beloved elements from Pilates and bringing some more modern ideas into play, our “all in one” class style was created.

The jumpboard is a major player in our classes—I love the plyometric element! It helps to safely stretch and build muscle, while going easy on the joints; it’s fantastic for athletes, or anyone who wants to work out like one. In addition to the Reformer jumping, some of the exercises that follow use the Sitting Box on the floor to get your heart rate going, adding a new dimension to a prop we all love.

This workout, which is a sequence we often perform in our classes, is safe for anyone of any level. In fact, I shot the photos here while I was pregnant! If you’re up for getting your sweat on, these moves will spike your heart rate to improve heart health, boost endurance and leave you smiling. You can forget feeling like you want to hit the gym post-Pilates!

The Makings of the Perfect Jump

Before you hop on board, make sure your technique is plyo-perfect with Andrea’s tips.

Articulate, articulate. When you jump, make sure to land “toe-ball-heel.” You never want to land flat-footed—roll down through your foot.

Scoop and lengthen. To avoid crashing the carriage in, engage your core muscles deeply and think about length. The plyometric action of jumpboard work focuses more on the “out” versus the “in.” By controlling the movement with your abdominals and getting that great length in your jump, you won’t be landing aggressively and banging the carriage on the stoppers.

Get precise. The best placement for your feet on the board is approximately 2 inches from the top. Avoid landing with your feet too low (which is easy, especially when you’re nervous about missing the board by going too high). If you aim low, your back is more susceptible to arching and your abs to releasing.


Apparatus Setup: Keep the jumpboard in place and the headrest up for the entire workout.

Props: jumpboard; Sitting Box; set of 2- to 3-pound weights; mat

Breath: For the Reformer work, breath naturally. For the cardio fusion moves, exhale on the exertion.

Reps: 10 (unless otherwise indicated)

• Work at your own pace—this series is about safely and effectively strengthening your body.
• During the cardio segments, take a break if needed, and then jump back in when you’re ready.
• Aim to get this routine in three times a week for increased strength and tone, and improved endurance and heart health.
• Smile, breathe and work it!

Side Arm Work

Purpose: improves posture while strengthening the upper body
Setup: Lie on your side on the carriage with your knees bent, and hips and shoulders stacked. Bend your bottom elbow, wrapping your hand around the shoulder rest peg. Holding a handle in your top hand, reach your arm toward the ceiling directly above your shoulder, palm facing the jumpboard.

1. Reach your arm straight down to your hip.
2. Lift your arm to return to the starting position. Do 10 reps.

1. Extend your arm straight forward in line with your shoulder.
2. Press your arm back toward your thigh. Do 10 reps.

Tricep Press
1. With your arm by your side, bend your elbow, bringing your knuckles toward your face.
2. Return your arm by your hip. Do 10 reps.

Repeat the entire sequence on your other side.

Tips: Engage your lats and traps to find the proper form—imagine that you’re cracking a walnut between your shoulder blades. Actively engage your abdominals to keep your back from swaying.
Modifications: Decrease the springs to 1 light, especially if you have a shoulder injury or feel like your shoulder is being pulled forward. If you feel pressure on your hip, place a pad underneath.
Advanced: Increase the springs to 1 medium–heavy.

Kneeling Bowling

Spring Setting: 1 medium
Purpose: sculpts the arms and back; activates the core and challenges balance
Setup: Get into a low-kneeling position on the carriage, sitting your hips back a few inches with your knees against the shoulder blocks. Hold a handle in one hand with your elbow bent, and place your other hand behind your back.

1. Reach the handle all the way back, straightening your arm.

2. Bend your elbow, resisting the springs in. Do 10 reps on both sides.

Tips: Draw your shoulder blades together to keep them from rounding forward. Gaze between the risers at the back end of the Reformer (or at the base).
Modification: Sit on your heels, and decrease the resistance to 1 light–medium spring.
Advanced: Increase the springs to 1 medium–heavy, and kneel closer to the jumpboard, hooking your feet over the carriage edge.

Side Footwork

Spring Setting: 1 heavy, 1 medium-heavy
Purpose: strengthens the quads, hamstrings and glutes; promotes awareness of side-body alignment to reveal side-to-side differences and weaknesses
Setup: Lie on your side on the carriage. Bend your bottom elbow, wrapping your hand around the shoulder rest peg, and place your top hand on top of the shoulder rest. Bend both knees, stacking your hips, and then anchor your top foot on the jumpboard at hip height.


1. Press your top leg out to straight.

2. Bend your knee, resisting the springs to return “home.” Do 10 reps.
3. Press out halfway, and then pulse the carriage about 3 inches in each direction. Repeat for 30 seconds.

4. Extend your leg all the way out, and then return home.

Repeat the entire sequence on your other side.

Tips: Lean slightly toward the shoulder block to help keep your hips stacked. Focus on relaxing your jaw and neck to help keep shoulder tension at bay—and all the energy in your core and legs! Make sure to extend all the way out (without hyperextending your knee) and all the way in on steps 1 and 4.
Modification: If you feel any discomfort in your knee, drop down to 2 medium springs.
Advanced: Do step 3 with a lifted heel. Repeat the entire exercise for a second set with your top leg turned out.

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