The Prop You’re Passing Over

These days, you might see more barres than bars at the studio. But the Pilates dowel, an invaluable device for facilitating proper alignment and better control, will make over your matwork in a major way.

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By Brett Howard • Edited by Amanda Altman

A simple tool to use and acquire, the bar helps to provide feedback and awareness for how your body is moving through space. This workout was co-developed with my partner at the Pilates Haus studio, Tetsuo Yoshida, to help clients develop autonomous learning strategies. The bar instantly reveals whether or not you’re moving correctly, giving you the ability to make informed decisions in your movement execution right away.

Although the following series addresses eight of the exercises, the bar can be used throughout the majority of the matwork, to help encourage you to maintain a square body, initiate the movements properly and to work with better control. Bar none.


Props: mat; bar/dowel
Breath: Varies
Reps: Varies
Tip: Don’t over-grip the bar.

The Hundred

Purpose: strengthens the abdominals; helps to circulate air and blood thoughout the body
Setup: Lie on your back with your knees bent into your chest, holding the bar shoulder-width apart directly above your shoulders.

1. Roll your head, neck and shoulders up as you simultaneously extend your legs to a position you can control and hover the bar about 2 inches above your legs.
2. Begin to pump your arms up and down, in a small range above your legs, while slowly inhaling for 5 counts.

3. Continue to pump your arms while slowly exhaling for 5 counts.
4. Repeat for 9 more sets.

Tip: Keep the bar square throughout—don’t allow it to twist or tilt.
Variation: Instead of lowering the bar above your legs, bring it as far overhead as you can control and pump here.

Advanced: Begin with your legs extended on the mat, instead of your knees bent into your chest.

The Roll-Up

Purpose: improves abdominal control; helps to limber the spine
Setup: Lie on your back with your legs together and extended, feet either parallel or in Pilates stance. Holding the bar shoulder-width apart, extend your arms to the ceiling.

1. Inhale and initiating the movement from the crown of your head, start to roll your spine forward one vertebra at a time.

2. Exhale, continuing to roll forward, ending in a C curve.

3. Inhale and starting from your tailbone, roll down one vertebra at a time.
4. Exhale, continuing to roll down, until you return to the starting position. Do 3–5 reps.

Tip: Keep the bar square throughout—don’t allow it to twist or tilt.

One-Leg Circle

Purpose: increases total-body stability
Setup: Lie on your back with your right leg bent into your chest and turned out at your thigh, and your left leg extended on the mat. Holding onto the ends of the bar, extend your arms toward the ceiling; press your palms into the bar as if you were squeezing a Magic Circle.

1. Anchoring your body and left leg, extend your right leg to ceiling.

2. Inhale and leading with your inner thigh, circle your right leg across your body toward the left, then down to where you can maintain your back support.
3. Exhale, continuing to circle your left leg open, but only to the point where you can maintain total-body stability, and then return to the position in step 1. Do 5 reps in each direction.

4. Repeat the sequence on your other side.

Tip: Try not to move your arms while circling your legs.
Variation: Place the bar across your waist, and press your arms into the mat by your sides. Make sure to stabilize your pelvis and rib cage to prevent any movement of the bar as you circle.

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