Think On Top of the Box

Her ingenious workout using just the Reformer Box will challenge your strength and stability, and thanks to the flowing exercises, your endurance, too. Plus, don’t miss her insights on how two of her mentors, Carola Trier and Ron Fletcher, taught some of the classics.

By Jillian Hessel • Edited by Amanda Altman

About a year ago, I got an email from PS managing editor Amanda Altman. She said that Pilates Style would be in Los Angeles—my stomping ground—the first week of February, and would I like to shoot a story for the magazine? Of course, I would! The challenge was, Amanda relayed, they were shooting on a soundstage, so no Pilates apparatus was available for the shoot. I thought to myself, I don’t really want to do another mat workout for the magazine. What can I do that’s a bit different?

Then, I had an epiphany: The Reformer Box is a sophisticated, stand-alone prop that can transform any mat routine into a uniquely challenging workout. It’s portable and lightweight enough to throw into my car, so I can bring it along to my house-call client who lacks equipment. Using the Box and the floor creates two different surface levels, and there are many challenging Box exercises on the Reformer we often neglect. So, why not practice those classic moves and create some fun new ones?

I decided to draw upon my hybrid background in dance, weight training and Pilates to create a full-body workout using the Reformer Box. There isn’t enough space here to show all the moves I dreamed up because the sky’s the limit! We start with Fletcher Percussive Breathing™, combined with Carola’s posture check before activating Romana’s concept of the powerhouse. We progress into squats to get the heart rate up, and then move into more classical Pilates, adding some innovative twists.

Here are some tips before you embark on your own home workout: Reformer Boxes come in different heights, shapes and sizes. In my studio, I have both 10- and 12-inch boxes, and one with overhanging lips. For this workout, I chose the 12-inch Box; I have very long legs, so squatting down to the 10-inch would have been difficult for me, but 12 inches proved to be an excellent strength-builder in the leg muscles for a woman who has endured three knee surgeries. However, if you have a longer torso with shorter legs, you should be fine using the 10-inch box. And if you feel more comfortable using a slightly larger platform, use a Box with extended lips. Once you’ve selected your Box, you’re ready to start your workout!

Standing Pliés and Squats


PURPOSE: pliés warm up and work the ankles, legs and hips while challenging the body to remain in proper vertical alignment; squats challenge the torso to remain in neutral spine while flexed forward at the hips; both develop lower-body strength, coordination, balance and proprioception

SETUP: Stand tall, about 6–8 inches in front of the Long Box, with your arms by your sides, palms facing back, and feet parallel, either hip-width apart or legs pressed together.


1. Inhale, bending your knees and reaching your arms forward, palms down, to chest height, keeping your heels down.

2. Exhale, returning to standing, driving your heels down into the floor to engage your hamstrings. Do 5–10 reps.


1. Inhale as you plié deeper, hinging your torso forward from your hips, maintaining your neutral spine while reaching your arms forward and up. Continue squatting until you come to a vertical, seated position on the Box, arms reaching overhead, palms in.

2. Exhale, returning to standing, swinging your arms down for a counterbalance. Do 5 squats, then remain seated after the last rep.

Maintain a neutral spine throughout, and visualize yourself growing taller through the crown of your head, even as you bend your knees. Track the center of your kneecaps directly over the center of your toes, and keep your heels pressed into the floor at all times. Keep your posture vertical with your shoulders balanced over your hips in the seated position.



PURPOSE: teaches spinal articulation, abdominal control and imprinting

SETUP: From the final upright seated position with arms overhead, slowly float your arms down to shoulder height, palms down. Inhale to prepare.

1. Exhale, slowly rolling down, vertebra by vertebra, until the top of your shoulder blades touch the Box.

2. Inhale, returning to the starting position. Do 5 reps.

Tip: Keep your arms at shoulder height throughout. Return to the upright seated position, sitting tall out of your hips each time, with your eyes focused straight ahead.

MODIFICATION: Sit on additional Boxes or folded mats, if the seat is too low. (The standard Reformer carriage height averages about 14 inches—the Reformer Box is lower.)

Advanced: Carola Trier used to add an upper-back extension with “port de bras” arms, for her dancers: As you roll down, draw your arms alongside the Box, palms up. As your shoulder blades touch the box, hyperextend your head and neck, bringing your arms overhead to frame your head in ballet fifth position. Return to seated with your arms framing your face. Do 3 reps in each direction. (Note: This variation is not safe for anyone with a cervical spine issue or high blood pressure. Be sure to spot your client, and be ready to support the head, if necessary.)

Get the rest of this article and more exercises like this in our current issue, available on newstands and on Magzter now!

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