The Pilates Reformer is a platform on a movable carriage with pulleys and strings that allow you to adjust resistance for a variety of exercises. It can be very effective for working hamstrings, the large muscles that run from your knees up the backs of your thighs. Sitting at a desk all day will shorten and tighten hamstrings; and some regular exercises, such as running, will create a strength imbalance between quads and hamstrings. Reformer exercises both stretch and strengthen hamstring muscles.
The Hundred is a simple warm-up for Reformer exercises, recommended by Romana Kryzanowska, who trained with Joseph Pilates and ran his New York studio for many years. Lie supine on a mat, contract your core, raise your head, shoulders and legs, and balance with legs extended at a 45-degree angle. Pump your extended arms up and down 100 times, syncing your in-out breaths with every five pumps. To loosen a stiff spine, add Roll-ups -- body stretched long, arms overhead, feet secured as you roll up and over to reach past your toes and then return to the mat. Reformer exercises are often integrated into combined mat and machine sessions, ideally performed at least three times a week. A certified instructor will help you to adjust Reformer springs to increase intensity as you get stronger.
Stretch Your Spine
When your hamstrings are too tight, they tuck your pelvis, pulling your spine out of alignment and causing shoulders to round and slump. Your posture suffers and you can develop lower back pain and an unattractive and uncomfortable stoop. The Short Spine exercise on the Reformer helps to articulate the spine as it stretches your hamstrings. Lie on your back, feet in resistance band cuffs, shoulders against the blocks. Flex hips and knees; lift hips as you extend legs fully, pushing up and away from the torso. Bend at the hips, let the legs come up and over the head as your hips rise and you bend your knees, bringing your thighs to your torso, rolling the spine down and pushing your legs out to repeat the stretch.
Slow Stretch and Strengthen
Stretch your hamstrings on the Reformer with the Elephant, and gain strength and flexibility in your calves, abs and hips at the same time. For Elephant, you stand with your heels snugged up against the shoulder blocks, hands resting on the bar. Flex your toes, contract your core strongly and hold throughout, and drop your head and shoulders towards the bar so your body forms an arch. Using the hips and core, push the blocks out very slowly, maintaining a long stretch in the rib cage and diaphragm. Dig your heels into the pad to lengthen the stretch along the back of the thigh as you bring the movable carriage back to start position in one smooth, slow move. Repeat Elephant five times.
Seated Leg Flexion
Strengthen your hamstrings and your knees with a dynamic pull-and-release exercise, using the resistance of the Reformer to improve posture. Sit on the bar, feet flat on the platform, backs of the heels against the shoulder blocks. Cross your arms in front of you at shoulder-height, resting fingertips on the opposite arm. Imagine a string running up your spine from your tailbone through the crown of your head to the ceiling. Contract your navel toward your spine and hold the contraction as you pull the movable carriage toward you, using your legs, and slowly release it. Keep your feet flat on the carriage and repeat the pull-and-release 10 times.
Hamstrings stretch and stabilize your knees, so flexing and straightening knees against the resistance of the Reformer helps to strengthen calf and hamstring muscles and lower your risk for knee injury. Kneel on the padded carriage, palms on the bar, core contracted, feet flexed with toes and balls of the feet against the shoulder blocks. Your lower leg will be parallel to the movable carriage -- but not resting on it. Slightly curl your torso, head and neck, tuck your tailbone and straighten your knees to push the carriage away from you. Feel the stretch up the backs of your legs. Keep leg muscles engaged as you bend your knees, allowing the carriage to return to the start position. Continue the push-pull movement eight to 10 times.
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