Full-Body Pilates Circuits

by Erika Quest on May 24, 2012

Circuit training is an excellent way to maximize time in your Pilates studio while utilizing different equipment and props. It’s also a nice way to help clients through a mental plateau, because circuit training combats boredom and shifts neuromuscular patterns. You can make more money, too, since you’re teaching a group—and that also makes the workout affordable for more people. Don’t worry if you have a particularly small studio; you can still create a circuit class even if you don’t have several reformers. Depending on the client base, I try to program one Pilates circuit session every 2 weeks. If I’m running a class, I might invite a client to add this extra workout to his or her program in order to shift the client’s movement patterns.

Circuits can be designed in many different ways. In general, make sure the sequence alternates between muscle groups to allow adequate recovery time. Always adapt your cuing to stay true to the powerhouse. This will foster more compound movement that stems from the core outward and involves intercostal breath that directs the initiators and movers.

As with any Pilates program, focus on quality of movement rather than number of repetitions. You may be surprised to see how some heart rates pick up.

Sample Workout

Always assess client limitations and provide appropriate Pilates repertoire modifications.

Equipment Stations
Since my studio is only about 850 square feet, I choose three stations at a time and have participants repeat each circuit three times. I make sure that the equipment is safely spaced apart and that I can monitor and cue each station as it happens. Don’t put people in another room or so far away that you can’t easily get to them. Aim for a total-body experience, and plan for 2–3 minutes at each station before switching. Before starting, teach a 5- to 10-minute warm-up, and conclude the workout with 5–10 minutes of functional elongation and cool-down.

Pilates Circuit #1

Reformer Setup With Jump Board, Light/Medium Spring Tension
This is a jumping station with 10–15 jumps in each position. Sequence all the way through, but allow for a “mini-break” if needed, as participants will perform these jumps three times by the end of the circuit.
Objective. Pelvic lumbar and core stabilization with knee/hip extensor strength and cardiovascular endurance.
Muscle Focus. Abdominals and quadriceps.

  • parallel
  • V position
  • wide stance
  • parallel, V position, wide stance—in sequence

BOSU® Balance Trainer on Floor
This is a planking and core station.
Objective. Core stability and endurance, incorporating balance and full-body integration.
Muscle Focus. Rectus abdominis, obliques, shoulder girdle and scapula stabilization.

  • plank with hands on BOSU ball: 15 seconds
  • front support (mountain climber) with hands on BOSU ball: 15 seconds
  • leg-pull front with hands on BOSU ball: 15 seconds
  • recovery and switch to supine position: 15 seconds
  • chest lift with bottom slightly below BOSU ball apex: 30 seconds
  • chest lift with rotation, with bottom slightly below BOSU ball apex: 30 seconds

Trapeze Table Setup With Leg Springs
This is a hip work station. Lie supine on the trapeze table, feet in the leg springs. Perform 10–15 repetitions in each position.
Objective. Hip extensor and adductor strength with focus on disassociation during circles and walkings.
Muscle Focus. Adductors, hamstrings.

  • frog
  • down circles
  • up circles
  • walkings

Pilates Circuit #2

Reformer Setup, Light Spring Tension
This is an arms station. Do 10–15 repetitions in each position. Vary between sitting and kneeling, depending on the client’s ability. Start in the easier position and progress, or vice versa. Note: The moves for this station are broken into three groups; each time students return to this station, they’ll do two different exercises. By the end, the arms will be thoroughly worked.
Objective. Trunk stabilization and postural elongation with concurrent open-chain arm work.
Muscle Focus. Triceps, biceps, rhomboids, pectoralis major.
Circuit 1 Moves

  • chest expansion
  • biceps

Circuit 2 Moves

  • rhomboids
  • thread the needle

Circuit 3 Moves

  • hug a tree
  • salute

Ladder Barrel
This is a lateral-flexion station. Keep hips stacked on the barrel, feet anchored at the ladder’s base. Bottom foot is forward, top foot back.
Objective. Abdominal oblique strength while in functional length.
Muscle Focus. Abdominal obliques.

  • side lifts: 45 seconds
  • recovery and switch to other side: 15 seconds
  • side lifts: 45 seconds

Wunda Chair Setup, Light/Medium Spring Tension
This is a back extension station. Have the pelvis on the chair, hands on the pedal. Stack shoulders above the wrists, extend legs behind (parallel to floor), and activate hamstrings and gluteals.
Objective. Back extensor strength with scapula stabilization and abdominal control.
Muscle Focus. Back extensors.

  • basic swan: 45 seconds.
  • basic swan, single arm: 30 seconds (switch).

IDEA Fit Tips, Volume 10, Issue 6

© 2012 by IDEA Health & Fitness Inc. All rights reserved. Reproduction without permission is strictly prohibited.

About the Author

Erika Quest

Erika Quest IDEA Author/Presenter

Erika Quest is the owner of Studio Q Pilates Conditioning in Laguna Beach, California. As a former advertising executive and triathlon participant, Erika's specialties include sharp and successful bus...


  • Log In to Comment
  • Lynda Lippin

    Now this one I like - safe, basic, easy to understand without too many bells and whistles - much better! Thanks Erika :)
    Commented Jul 24, 2012
  • Ana Caban

    Thanks for sharing, Erika.
    Commented Jun 10, 2012
  • Erika Quest

    Thanks for the lovely comments to all of you! This was a fun article to write and I also enjoy teaching this style at times to 'shake things up' a bit. Lisa, I love the props idea for sure! Cathy, IDEA didn't ask for images for this online article, but you make a great point and I'll ask them when I write in the future. Dagmar, I usually show the exercises in advance at the stations and then stay close by to adequately cue each clients movement patterns while executing the exercises.
    Commented Jun 08, 2012
  • Dagmar Frei

    Great Idea! I would love to try, but how do you teach a circuit? Do you show exercises in advance? Do you describe them? Hmmm.
    Commented Jun 08, 2012
  • Cathy Lyman

    This is great! Any way to provide pictures for each exercise?
    Commented Jun 08, 2012
  • Lisa Byrne

    Great article Erika. We started experimenting in our studio with several circuits about 4 years ago and they really work out well. While I can appreciate all the Pilates equipment that we use, I also like to include resistance bands, light weights, and body weight exercises. We still emphasize the principles of Pilates in everything we teach, even though it is not all pure Pilates. We have found that bodies respond nicely to the mixes of odd angles, off center, and multiple level of movements. I like your variation on Pilates Circuit #2 with the arms. I agree circuits certainly combats boredom and shifts neuromuscular patterns- good stuff! thanks! Lisa
    Commented Jun 05, 2012

Trending Articles

Mindful Walking

Walking can be more than just moving physically from one location to another. It can be a metaphor for your larger life journey. Things you&...

Nuts and Peanuts Reduce Cardiovascular Risk and Prolong Lifespan

While there have been numerous studies in recent years touting the health benefits of nuts and peanuts, new research published online March ...

Smooth Move: Creative Additions to Consider for Smoothies

When looking for a quick breakfast or post-workout nourishment, almost nothing beats a smoothie. Whirl in the right ingredients and the blen...

Cut Risk of Alzheimer’s with MIND Diet

Conservative adherence to a new diet, appropriately known by the acronym MIND, could significantly lower a person’s risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease, according to a paper published o...

Yes, You CAN Develop Better Eating Habits

Analogous to laying out your exercise gear so it’s the first visual reminder you have of your commitment to exercise each day, imagine...

7 Ways to Help a Client Boost Adherence

Once a client has decided to make nutritional changes to support weight loss, you can play a key role in developing an action plan that is m...

20 IDEA World-Renowned Presenters Share Advice on Success and Happiness

We asked some of this year’s most influential and motivating IDEA World Fitness Convention™ presenters to share the single piece of advice they would give another fitness/health pro to hel...

Recipe for Health: Picadillo-Stuffed Peppers

If you don’t believe that authentic Mexican cookery is “whole” and healthy, you need to take a deep dive into Mexico: The Cookbook (Phaidon 2014), the first truly comprehensive bible...

The Reason Your Clients Don't Acieve Their Goals

Lots of people hire personal trainers or join group fitness classes hoping to lose weight. Yet many fail to meet their goals. New research suggests that “progress bias”—overestimatin...

Rice-Cooking Technique Cuts Calorie Absorption in Half

In a molecular gastronomy-meets-lab-science moment, researchers at the College of Chemical Sciences in Colombo, Sri Lanka, have discovered a...