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Marie Claire
Marie Claire
Rebecca Shepherd

Hit a plateau with your at-home Pilates workouts? Try these 7 Pilates bar exercises to level up your practice

A woman doing Pilates bar exercises at home.

Anybody who’s completed a Pilates workout will know: this low-on-impact but high-on-results form of fitness works hard to activate muscles you didn’t even know you have. But if you’ve mastered the art of your mat-based practice or you’re struggling to get to a reformer Pilates class, that’s where Pilates bar exercises step up to the plate. 

Using a Pilates sculpt bar, Pilates bar exercises essentially replicate many of the moves you might perform on a reformer Pilates machine, by adding some extra resistance to your workout. So whether it’s a squat, overhead press or twist, you can dial up the resistance and cash in on the plethora of benefits that Pilates brings, without the cost and travel time that comes with an in-person reformer Pilates class. As Veronique Ellis, Founder of Evolve Pilate tells reiterates: "Whether you're looking to tone and sculpt your body, improve posture, or rehabilitate from injury, a Pilates sculpt bar can be a valuable tool for achieving your fitness goals,”

Sound like your kinda workout? We thought it might be. To help you get stuck in, we spoke to top Pilates experts to find out what is a Pilates sculpt bar, the benefits of using one, how to use one and the best Pilates bar exercises and workouts to bookmark now to try later. And while you’re here, make sure you check out our guides to Pilates for beginners and a trainer's pick of the best 20-minute Pilates workouts and best 30-minute Pilates workouts

Pilates bar exercises promise to level up your practice

What is a Pilates sculpt bar?

Very good question. In essence: “The Pilates sculpt bar is a fantastic accessory that replicates reformer-based movements without the need for a reformer itself,” Lottie Anderson, Pilates expert and founder of boutique studio, Bondi Rise, explains. “It features a bar with two straps, mimicking the straps found on a reformer, offering a versatile and convenient alternative.”

4 benefits of using a Pilates sculpt bar

If you've completed a mat Pilates workout, you'll understand that you by no means need a Pilates sculpt bar to reap the many benefits this low-impact workout brings. 

But according to Pilates expert Ellis, adding this lightweight and portable piece of exercise equipment into your practice can help you: 

  1. Target specific muscle groups
  2. Improve strength, thanks to its resistance
  3. Give your flexibility a boost 
  4. Better your coordination

That said, all these benefits can only be unlocked if you’re using the piece of kit correctly and doing so with the proper form. Which is why Rachel Lawrence, otherwise known as The Girl With The Pilates Mat, says it’s ‘really important’ to get the foundation of your Pilates practice right through consistent practice of the mat work exercises before moving on to working with props, equipment and machines.

Lawrence adds: “Having said that, the Pilates bar is an affordable way to access some of the Pilates Reformer work at home without paying the heavy cost of going to a reformer studio.”

How to use a Pilates sculpt bar?

At first glance, the Pilates sculpt bar might look like a confusing contraption. But in reality, while designs will differ, it’s a piece of kit built to mimic a reformer Pilates machine, as it’s essentially a bar attached to resistance bands complete with handy loops. 

“There are many exercises on the reformer where you have either your feet or your hands in loops which are connected to light, medium or heavy springs,” Lawrence tells us. “You then perform the exercises against the spring tension to get the workout. But with a Pilates bar, you can get a similar feel of these reformer-style exercises,” she notes. 

There are numerous movements you can perform with the Pilates bar, including one of the best compound exercises: squats. “Simply place the bar across your shoulders and slip your feet into the loops for added resistance during squats,” Anderson says. “Alternatively, lying down on the floor, hold onto the bar while your feet are in the loops to engage in leg extensions, effectively targeting your abdominal muscles.”

But you could also try: 

  1. Overhead press
  2. Standing Row
  3. Bar Kicks
  4. Walking Stretch

If used correctly and with good technique, a Pilates bar can add ‘another dimension to your practice’, Lawrence confirms.

7 Pilates sculpt bar workouts to try

1. 6-minute Pilates bar workout

What? Who said you had to workout for hours to fit in an effective workout? Not us! If time’s not on your side, this 6-minute Pilates bar workout will help you tick off a short full body blast.

Why? “This is a quick and effective upper body-focused pilates stick workout,” Ellis says. “Perfect for when you are short on time and want to get your body moving.”

How long? 6 minutes. 

2. 10-minute cardio Pilates bar workout

What? Get your heart rate pumping with this cardio-inspired Pilates workout which includes the likes of a much-loved (or loathed) Pilates 100 move, single leg circles and leg bicycles. 

Why? “This is a great class to get your heart rate slightly elevated with a low-impact cardio element, as well as get a full body workout in,” Ellis says. 

How long? A quick 10 minutes is all you need to give your full body a workout. 

3. 10-minute Pilates bar blast

What? Pilates expert Donna Finnie guides you through an intense core workout featuring sit-ups, kick backs and planks. 

Why? “This is a great class catering to all levels to focus on core engagement with just eight exercises using the bar to fire up your core,” Ellis says. 

How long? 10 minutes. 

4. 15-minute lower body Pilates bar workout

What? If it’s lower body day, give this Pilates bar workout a go from YouTube’s Posture Tonic. Expect to see lots of squats, kickbacks and crunches plus moves that will shine a spotlight on your coordination and balance. 

Why? “This class focuses on targeting your inner and outer thighs and offers you an effective workout in 15 minutes,” Ellis says. 

How long? Roll out your yoga mat and give yourself 15 minutes to try this. 

5. 20-minute full-body workout

What? If you’re in the mood for a full-body workout, check out this total body blast featuring everything from chest press and hamstring curls to half rollbacks and side-horse kicks. Essentially, this is all the very best ab toning exercises, leg and upper body moves rolled into a neat 20-minute workout. 

Why? “This mixes Pilates mat work and Pilates reformer exercises using the bar to both challenge the body and aid the exercises that can be more challenging on the abdominals,” Lawrence says. “A good full-body workout.”

How long? 20 minutes. 

6. 20-minute Pilates Bar Full Body Workout

What? A Pilates bar will add some extra spice all over with this full-body workout that features chest press exercises, squats and bridges with a difference. 

Why? “Another 20-minute full body session and what I like about this one is it has 10 minutes of functional standing exercises and ten minutes of Pilates mat work,” Lawrence, “expertly taught by an experienced instructor.”

How long? 20 minutes. 

7. 25-minute Pilates bar workout for your arms and legs

What? Beginner-friendly and easy to follow, this Pilates workout is a full body flow that features lots of squats, and resistance-fuelled side step exercises. There are also a couple of static balance training challenges to contend with. 

Why? “This is a great beginner-friendly class using the Pilates sculpt bar to improve strength and stability in the upper and lower body in a short space of time,” Ellis explains. 

How long? Set aside 25 minutes and prepare to feel all the better for getting it done. 

Shop Marie Claire UK's go-to Pilates kit:

Is 10 minutes of Pilates effective?

Contrary to popular belief, you don’t have to sweat it out for hours to have an effective workout. So as long as you’re using the correct form, any movement is good movement. And Victoria Repa, certified Pilates Instructor, Health Coach, and founder of BetterMe says, agrees. She says: “I'm sure that even a short 10-minute daily Pilates routine can yield significant benefits.”

But how so? This type of mind-body exercise tones and sculpts muscle through small, repetitive, and controlled movements. But the benefits of Pilates don’t stop there. Along with improving balance and coordination, improving overall well-being and boosting energy levels, it’s been proven that Pilates can reduce the risk of osteoporosis (research found this low-impact exercise works to increase bone mineral density).

“It's also important to remember that there are various types of Pilates, each catering to diverse fitness goals and levels, so time is not the main indicator of results,” Repa adds. “Therefore, committing just 10 minutes to Pilates can be just as effective when approached with consistency and mindfulness.”

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