Pilates Projects: 5 Exercises for a Better Balance Control Off

better balance pilates

Pilates Projects: 5 Exercises for a Better Control BalanceBalance Control Off is an intricate Reformer exercise requiring strength, flexibility, coordination and courage. And then there is the Getting Back On part, perhaps even more discombobulating…

I got my first glimpse of the Balance Control Off years ago. Wowza. The owner of the studio just rolled off the Reformer and got back on again.

Did that just happen?!


Amaaaaaazing! (I exclaimed in my head). I can’t wait to do that exercise! It will be well worth the Roll Ups and Neck Pulls ad nauseum if one day I get to do THAT.

The Balance Control Off is a big favorite of mine. After years of gymnastics I find anything upside-down and somersaulty to be invigorating. I feel jazzed, invincible and ALIVE! Another great Show Off exercise from Joe Pilates:

“Look what I can do!”

A Reformer workout just doesn’t feel complete without it and I wouldn’t mind doing it over and over again. Name another exercise you can say that about.

However, if upside-down and rolling is not your idea of a fun afternoon, Balance Control Off can feel like craziness. Even if you’ve been practicing this one for a while, tweaking the getting-perfectly back-onto-the-carriage part may be a process. It’s also a one-sided exercise so chances are, getting off on the other side will be a unique set of circumstances.

But that’s why we have all the other exercises :). Relax, Balance Control Off is just a flashy version of the Double Leg Pull, right? Who’s with me?

This is going to be FUN.

But first!

Two imperatives:
1. Use your Gut! No really. We all forget our stomachs once this one starts. Remember you must lift yourself off the Reformer and replace yourself lightly onto it again with control. Ah yes, our good friend Control.

2. Your vision and the leg reaching up are very important! 

You must use the reach of this leg to your best advantage. 

When rolling off: Look at the foot that’s reaching up to the sky until you roll up to standing. Don’t stop reaching even when you can’t see your foot anymore.

For getting back on: Find that foot and look at it as reaches to the sky. See it, look at it! Looking at your foot in the air helps your head return to the correct position and keeps your lift.

I guess that’s 3 imperatives.

So 5 exercises and then on to Sir Balance Control McFancypants. K?

Here. We. Go.

1. Tower

Pilates Projects: 5 Exercises for a Better Control BalanceIf you’re lucky, the Tower is an exercise you have been doing for years. The resistance of the spring helps you find the lift and reach of the lower body that you’ll need to keep yourself up in the Balance Control Off.

Pilates Projects: 5 Exercises for a Better Control BalanceThe Tower can be done on the Cadillac and the Guillotine. The angle of the body on the Guillotine more accurately makes the shape you are looking for in the Balance Control Off, but you can cultivate lift of the back and the reach of the leg regardless of the apparatus you have at your disposal.

Pilates Projects: 5 Exercises for a Better Control Balance2. Tower: One Leg Variation

The Tower with one leg can be done on the Cadillac, but this particular version is better done on the Guillotine where you are clear of the push thru bar.

Can you maintain the lift of your back as one leg reaches toward your head and the other one bends and straightens?

The lift should not wane…


…and the back should not SINK.

Pilates Projects: 5 Exercises for a Better Control BalanceWith the springs heavier on the Guillotine than on the Cadillac it is important to keep the back lifted and as long as possible as the working leg bends and straightens. It is this lift of the back and use of the buttocks that are the keys to accomplishing Balance Control Off.






Exercises 3 + 4 teach you to control the rolling up to standing and the rolling back down to the carriage part of Balance Control Off.

Pilates Projects: 5 Exercises for a Better Control Balance

3. Swan on the Barrel

Rolling up to standing is the point at which nearly all of us lose our stomachs :(.

Pretend you are lying over the Barrel once you plant that foot onto the floor and lift yourself up with control like you do during Swan.



Pilates Projects: 5 Exercises for a Better Control Balance4. Push up with one leg on the Mat

This is one time you don’t have to do the Push Up (yay!). Just practice the rolling down part of this exercise and coming back up. It’s actually harder here than at the Reformer since the floor is farther away. 

Begin standing. Keep the work of reaching into the mat with both legs as you reach one of them behind you. Really reach it behind you to help with your balance. Give it something to do. Use your stomach combined with the reach of the back leg to roll yourself down (a la Push Down on the Wunda Chair) and place the hands in front of your feet on the mat. Think of the Swan on the Barrel again as you reach into the feet and roll yourself back up with control. Notice: when you lose the reach of the back leg, do you also lose your stomach? Interesting. Remember this for later.

Make sure to do both sides :).

Pilates Projects: 5 Exercises for a Better Control Balance5. Balance Control – Mat

Let’s start with the preparation – the reachy-non-stepping-off part that you do on the Mat as well as on the Reformer. Depending on your flexibility this part is über-beneficial and can be done very nicely for a while before you even entertain stepping off.

As you do this one on the Mat, pay attention to the work that must be done at the balance point:  You must stretch from where your ribs anchor in the mat through BOTH sets of toes that reach away from you. Lift your back and use your seat to stretch the length of the leg up as the other equally reaches back. This is a whole lower body exercise.

With the Balance Control Off there is a lot to orchestrate. Jay Grimes has described this exercise as the Reformer now defying you to do an exercise instead of assisting you. He is so right.

That Reformer, it just sits there while you do all the work. Harrumph.


Now try the Balance Control Off in the midst of your Reformer workout. You’ve prepared the foundation, you’ve done your homework and it is now time to let that all go and just enjoy the ride. Trust me, there’s a lot going on in the execution of this exercise. There is no time to pause, examine and nit-pick while you’re all up in it. Take a deep breath and go for it.

“Look what you can do!”


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Andrea Maida

Andrea Maida

A native of Pittsburgh, Andrea began her study of the Pilates method in 2000. She holds two comprehensive certifications from Romana’s Pilates in New York and Excel Movement Studios in Washington, DC.  Andrea continues to study with numerous world-class instructors including Romana Kryzanowska, Jay Grimes, Sari Mejia-Santo, Junghee Kallander, Cynthia Lochard, and Kathryn Ross-Nash whenever possible. Andrea was privileged to be in the inaugural class of The Work at Vintage Pilates under the direction of Jay Grimes, 1st Generation Master Teacher and student of Joseph Pilates.

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    Awsome Andrea!! Loved the way you break down the ‘impossible’ to make it possible. Never thought of the swan… how clever.
    Look forward to your next one…

    • Andrea Maida

      Andrea Maida

      Member since 2012

      Thank you so much – you can thank the brilliance of Jay Grimes for the correlation to the Swan 🙂 But I think it helps so much to put you in a different head at that point in the exercise – taking you out of “Whoa – just rolled off the Reformer…yahhhhh!” Thank you so much for reading and sharing your comments.

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