The Leg Press: An exercise selected, prepared and guided by Antonio De La Fe, Senior Instructor, Little Venice Pilates

Name of Exercise: Leg Press/Footwork
Equipment Used: Reformer
Main Muscles Worked:
Core and spine muscles – Mainly Transversus Abdominis, Pelvic Floor and Multifidi.
Leg muscles: Hamstrings and calf muscles (although other leg muscles are used in different variations of the exercises, changing position of feet in Footbar).
What exercise goals or targets does it help with?
Pelvic and Lower Back Stability (Core Control/Axial Elongation), Leg Alignment.


“The Leg Press”, also known as “Footwork” when exercising on the Reformer, is a common exercise within the Pilates equipment repertoire.

It is executed lying on the back upon the Reformer’s carriage, arms resting along the torso and with the feet on the Foot Bar, although other variations of this exercise can be done on the Cadillac and the Chair in different positions, including lying down, sitting and standing.

It is possibly the most used exercise within Pilates equipment classes due to its simplicity, making it one of the best ways to introduce the basic Pilates principles of breathing, axial elongation and leg alignment to the beginner. The exercise can be modified in many different ways either to increase the challenge for the more experienced Pilates exerciser or to facilitate its execution for those that may be injured. A good instructor will ensure the correct modification and provide effective feedback and guidance.

The classic way of doing this exercise commences with a Pilates V position for the feet and imprint of the lower back (i.e. with the pelvis tucked under until fully flattening the curve of the lumbar lordosis). However, most teachers have now updated the starting position of the exercise in response to research indicating that the neutral spine and leg alignment is best based on the most efficient biomechanical and functional movement. So a more modern approach for the starting position is with the heels on the bar hip-width distance apart and pelvis neutral. “The pelvis resting as if it were a bowl full of water and no water over spilling”.

This activity of keeping the pelvis resting in neutral position, although simple, may be more challenging than first thought and sometimes we discover through practice and execution that we struggle to prevent movement in the pelvis each time we press with the legs. This is the main aim of the exercise, the focus not on the legs as the exercise name suggests (although leg muscles are clearly worked during the exercises) but principally targeting the core muscles to stabilise and strengthen the centre of the body to prevent lower back strain and injury, and increase efficient biomechanical movement.