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How to Make Pilates Equipment Work Better for 6ft or Taller Male Clients

How to Make Pilates Equipment Work Better for 6ft or Taller Male Clients

adaptations Apr 14, 2021

Here's a question I received recently:

I work with a lot of male clients who are 6ft or taller. Do you have any suggestions for making the equipment (especially the Ladder Barrel) work better for them? I find that (even at its farthest setting) exercises like Swan on the Ladder Barrel are difficult to get a good alignment. 

The first aspect to consider is that each manufacturer of Pilates equipment has slightly different dimensions. To make it even trickier, different models by the same manufacturer can have different dimensions. Classical equipment, like Gratz, usually has the smallest dimensions. Modern equipment, like Balanced Body, is usually a bit bigger. You're not alone in your struggle to help tall clients on the Ladder Barrel. Many teachers are avoiding certain exercises because the Ladder Barrel feels too small for their client. The good news is that I have some solutions for you to try. 

Ladder Barrel

Let's talk about the Swan on the Ladder Barrel. Have you tried it with the feet on the floor on the inside of the frame?

It's a different angle than when the feet are against the ladder. In this variation, the lower body is straight and the body is more upright. This position allows the upper body to bend and lift a lot more. 

I tried it myself by extending the Ladder Barrel all the way. I put my feet on the floor against the frame and lifted up to about my lower ribs. So for someone who's six-foot, it could be just around their pelvis. Try this position and see how it works for your client. 

Be sure to teach them to stabilize their lumbar spine. You can place your hands on their low back or waist and tell them to keep it stable while moving above that point. A tall student won't have the support on the lower belly from the barrel, so you'll have to teach them to keep it still. 

This variation means that much more upper body will be overhanging the barrel which actually makes it harder. I would start by holding the starting position isometrically, where his body is in one long line. Teach him to draw the abdominal wall in like he has a belt around the center and all four sides are pulling inward (narrowing). When he's got that down, he can do Dart, Swan, and Side Sit-Up. Again, make sure he's not collapsing the lumbar spine. 

For the Short Box Series, ask your student to sit on the very top of the barrel and place his feet on the lowest rung.

I'm 5'6" (168 cm) so my hips don't reach the top, but someone taller would sit right on top, with his legs possibly bent.

Keep in mind that the lack of support behind his back makes the exercise a lot harder.

For Swimming facing the ladder, try this: Ask your student to hold the top rung just outside the vertical posts. Bring the shoulders over the top rung so the hands are right next to the chest. The whole upper body is beyond the barrel which will probably place the pelvis on top of the barrel. Please let me know how these suggestions worked for you in the comments!


In Short Box on the Reformer, you probably place the box over the shoulder blocks (instead of in front) and have them scoot as far back on the box as possible. You want maximum distance between the foot strap and the back edge of the box.

Depending on the Reformer model, you might be able to change which hole you use for the foot strap. (The Allegro two has two holes, one higher, one lower; the lower one moves the foot strap just a bit further away)

Have you come across a "Stretch" Reformer, as you were browsing the internet? They are longer than your usual Reformer and fit people 6 foot 4 or taller. The frame is longer altogether, the carriage is wider and longer.


For exercises like Footwork, you can place a moon box onto the seat of the chair to make it taller.

To hear my answer to this and dozens of other Pilates questions, check out the Q&A chapter inside the Pilates Encyclopedia library. They're all available as part of the membership.

Do you have a burning Pilates question?  Submit your question here. I'll answer all of them personally.


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