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Cardio Meets Pilates: Techniques for a High-Intensity Workout

Pilates On Jumpboard vs Mat

Pilates is often celebrated for its focus on core strength, flexibility, and overall body conditioning. However, many people might not realize that Pilates can also serve as an effective form of cardio exercise, especially when incorporating the jumpboard.

This piece of equipment, which attaches to the reformer, can elevate your Pilates routine by increasing your heart rate and providing a cardiovascular challenge. By learning and practicing proper jump techniques, inspired by ballet, you can ensure that your Pilates cardio workout is both safe and effective.

Ballet dancer Jonathan Batista practising on the jumpboard before taking it to centre

The Cardiovascular Benefits of Pilates with a Jumpboard

Traditional cardio exercises like running, cycling, and aerobics are well-known for their heart health benefits. Pilates with a jumpboard, however, brings a unique twist to the cardio experience. Here’s how it works:

  1. Increased Heart Rate: The repetitive jumping motion on the reformer engages your muscles continuously, which raises your heart rate similar to traditional cardio exercises.

  2. Low-Impact Workout: Unlike running or jumping on hard surfaces, the jumpboard provides a cushioned platform that reduces the impact on your joints, making it ideal for those with joint concerns.

  3. Full-Body Engagement: Pilates jumps require coordination and engagement of multiple muscle groups simultaneously, offering a comprehensive workout that targets the entire body.

To maximise the benefits and minimize the risk of injury, it’s crucial to learn the correct technique for Pilates jumps. Observing and adopting principles from ballet can be particularly helpful.

Ballerina in demi-plie

The Power of the Plié: The Foundation of Graceful and Safe Jumps

Plié, (French: “bent”), knee bend in ballet. It is used in jumps and turns to provide spring, absorb shock, and as an exercise to loosen muscles and to develop balance. 

Pelvic alignment for pliés


Tip #1: The knee should always be bent in the direction of the toes, such that the knee is over the foot.

Tip #2: Depending on your comfort & strength, your pelvis and spine can be in neutral alignment. But if you have a weaker core or back pain, having the spine in imprint and the pelvis tucked (posterior tilt)* can help you better access core engagement.

(*Note: Pelvis and spine are both in neutral during ballet and Pilates standing upright positions. The option given above is for supine and side-lying positions on the reformer.)

Ballet jumps in first, second and fifth positions

"What Should I Feel?"

The movement of a plié should be smooth and continuous, not choppy. 

When one reaches the bottom of the plié, the ascent should begin immediately

The timing of the descent and the ascent should generally be equal.

While the knees are descending into a plié, the dancer should feel that the body is being actively lifted upward and out of the hips, such that there is a constant feeling of lengthening even as the dancer is going lower. 

This has the effect of taking some of the feeling of heaviness out of the legs.

Landing single leg jumps in plié: A more advanced option due to full body weight on one vs two legs

The Mechanics of Motion: Understanding Plié in Jumps

The plié, a foundational movement in ballet, is crucial for jumps because it acts as a springboard and a shock absorber.

During the jump TAKEOFF, a deep plié engages and strengthens the leg muscles, providing the necessary force to propel the dancer into the air.

Upon LANDING, the plié softens the impact, distributing the force through the legs and reducing strain on the knees and other joints.

It provides the necessary power and control to propel the dancer upwards and to cushion the impact upon landing.

Slow motion plié to jump

Watch the slow-motion plié - jump - plié in the video above.

Her position goes from:

  1. Plié : Knees BENT / feet on ground

  2. Airborne : Knees STRETCHED, legs straight / feet POINTED in the air

  3. Plié : BENT knees / feet on ground

A simple cue I give my students is "Bend, straight, bend." Keep repeating this to yourself in your head during your Pilates jumps.

Different jumps, same landing

RULE: Never Land With Straight Legs

Landing with straight legs can lead to jarring impacts, increasing the risk of injuries such as joint damage and muscle strains.

Note how the dancers in the video above always land with bent knees, regardless of the jump type. The weight of the body is kept in the front of the feet (toes and balls), the heels rarely land heavily on the ground (if at all).

By using a plié, dancers can absorb the impact safely, maintain proper alignment, and ensure a graceful and controlled descent. This principle is equally important in Pilates jumps to ensure safety and effectiveness.

Visualisation Tip #1: For height and power, it may be helpful to imagine your legs in plié as a coiled spring ready to release straight into the air.

Ballet dancers land softly and quietly, absorbing impact through the legs. Aim for soft, controlled landings on the jumpboard, engaging your core and using your leg muscles to absorb the impact.

Remember that your legs are not in line with your torso when you are in supine jumps. Your legs are slightly elevated to:

1) better absorb the impact of landing

2) better activate your core muscles while in the air.

Land your feet on the the top vs bottom half of the jumpboard.

Hollow body hold

How Do I Breathe?

In both ballet and Pilates jumps, proper breathing is crucial for maintaining control and stability.

The recommended breathing pattern on your Pilates jumpboard is to INHALE on the landing (in plié on the jumpboard) and EXHALE on the takeoff (legs in the air).

This technique is effective because during the TAKEOFF, as your legs leave the ground, your legs are ideally straight and core muscles fully engaged. Exhaling during this phase helps to tighten the core and stabilise the body.

Visualisation Tip #2: During takeoff, it can help to visualise your body in a hollow body hold, as shown in the image above.

Conversely, inhaling on the LANDING allows the body to absorb the impact gently, aiding in a smoother, more controlled descent. This synchronized breathing pattern enhances performance and reduces the risk of injury.


Okay, I'm Ready To Jump. What Does A Pilates Cardio Class Look Like?

Start with double-leg jumps, before you progress to single-leg

Single-leg jumps with resistance band for arms

Standing single-leg jumpboard sequence

Side-lying jumps look easy but challenge your balance as you hold your alignment through the movement

Throw & catch a ball to test your timing and coordination

Group coordination with seated throw & catch

Jumpboard physio: An excellent way to initiate pain-free loading exercises, manage return to traning, commence strengthening after surgery and pelvic floor control with loading (amongst others)

Practical Tips for Safe and Effective Pilates Jumps

  1. Warm-Up Properly: Begin with a thorough warm-up to prepare your muscles and joints for the jumping activity, e.g. footwork on jumpboard.

  2. Start Slow: If you’re new to using the jumpboard, start with smaller, controlled jumps to build your confidence and technique.

  3. Focus on Form: Prioritise proper form over the height or intensity of your jumps. Good form reduces the risk of injury and enhances the effectiveness of your workout.

  4. Listen to Your Body: Pay attention to how your body feels during the workout. If you experience any pain or discomfort, stop and reassess your technique.

Incorporating a jumpboard into your Pilates routine is an excellent way to transform it into a cardio workout.

By learning and applying proper jump techniques, inspired by the precision and grace of ballet, you can enjoy a safe, effective, and enjoyable cardiovascular exercise.

Whether you're looking to elevate your Pilates practice or add variety to your fitness regimen, the jumpboard offers a dynamic and impactful option.



'How To Do The Perfect Plié'.

'Getting Airborne: Mastering The Art of Jumping'.

'Pleasing & Powerful Pliés In Ballet & Dance'.

'The Ups & Downs Of Demi & Grand Pliés'.

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