So What Is a Pilates Reformer?

Pilates founder Joseph Pilates invented a series of Pilates apparatus designed to exercise and challenge the human body.  The Pilates Reformer is by far the most popular machine and features in studios around the globe.

The reformer is essentially a narrowish, bed-like frame with a flat platform on it, called the carriage, which rolls back and forth on wheels within the frame.

The carriage attaches to one end of the reformer by a set of springs. The springs provide choices of differing levels of resistance as the carriage is pushed or pulled along the frame.  At the spring end of the reformer, there is an adjustable bar called a footbar. The footbar can be used by the feet or hands as you move the carriage.

The reformer also has long ropes/straps with handles on them that are attached to the top end of the frame.T hey can be pulled with legs or arms to move the carriage as well.   The Reformer uses your body weight and resistance of the springs to make the carriage more or less difficult to move.

On first inspection it can seem a daunting piece of kit and there are an equally daunting number of exercises which can be performed on it!.   In fact, the almost inexhaustible number of exercise options, combined with the varying spring resistance means the Reformer can be adjusted to all body types and all levels of fitness.


How Is a Reformer Used?

All kinds of exercises are done on the Reformer to promote muscle strength, flexibility, balance and co-ordination.  Most of the exercises involve either pushing or pulling the carriage, or holding it stable during an exercise against the pull of the springs.

But one of the greatest things about the Reformer how versatile it is.   The exercises can be done lying down, sitting, kneeling, standing, pulling the ropes, pushing the footbar as well as using additional equipment which comes with the machine to increase the challenge or change your position.

It is possible to train the whole body in many different ways with just this one piece of apparatus.


What Are the Benefits of Pilates Reformer Exercises?

The Reformer offers all the well known benefits of Pilates including strength, flexibility, coordination, and balance.  These things clearly have a positive impact on our daily life such as better posture, more efficient movement patterns and in many cases relief from pain caused by muscular imbalance.

  • The Reformer encourages full-range movement thus helping to safely increase flexibility and build strength.
  • It’s unique action and use of spring loading helps to invite the sense of length into the spine and the body.
  • Working your arms or legs against the combined resistance of body weight, carriage and springs is generally strength building for muscles but also helps to build strong bones.
  • Also the nature of spring resistance of the Reformer offers a unique exercise protocol of eccentric muscle contraction – this is when a muscle lengthens as it resists a force. This helps to build strong muscle without bulk which Pilates is so well known for.
  • The range of positions and set ups using the rolling carriage promotes all kinds of stability challenges: by decreasing the amount of body contact on the carriage more body weight has to be supported by practitioner thus making the exercises harder. Conversely by making the springs lighter, certain exercises become more challenging as you have to work harder to control the movement.

With such versatility Pilates Reformer exercises are possible for anyone regardless of age or level of fitness.


How to Learn Pilates Reformer Exercises

In my opinion the best way to learn Pilates reformer is through private instruction. This ensures you learn the foundation exercises, how to set up the machine and work safely on it under the watchful eye of an experienced teacher.   Let loose without proper tuition it is all too easy to hurt yourself!

Next best would be a Reformer class – you can get to grips with many of the exercises in a small group class with a teacher assisting where needed.

Once you are some way proficient there are a number of options for portable Reformers which can be used at home.  But this can require more commitment than you realise.  I’ll be issuing an article soon on the pros and cons of home Reformer equipment.



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