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Reformer Pilates: Everything You Need to Know

Reformer Pilates has become extremely popular over the past few years. The reformer is a versatile Pilates machine that creates a unique resistance system, providing a full-body workout. One study, in particular, shows those who participated in reformer Pilates had higher levels of muscle mass compared to the control group. The reformer can feel intimidating for newbies. So let's dive deeper into reformer pilates so you can feel confident taking your first class!

Key takeaways:

Reformer Pilates is a mind-body exercise system that can help improve muscle strength, flexibility, alignment, and posture. Higher levels of muscle mass have been directly linked to enhanced bone and cardiovascular health, reducing the likelihood of health complications. Studies show that reformer Pilates helped to decrease insulin levels in participants.

Along with the physical health benefits, reformer Pilates can also be a great way to relax and restore. If you’ve heard of reformer Pilates but feel unsure as to whether the hype is really worth it, stick around to find out everything you need to know!

Reformer Pilates roots

The reformer was created by Joseph Pilates around the early-mid twentieth century, during WWI. In the early stages, he experimented with using bed springs to create resistance-based exercise equipment. Originally, he designed reformers to rehabilitate injured soldiers, recognizing the critical role of training in enhancing performance and preventing injuries.

Pilates drew upon Joseph Pilates's diverse knowledge within various movement disciplines such as gymnastics, boxing, and circus performance and his experience working with dancers when designing the reformer. The machine was refined and adapted over the years, creating the reformer we all know today.

The reformer Pilates consists of a torso-sized moving ‘bed’, which glides back and forth within the frame of the reformer. Padded for extra comfort, the carriage helps facilitate a variety of positions, such as supine, side lying, sitting, kneeling, and standing. There are many other components within the reformer, such as the footbar, straps, and standing platform. All of these come together to create a full body workout.

Reformer Pilates benefits

There are many benefits of reformer Pilates, such as:

  • Improved fitness levels. Reformer Pilates can help improve strength, flexibility, stability, alignment, and balance.
  • Full-body workout. The reformer engages intrinsic (smaller) and extrinsic (larger) muscle groups. Ensuring every muscle within your body is worked while providing optimal integral strength and stability.
  • Injury prevention. The reformer strengthens and stabilizes muscles and joints. It’s low-impact, therefore great for those with injuries or joint issues.
  • Stress reduction. The mind-body connection gained from reformer Pilates can help reduce anxiety by relaxing the nervous system.
  • Improved athletic performance. The technique gained from reformer Pilates can transfer to all other physical practices, such as yoga, dance, or football.

Best reformer Pilates exercises

All of these exercises are beginner-friendly.

Leg circles: parallel

Woman doing Leg circles: parallel
  1. Lay down on your reformer, head resting on the headrest with your feet in straps.
  2. Bring your legs to a 45-degree angle, closed together. Your spine is imprinted.
  3. Inhale. Lift your legs up towards the ceiling, finding a neutral spine (a slight gap between the lower back and carriage).
  4. Exhale. Circle your legs out to the sides, down, and around while imprinting the spine. Coming back to your starting position. Repeat five times.

Benefits: improve strength in quads, hip extensors, and hamstrings along with increased hip flexibility and pelvic stability.

Arms: external rotation

Woman doing Arms: external rotation exercise
  1. Sit sideways on your carriage with your legs crossed. Weight is evenly distributed between your sit bones while lengthening through your spine.
  2. Take your front strap off your shoulder rest, bringing it into your right hand (hand closest to the footbar), making a fist. The forearm is across the torso, with the palm facing in.
  3. Exhale. Open your right arm out to the side, keeping your elbow bent and glued into your waist.
  4. Inhale. Return to your starting position. Repeat eight repetitions.

* Repeat on the second side, facing the opposite way on the reformer.

Benefits: Improve rotator cuff strength, crucial for shoulder stability.

Mermaid exercise

Woman doing Mermaid exercise
  1. Sit sideways on the reformer, legs bent with your left shin up against the shoulder rests and your right leg bent in front.
  2. Place your right hand on the footbar (slightly in front of your shoulder). Make sure both seat bones are on the carriage.
  3. Inhale. Reach your left arm up until it lines up with your left shoulder.
  4. Exhale. Keep reaching your left arm over your head, finding a side bend as you press your right hand into the footbar, moving the carriage away. Inhale to hold the stretch.
  5. Exhale. Bring the carriage back into the stopper as you bring your left arm back down to the shoulder rest, restacking shoulders on top of hips.
  6. Inhale. Reach your right arm up in line with your right shoulder.
  7. Exhale and continue to reach your right arm over your head into a side bend (towards shoulder rests). Inhale hold.
  8. Exhale. Return to the starting position. Repeat five repetitions.

* Repeat on the second side, facing the opposite way on the reformer.

Benefits: enhanced flexibility and improved posture.

Going to a class: what to expect

All classes are different depending on the instructor and type of class. Classes vary from traditional reformer pilates to dynamic reformer Pilates, reformer bounce and reformer barre. For newbies, traditional reformer Pilates is a good place to start to cover foundations. At the start of class, you will be greeted and taken to a reformer bed. You can sit on the padded carriage facing the footbar, making sure you are comfy until your class starts.

Always make sure there are springs attached to the gear bar before sitting down; otherwise, the carriage will be unstable.

Sit back and enjoy your class! Your teacher should explain everything clearly throughout the class and provide modifications when necessary. Always tell your teacher if something doesn't feel right for your body.

Final thoughts

The benefits of reformer Pilates are impressive; improved strength, flexibility, joint stability, postural control, and pelvic floor function, to name a few. Reformer Pilates can help you develop healthy movement patterns, which is key for long-term results. Often, injuries are acquired from faulty techniques. Pilates can massively enhance your technique, therefore acting as an injury prevention measure.

We recommend taking a Pilates mat class first to understand the core principles, setting you up for success when you get onto the reformer. Make sure you train with a fully qualified and knowledgeable teacher, and remember to ask questions during class if you are unsure about something. We are almost certain you will fall in love with reformer Pilates once you try it!



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