To the unfamiliar eye, the Pilates reformer might look like a torture device. A sliding platform, springs, ropes, handles and foot bars…oh my. It can be overwhelming to behold and even more confusing to watch the workout take place: why would anyone do Pilates reformer, you might ask.
Truly, the reasons to do reformer are many. Whether you’re brand new to Pilates or have previously trained in mat, this technique on one of the most versatile, interesting apparatus offers many benefits to the mind and muscles.
What is Pilates reformer?
Pilates reformer was developed as part of the Pilates protocol for whole-body fitness by Joseph Pilates in the early 1900s. Intended to help the body “relearn” how it was meant to move, this intricate piece of machinery helps the body flow and move against resistance to gain strength, stability and fluidity.
Pilates exercises unite mind and body through controlled breathing and a carefully crafted sequence of movements. In the case of reformer, movements are performed on a machine that provides external resistance as you push, pull and twist through the series.
The machine—a seat on track, attached to springs for resistance and outfitted with ropes and bars for balance and alignment—became central to the Pilates practice. When performing exercises, the machine keeps the body in the correct position, providing tactile feedback to help us know when we’re in the right spot and hitting the right muscles.
The Pilates reformer sequence follows a series of moves to open, lengthen and strengthen the feet, legs, glutes, hips, shoulders, back and arms—all the while engaging the core to stay stable and balanced. Some exercises are performed supine on the cadillac (that moving seat) while others are performed kneeling, sitting or laying on the side. Each exercise is balanced by another: for every contraction, there is a release and for every push there is a pull. It truly is a full-body routine. You will leave feeling longer, more connected with your breath and in touch with some tiny muscles you may not have known you had.
Physical benefits of Pilates reformer
- Like other styles of Pilates, reformer is a phenomenal workout for your body’s “powerhouse,” or your abs, lower back, hips and glutes. It is heavily focused on alignment and accurate muscle engagement, which can lead to improved posture, better balance and more stability, especially when in motion. If you’ve ever coveted a ballet dancer’s graceful, fluid movement, Pilates could be a great way to help you work towards that. An integrated, stable body moves well and is less at risk to injury.
- This workout also requires you to work against resistance that can be adjusted using the springs on the reformer. Training with resistance builds strength, and although Pilates doesn’t look like it’s burning a ton of calories or breaking a sweat, the long-term benefits of more lean muscle mass are great, including an increased metabolism and greater resistance to metabolic disorders.
- Reformer also provides a terrific no-impact workout. You spend the majority of your time laying down or sitting or kneeling on the cadillac, exerting little force on your joints. This makes it a great tool for recovering from injury and strengthening the muscles around problematic joints to keep them strong (and injury-free).
Mental benefits of Pilates reformer
- Pilates relies heavily on the integration of mind and body. Careful syncing of the breath with movement is integral to the practice. These help to create more body awareness, more attention to physical signals and deeper understanding of how controlling the breath helps quiet the mind. (It can take a lot to push through some of those tough holds and pulses!)
- Focusing on how your mind and body relate as you work through the movements helps bolster concentration and has been suggested to improve thinking and problem solving.
- There is something very soothing, too, about the fluid, rhythmic movements performed on the reformer. You may feel as though you’re swimming (albeit a challenging, active swim). This calm motion can be a tremendous stress-reliever as tension is physically worked out of the body.
- Plus, there’s just something really satisfying about completing an hour on the reformer—or the full series of moves in the sequence. It can be quite daunting at first, so the confidence boost is something to look forward to!
Pilates reformer is a highly effective, unique way to use your body. It will help you gain strength, stability and a deeper connection to your core, plus, it’s just really fun to play on what feels like a grown-up jungle gym.
ClassPass offers a ton of amazing Pilates reformer classes, many with unique takes on the sequence that incorporate additional tools, exercises or music. There are, of course, other studios that teach the classical set of moves performed in order in a quiet space. Each will provide different benefits and a different class experience. Explore what’s around you to find the one that feels best.
No matter what, you’ll start to develop a rock-solid core and killer strength—all while looking like a swan.