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Your Complete Guide to Reformer Pilates

Reformer Pilates is a type of workout that is becoming increasingly popular in the fitness world. If you're looking for a workout to strengthen your core, improve flexibility, and increase muscle strength, Reformer Pilates could be the perfect solution.


In this guide, you will find all the information about Reformer Pilates, learn where it originated, how it works, and the main benefits of this unique machine.


What is Reformer Pilates?


Initially known as the Universal Reformer, the Pilates Reformer is the most famous and widely used apparatus in the Pilates method. It was invented by Joseph Pilates during

World War I. The original purpose of the Reformer was to allow even bedridden soldiers

to undergo rehabilitation without having to stand up. When Joseph Pilates opened his studio in the 1920s, he introduced and refined the design of the Reformer.


This tool was designed to enhance the effectiveness of many exercises, offering adjustable resistance to accommodate different training needs. Pilates created the Reformer to help

strengthen muscles, improve posture, flexibility, and balance, using a system of springs,

pulleys, and a sliding platform to perform controlled and precise movements. His

innovative approach to fitness emphasized the importance of mental control over the

body, a principle that continues to be a cornerstone of Pilates practice.


The Pilates Reformer, therefore, is a training method that combines the principles of

Pilates mat work, its movements, and principles with the Reformer machine. Compared

to classic Pilates, it is a more dynamic and intense workout. Additionally, the repertoire

of exercises available for practice is very extensive.


Two women using a reformer Pilates machine.
Pilates Reformer is the most famous and widely used apparatus in the Pilates method

How does a Pilates Reformer work?


The Pilates Reformer, with its unique design, is indeed an innovative piece of fitness

equipment that closely resembles an elongated bed. Its structure allows for a wide range of exercises and detailed customization to meet individual needs.


The "carriage" or sliding cart at the centre of the Reformer, rests on bearings, allowing for a smooth forward and backward movement along the machine's track, making the exercise both challenging and gentle on the joints.


The springs connected to the front of the carriage provide variable resistance. By modifying the spring tension, users can either heighten or lessen the intensity of their workout.


The straps, equipped with handles and attached to the back of the Reformer, are essential for exercises that involve pulling with hands and feet, increasing the complexity of the movements and the range of possible exercises. This component helps to work on strength, flexibility, and coordination in ways that would be difficult to replicate without such equipment.


Support bars help users maintain balance and correct posture during exercises. The ability to adjust various elements of the Reformer makes it extremely versatile and capable of accommodating different statutes skill levels, solidifying its role as a cornerstone of Pilates training.


Looking to start your Pilates journey with us? Book a Pilates class here (based in Neath, Port Talbot).


Who can do Reformer Pilates?


Training with the Reformer offers considerable flexibility and can be adapted to people of all ages and fitness levels, making it an inclusive and versatile option for various needs. The Reformer is particularly beneficial for those recovering from injuries or surgeries. Thanks to its ability to customize resistance and support the body while moving, it helps strengthen muscles without putting too much stress on the joints or injured areas.


For older adults, the Reformer can be an excellent tool to maintain or increase mobility, flexibility, and strength. Exercises can be modified to be gentler, helping to prevent falls and improve quality of life through enhanced physical well-being. For those looking to improve their physical condition, the Reformer offers a comprehensive workout that can be progressively intensified. The use of springs for resistance allows each session to be customized to increase strength, muscle tone, and endurance in a controlled and safe manner.


The Reformer's ability to adapt to individual needs not only makes the workout accessible to everyone but also allows for effectively pursuing specific goals, whether it's improving athletic performance, regaining mobility after an injury, or simply maintaining regular physical activity in later life.


Woman using a reformer Pilates machine with her legs in the air.
Pilates is for anybody and everybody, and so is the reformer type.

The benefits of Reformer Pilates


The Reformer Pilates is an exceptionally versatile piece of equipment that offers a comprehensive range of benefits, both physical and mental, catering to various fitness goals. Let's explore in detail the advantages of this remarkable fitness method.


Starting with the physical benefits of reformer Pilates:


  • Core Strengthening: Exercises on the Reformer emphasize core work (abdominal and lower back muscles), essential for good posture and a solid foundation for all other movements.


  • Muscle Strengthening and Stretching: The Reformer allows for work with adjustable resistance, which helps to build strong and flexible muscles, promoting a leaner and more toned body. Exercises on the Reformer involve the whole body, engaging not only the large muscle groups but also the smaller and less used muscles, which are crucial for overall stability and joint support.


  • Posture Improvement: The exercises target the improvement of alignment and muscle balance, which are crucial for correct posture and for preventing pain and injuries.


  • Increased Flexibility: The ability to adjust the intensity and range of motion allows for gradually extending joint and muscle flexibility. Dynamic stretching exercises combined with the resistance of the springs, help to lengthen muscles and increase the range of joint movements, which is crucial for good mobility and for preventing muscle injuries.


  • Mobility Development: Through smooth and controlled movements, the Reformer helps to enhance overall mobility, particularly useful for people with physical limitations.


  • Post-Injury Recovery: Often used in physical therapy, the Reformer provides safe support for rehabilitation exercises, helping to recover without overloading vulnerable areas.


  • Metabolism Stimulation: Resistance training can increase muscle mass, which in turn can help speed up the metabolism.


  • Balance Optimization: Working on the Reformer develops balance with an unstable platform that requires constant bodily adjustment. By enhancing balance, the risk of falls and injuries is also reduced, which is particularly important for the elderly and those undergoing rehabilitation.


  • Tones Muscle: The Reformer promotes muscle toning through controlled movements and constant resistance provided by the springs. This type of resistance keeps the muscles under tension for prolonged periods, an effective strategy for improving muscle definition.


As for the mental benefits of reformer Pilates:


● General Well-being: Physical exercise, including exercises on the Reformer, releases endorphins, known as the happiness hormones, which can enhance overall well-being.


● Increased Concentration: The focus required to correctly perform the exercises on the Reformer helps to improve concentration and mental awareness.


● Reduction of Stress and Anxiety: The controlled pace and guided breathing in Pilates help to calm the mind, reducing stress and anxiety.


● Mood Improvement: Regular physical activity on the Reformer can have antidepressant effects and enhance overall mood.



Reformer Pilates Exercises

The Reformer is an extremely versatile device that allows for the execution of a wide variety of exercises, enabling each routine to be customized according to the individual's needs and specific goals.


Thanks to its ability to incorporate the functionalities of various fitness devices into one, the Reformer can be used for exercises aimed at improving strength, flexibility, balance, and much more.


Here are some of the most typical exercises that can be performed on a Reformer:


1. The Hundred


This exercise helps to promote circulation, strengthen the core muscles, enhance respiratory capacity, and activate the entire body. Here is a detailed description of how

to perform The Hundred on a Reformer:


Lie on your back on the Reformer carriage with your legs raised and bent at 90 degrees

(tabletop position) or extended at 45 degrees for a greater challenge. Arms are along

your sides, while your neck and shoulders are relaxed. Prepare your body with a few

deep breaths, inhaling and exhaling fully to centre your mind and stabilize your core.


Lift your head and shoulders from the carriage, keeping your neck long and your lower

back pressed against the carriage. Extend your arms toward your feet, parallel to the

carriage. Begin to move your arms up and down in small, rapid, and controlled

movements. The arms should move vigorously but without excessive tension.


Use rhythmic breathing as you perform the arm movements. Inhale forcefully for five

arm pumps and then exhale for another five counts. This breathing sequence is crucial

for maximizing the exercise’s effectiveness.


Repeat the breathing cycle a total of 10 times, thus achieving 100 arm pumps.

Blonde woman doing the hundred exercise on a reformer Pilates machine.
The hundred exercise targets the entire abdominal wall, strengthening the transverse abdominals and the obliques.

2. Mermaid


The Mermaid exercise is a sequence of movements that focuses on improving the lateral flexibility of the spine, strengthening the obliques, and increasing shoulder mobility. It is particularly valued for its ability to stretch and tone the trunk muscles and for its effectiveness in improving posture.


Here is a detailed description of how to perform the exercise on a Reformer:


Sit on the Reformer carriage with your legs crossed in a mermaid style, one leg bent in front and the other behind, or both legs bent to one side of the body, depending on your personal flexibility.


Align your hip with the back of the carriage to have space to move laterally. Grab the bar or side handle with the hand closest to the bar and place the other hand on the bar in front of you, keeping both arms extended.


Inhale and lift your free arm (the one opposite the bar you are holding) towards the ceiling, extending your hip and trunk laterally towards the bar, while the carriage moves slightly. Exhale and continue to lean sideways, bringing the lifted arm over to the opposite side in a wide arc above your head.


This movement should create a deep stretch along the entire side of your body, from shoulder to hip. Inhale and slowly return to the starting position, bringing the lifted arm up before lowering it, and centring yourself again.


3. Double straight leg stretch


The Double Straight Leg Stretch in Pilates is an essential part of the mat class exercise series and can also be effectively performed on a Reformer to increase the intensity and

support during the movement. This exercise is particularly useful for strengthening the

core, specifically the abdominal muscles, and for improving trunk control and stability.

Here's how to perform the Double Straight Leg Stretch on a Reformer:


Position yourself on your back on the Reformer carriage, with your legs raised up towards the ceiling at a right angle to your body. Your arms are along your sides on the carriage or can hold the handles depending on the configuration of the Reformer used. Lift your head and shoulders slightly off the carriage using your core strength and look towards your navel to keep your neck in a neutral position.


Inhale and slowly lower your legs together towards the carriage in a controlled movement, until the point where you can keep your lower back pressed against the carriage without lifting it. The angle and distance of lowering will depend on your core strength and flexibility.


Exhale and slowly lift your legs back to the initial position perpendicular to the floor. The movement should be smooth and controlled, avoiding using momentum or force.


Top Tips for Reformer Pilates


Even the most experienced Pilates practitioners can make mistakes, especially when fatigue sets in or when they become too comfortable with their workout routines.


Below, you will find some essential tips for maintaining safety while using the Reformer, useful for both beginners and veterans of the discipline:


Adequate Warm-Up - Ensure you perform a thorough warm-up before beginning any session on the Reformer to ready your muscles and joints for the activity. A warm-up can include dynamic stretching, breathing exercises, or a light series of fundamental Pilates movements.



Approach the Reformer Safely - When preparing for an exercise that involves the moving carriage of the Reformer, it is essential to first place your foot or hand on a stable part of the machine. This gives you a solid base and allows you to safely organize the rest of your body before engaging with the moving parts.



Maintain Realistic Expectations and Goals - Keeping realistic expectations and goals is crucial when practicing Pilates with the Reformer, or in any other physical activity. This approach helps ensure a safe and sustainable progression, avoiding the frustrations and injuries that can come from unattainable goals. Setting realistic expectations and goals not only helps you stay motivated and engaged in your Pilates journey but also helps you build a solid foundation for long-term success, promoting an active and healthy lifestyle.


Choose the Right Clothing - Preparing for a Reformer Pilates session with the right clothing is a fundamental step to ensure comfort, safety, and freedom of movement during the workout. Opt for snug-fitting clothes that fit well to your body without squeezing or restricting movements. These garments should allow you to perform a wide range of movements without getting caught in the moving parts of the Reformer.


Wear Appropriate Footwear - Many studios prefer that practitioners wear non-slip socks to avoid accidents on the Reformer. These socks have small rubbers on the bottom that improve grip. If you feel more comfortable and your studio allows it, you can also work barefoot. This can increase your tactile awareness and control during exercises.


Never Skip Stretching - Integrating a routine of dynamic stretching before starting a session of Reformer Pilates can make a big difference in terms of performance during the exercise and in preventing injuries.


Reformer Pilates is an advanced form of exercise that uses a specialized machine to amplify the benefits of traditional Pilates. The Reformer is particularly effective in improving posture, increasing flexibility, strengthening the core, and reducing the risk of injuries, making it a valuable tool for both physical rehabilitation and advanced fitness training.


In addition to the physical benefits, Reformer Pilates also has a positive impact on mental health, helping to reduce stress and improve mood through its emphasis on controlled breathing and mindful movement.


This practice not only helps to keep the body in shape but also promotes an overall sense of well-being. For these reasons, Reformer Pilates is chosen by both athletes and individuals looking for an effective method to improve their health and physical condition comprehensively.


To learn more about the wonderful world of Pilates, including how to prepare for your first Pilates class and how to choose a Pilates mat, check out our Pilates & fitness blog, and to book a mat Pilates, Barre or stretching class, head over to our bookings page.

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