Reformer Pilates is back, not that it ever went anywhere mind you! The Pilates reformer was a gym staple in the 1980s but seemingly got lost in a sea of new social media backed fitness crazes. But with some high profile endorsements from the likes of Beyonce, Margot Robbie and Meghan Markle herself, the Pilates reformer is making quite the comeback.
Here at OriGym, we have created a fun article that will teach you everything you need to know about how the Pilates reformer benefits your body and overall life.
To give you a better understanding of this, we will break down each benefit one by one, whilst also covering the history of Pilates reformers as well as some risks you may encounter when operating the machine.
- What is a Pilates reformer?
- The History of Pilates Reformers - Where Did They Come From and Why?
- How Does Reformer Pilates Compare to Regular Mat-Based Pilates?
- How Do You Use a Pilates Reformer?
- What are the Benefits of Reformer Pilates?
- Are there any Risks to Using the Pilates Reformer?
- How to Start Reformer Pilates
- What Results Can You Expect from Using the Reformer?
Also, feel free to download our FREE "45 Minute Yoga Sequence Workout":
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What is a Pilates reformer?
A Pilates reformer is a bedlike frame that includes a small platform. This section of the machine is known as the carriage and is attached to a reformer with a set of springs. These can be pushed and pulled along the frame with your own body strength and weight, in order to create resistance in your body.
At the end of the frame is a set of long straps that you can slide onto either your arms or legs, depending on the exercise you’re using the reformer to complete. You will use the straps to pull yourself across the frame and create resistance in various places within your body, but we cover this further in our section on the benefits of reformer Pilates.
When discussing how the Pilates reformer benefits the body, Julie O’Connell a PT with Athletico Physical Therapy told NBC News:
The reformer assists the individual in achieving the goals of Pilates, which include the use of diaphragmatic breathing to organize the body’s posture through coordinated movements with an emphasis on postural control.
Therefore, the question of what is reformer Pilates? is easily answered - it is a form of Pilates that is performed on a specific piece of equipment designed to optimise diaphragmatic breath, provide support for your posture, and improve core strength.
The History of Pilates Reformers - Where Did They Come from and Why?
To understand the history of the Pilates reformer, you must look at the history of Pilates in general. Initially dubbed Contrology, the practice was founded in the 20th century by Joseph Pilates who is regarded as the first person to bring these Eastern-based teachings across to the Western world.
Joseph was originally born in Germany, suffering from rickets, asthma and rheumatic fever. Despite all his illnesses, Joseph was determined to stay healthy and ensured he continued exercising throughout his life.
He travelled to England in 1912 and worked for the country during the first World War. During this time period, Joseph began developing an early form of what we now know as Pilates, which he shared with a select few of his trainees.
Interestingly enough the history of Pilates reformers can also be traced back to the first World War. The reformer was in fact part of the original Pilates technique and was used to aid bedridden soldiers.
Instead of creating what we now know as the carriage, Joseph who was then working as a nurse, attached springs to the hospital beds of the injured soldiers.
Joseph found that the reformer Pilates benefits the soldiers because they could remain in bed whilst still training and toning their muscles.
To this day, restorative healing is still one of the primary benefits of Pilates reformer training, but we’ll cover those in a later section.
The practice of Pilates gained mass popularity in 1918 during the influenza outbreak. Despite the fact people died in the thousands, all of Joseph’s trainees somehow survived.
This gained him a significant amount of fame, so much so that he travelled to America and opened his first Pilates studio in 1926 where he boasted a clientele filled with A-List celebrities of the time.
Both the general practice of Pilates, and the reformer Pilates method have come a long way since 1926, but just because they were conceived during the same time frame does not mean that they are identical practices.
If you're finding the history of Pilates reformers interesting, check out our full guide on Pilates history for more on this topic!
How does Reformer Pilates Compare to Regular Mat-Based Pilates?
Pilates on a reformer greatly differs from regular mat-based Pilates, with the most obvious difference being that reformer Pilates is done using the reformer machine, whereas mat-based Pilates will usually require you to work on your own (with a Pilates or yoga mat).
Pilates on a reformer is arguably considered a more challenging form of exercise, even for advanced Pilates practitioners. This is due to the fact the reformer works the entire body, particularly the core and peripheral muscles in your arms and legs.
This is compared to mat-based Pilates, which is challenging in its own right but requires a lot less of you physically, traditionally focusing on the specific strengthening of the core.
Fun fact: traditionally, reformer Pilates was reserved for those who wished to become more advanced at mat-based Pilates. This is due to the fact the Pilates reformer benefits these individuals because it trains the body to become more flexible.
Reformer Pilates has since become a respectable method of exercise not just for those who practice mat-based Pilates, but for a plethora of other athletes too. This is because, unlike the regular practice, reform Pilates is a method of cross-fit training that benefits the body in building and toning muscle.
When talking to Women’s Health magazine about the difference between mat-based and Pilates on a reformer, Ten Health & Fitness' Head of Brand Justin Robers agreed that reformer Pilates is more challenging but also offers a larger variety of exercise methods than the mat-based.
He summarises this entire argument by stating that ‘You can simply do more on the reformer’.
How do you use a Pilates Reformer?
We have already briefly touched upon how to use a Pilates reformer, however, within this section we will go into further detail and even provide you with a video example, in order for you to see how to correctly use the reformer machine, so consider this your beginner’s guide.
Reformer Pilates benefits your body in various ways, so we will also break this section down into subsections that will explain how to use the reformer accordingly, by discussing each of the machine's different elements.
The springs can be found underneath the front platform, and are the things that make reformer Pilates what it is. By changing the spring resistance, the carriage resistance will change too and will either be easier or more difficult to move along the frame.
All of the springs are colour coded and you can have more than one spring attached to the carriage at a time. But be warned, the lighter the spring does not equate to the easier the workout, if the spring weight is lighter, the resistance on the carriage will be lighter too. This means you will have to engage more core strength in order to stay balanced.
We’re not saying try the heaviest spring setting, but attempt to engage in a setting that is right for you. Don’t be afraid to test a few settings out before deciding on one. If you want to get the most out of the Pilates reformer you will have to accommodate it to your body.
If at any point during your class you feel the resistance setting is too low or too high, please inform a teacher who will aid you in finding a setting that is right for you.
We have spoken briefly about the carriage already. The carriage is essentially the base of the Pilates reformer, it moves along the frame in a vertical direction, and will be pushed and pulled by your own body weight.
Depending on the resistance setting selected for the spring, the carriage will either be easier or harder to move.
You can operate the carriage in two ways. The first is laying flat on top of it, ensuring your neck is placed between the shoulder rests for safety. You will then push and pull the carriage along the frame by either using the foot bar at the front of the platform or by using the straps.
The second way the carriage can be used is for lunges. Place one knee on top of the front platform and your other leg on the carriage. Push your weight down onto the carriage and allow your body to move into a lunge.
Note that not all machines have a front platform, if that is the case keep one leg firmly planted on the ground, whilst the other leg remains on the carriage.
The Front Platform
Whilst all machines/models don’t come with a front platform, it is still a vital part of the Pilates reformer, that can be used in a variety of ways. Think of the front platform as the Pilates reformer safe space.
At any point should you feel dizzy or unbalanced when using the machine, take yourself off the carriage immediately and make your way over to the front platform.
Place one knee on the front platform and keep one leg on the ground, this will help you regain your composure and balance.
The Pilates reformer straps may look intimidating, but we promise you they aren’t as scary as they look!
There are traditionally two sets of straps that come along with the Pilates reformer, a short and long pair. The short pair can be found by the front platform, whereas the long straps can be found under/to the side of the carriage.
The longer straps are what you will use more commonly, with the shorter straps only being used when you want a little bit of extra support when on the front platform.
In comparison, when you’re on the carriage you’re going to need to use the straps in order to achieve several of the stretches and poses set by the instructor.
You can use the long straps on your arms, but classes will also require you to put the straps over your legs too. This idea may be off-putting, mere photos make this look impossible in itself. But if you take it slow, then you will be able to achieve this.
Before you begin this process, ensure that you have the long straps in your hand ready to attach. Slowly bring your knees up to your chest, breathing deeply as you raise them higher and higher.
Once you have got your legs into a position where you can reach your feet, simply place the straps over your ankles one by one, then push back on the carriage and allow yourself to feel that first stretch.
Note: if you’re a beginner and truly intimidated by the long straps you don’t have to use them. Every machine comes with a small foot bar, which you can use to gently push yourself along the carriage at your own speed.
What are the Benefits of Reformer Pilates?
If you are reading this article and wondering what the benefits of using a Pilates reformer actually are, we will guide you through these benefits and break them down into five primary categories.
Each point will detail the benefits of Pilates reformers, whilst also offering insight into how they can benefit specific individuals who are either pregnant or recovering from a recent injury.
Let’s begin with the latter...
#1 - Great for Rehabilitation
When discussing the machine's inception, we touched upon the benefits of using the Pilates reformer in order to recover from an injury. However, it isn’t just injured soldiers who feel the benefits of reformer Pilates.
By using the Pilates reformer a certified rehabilitation instructor will be able to see if there are any imbalances within the body. Instead of just focusing on a specific injured area, the rehabilitation specialist will view the body in a holistic way.
This method is used to not only ensure that the targeted area is treated, but that all of the body’s muscles are fully balanced to prevent aggravation to the injury in the future.
Muscle imbalance is actually a common form of injury, and the Pilates reformer seeks to rectify this by exercising one half of the body at a time, in order to ensure muscle growth and repair on each side of your body.
The Pilates reformer benefits various injuries not just the ones that are considered severe. It also assists in improving posture, for those who are suffering from back pains.
When you are slouched forward at a desk all day and lacking in an office fitness routine, your hip flexors shorten and your glutes and abdominal muscles weaken. To make matters worse, your neck can also become compressed which leaves areas such as the spine, legs and knees more susceptible to pain.
This has been supported by a study conducted in 2016, which found one of the benefits of Pilates reformer training to be the increased muscle in the lower back. The study found that muscle in the lumbar and scapular stabilizer increased over the course of 12 reformer Pilates sessions.
If you are suffering from any of these issues you will feel the benefits of Pilates reformer workouts, as the machine is specifically designed to strengthen your glutes and back, in order to ensure that your body is in perfect balance.
#2 - Improves Stability in Older Adults
For older adults staying healthy is an essential part of life, however many will struggle to find exercises that they can do safely without tiring or hurting themselves.
Many older adults turn to dynamic reformer Pilates, as a way to stay fit without the worry of hurting their body during weight-bearing exercises. Pilates is a gentle exercise, whilst the reformer machine may look scary it is a lot less intimidating than you think.
As we grow older we may sometimes have issues with balance and coordination. We have briefly touched upon how the benefits of Pilates reformer training extend to stability for those who are injured/recovering from an injury. In addition to this, the Pilates reformer benefits older adults who no longer feel secure when walking.
In a 2017 study, it was found that using the Pilates reformer just once a week for a total of 10 weeks decreased the likelihood of adults aged 65 and over falling, whilst also increasing their levels of mobility.
The benefits of Pilates reformer workouts also extend to assisting older adults with other mobility issues such as arthritis. The Pilates reformer benefits these individuals because arthritis sufferers benefit from gentle mid-range movements, which decrease the likelihood of joints becoming compressed.
Therefore dynamic reformer Pilates can in fact benefit multiple groups of people (which we will elaborate more upon with our next point).
Want to build on your stability alongside this exercise method? Check out OriGym's list of the top 15 yoga ball chairs here.
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#3 - Safe for Pregnant Women
For many women as their pregnancy evolves their levels of mobility decrease, with some women who don’t even feel safe or comfortable going for runs or long walks. The Pilates reformer benefits women as it is a safe and medically recommended way to get some exercise in.
The Pilates reformer benefits women who are pregnant in the following ways. Firstly in relation to the topics that we have previously discussed, the reformer decreases back pain in pregnant women.
During pregnancy, there is a natural change in posture due to your body's weight distribution, which in turn can cause pain or general discomfort. By using the reformer the gluteal muscles are strengthened, which should help reduce the risk of back pain by aligning your posture and weight distribution.
This also links to another benefit which is that the reformer should help to reduce the strain when standing up or getting out of bed.
These are simple tasks that most of us take for granted, but for pregnant women, they can involve serious physical challenges. Many reformer Pilates classes that are designed specifically for pregnant women, will often teach how to exercise the right muscles, in order to ensure that these tasks aren’t as strenuous as they could be, by teaching you how to move accordingly with your new body.
In 2017, one study found that the Pilates reformer benefits women who are pregnant by strengthening their pelvic core.
But what is the pelvic core you ask? A woman's pelvic floor muscles support her vagina, bladder, womb and bowels. The pelvic floor essentially becomes the core of a woman’s body during pregnancy, and due to the extra weight from your baby, your body will weaken these muscles.
The study mentioned above supports the idea that one of the benefits of reform Pilates is a strong pelvic floor and even provides recommended positions for pregnant women to use, see figures 4-6 (Page 3 & 4).
#4 - Boosts Weight Loss
Our final point for this section is that the Pilates reformer benefits weight loss.
As we have previously discussed, reform Pilates is a great method of exercise for those looking to tone their abdominal muscles, but with reformer Pilates calories also burn faster than they would with traditional mat-based Pilates.
One study conducted in 2017 featured 37 overweight women aged 30 to 50 and observed their weight loss journey after attending reformer Pilates classes for eight weeks. The findings of this study showed that almost every participant involved lost weight, lowered their BMI and developed a more toned waist.
However, whilst the Pilates reformer benefits weight loss, it is not a form of miracle exercise.
If you are serious about losing weight then you should also pair your reformer exercises with other forms of cardio, such as running and swimming for optimum results.
In addition to this you should also attempt to change your diet, and for fun and healthy recipes why not check out some of our informative food and nutrition guides from OriGym.
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Are there any Risks to Using the Pilates Reformer?
There are some risks when using the Pilates reformer, most of which revolve around safety when using the carriage. It is important to remember that if you’re attending a reformer class to always listen to your teacher, especially if you’re new to the machine.
Even if you’re not enjoying how the class is paced, listen to your teacher and follow along with them. Rushing into stretches or poses on the reformer may lead to muscle straining and imbalance when using the carriage and frame.
This will naturally prompt you to fall off of the carriage. Avoid this risk by paying attention and staying focused. No headphones during this exercise!
As we previously mentioned earlier in the article if at any point you feel dizzy, or like you’re losing your stability, take yourself off the carriage and make your way to the front platform. There you’ll be able to regain your balance by placing one knee on the platform, whilst keeping your other foot planted firmly on the ground.
Another risk to be aware of, if you are seeking rehabilitation for a serious injury please do not attempt to do this kind of physical therapy without first consulting a professional.
You should only be doing these exercises either with the direct guidance of a medical professional in the room with you or have been given strict details to follow. If you get onto the reformer in the absence of either of those things, you run the risk of aggravating the injury even further if you’re not careful.
Ultimately the greatest risk when using a Pilates reformer is going onto the machine without any previous practice or knowledge.
We would recommend joining a local class, before purchasing a reformer of your own. Just like learning how to ride a bike, you have to learn how to use the reformer in a safe manner, take your time and learn from an expert.
Besides, you may even make some friends in the Pilates class too!
How to Start Reformer Pilates:
Finding a Studio:
How will you go about starting your reform Pilates journey?
Before making the purchase of a reform Pilates machine, we would recommend joining a Pilates studio and seeing if the reformer is the correct appliance for you.
Not only will this give you the opportunity to test the machine first, in order to see how your body responds to the workout, but attending a beginners class will also teach you about some of the basic stretches and poses you will be doing.
If you want to find your nearest Pilates studio, it’s as simple as using a search engine such as Google and making your own choice regarding which studio seems like the perfect fit for you.
Remember that attending classes in person is the most effective way to learn reformer Pilates.
Knowing the Basics:
However, if you already have a reformer Pilates machine and just want to learn how to get started, we can recommend some helpful tips.
For starters familiarise yourself with the machine before beginning your training, Watch some YouTube videos or simply visit some Pilates sites in order to ensure you know how to operate the machine.
It is also important to familiarise yourself with some breathing techniques. The one recommended by most Pilates instructors is to lay flat on your back, with both hands placed on either side of your rib cage. You are then going to breathe through your nose, ensuring that your rib cage is expanding as you do so. Then exhale through the mouth and ensure that any pressure has left the chest and ribcage.
What to wear to Pilates reformer classes?
If you’re wondering what to wear to Pilates reformer classes have no fear, we’re not about to dish out fashion advice, but what we can do is provide a quick and simple guide to what will feel the most comfortable during the class and we’ll leave the style choice to you.
It is recommended that you wear something that fits well, something that won’t cause you to lose focus when it begins to get too loose or too tight.
For example, breathable bottoms such as yoga leggings and a fitted comfortable top should work fine. Also, don’t worry about layering up, if you come to class in a hoodie leave that to one side before getting on the machine, because you’re going to be working up a sweat.
You can practice barefoot, however, you may want to consider buying a few pairs of grip ankle socks. Some studios even have it as a requirement that all attendees must wear these ankle socks.
If that's the case with the studio that you choose, check out OriGym's 13 best yoga socks list to find the right product before attending your class for the first time.
Ready to Exercise
Once you feel like you’re adequately prepared to begin exercising, it is recommended you begin with a heavier spring weight.
This may sound confusing, as when you’re learning weight lifting, for example, you don’t begin with a heavy set of weights, but with the reformer, a heavier spring weight will offer you better control and stability when moving the carriage.
Again, test a few spring settings out, if the resistance is too light it may cause you to feel unbalanced and put you at risk of falling off the carriage, likewise, if the spring weight is too heavy it may cause muscle straining.
Setting the spring weight incorrectly is a common mistake to make when using the reformer, in order to avoid this issue ensure that you’re engaging with your core and move slowly whilst testing out the weights; don’t rush into things and risk hurting yourself.
As you can tell safety is paramount for beginners, and if you’re not feeling super confident on the machine there are some modifications you can make to the routines.
A smaller range of motions is much easier, to begin with, for example, if one routine requires you to stand then try doing it from a kneeling position first. If a stretch requires you to straighten your leg entirely, try doing it halfway in order to gauge your own comfort level and ability.
Also do not be afraid to skip things that look too challenging, remember you are just starting out and have plenty of time to move on to more.
The most important advice we can impart to beginners is just to stay safe and take things at a slow steady pace.
The reform Pilates machine is a piece of equipment that can benefit your body in a variety of ways, however, if done incorrectly you can risk hurting yourself. Don’t take that chance and learn how to train in a safe manner.
What Results Can You Expect From Using the Reformer?
We have already discussed some of the results you can expect to see, when previously explaining the benefits of using a Pilates reformer, and how the reformer can benefit various groups of individuals. Now we are going to wrap this article up by sharing some of the small results that can make all the difference.
You should also feel improvements in your posture: this is due to the fact that Pilates reformer classes teach what is called ‘active awareness’.
The term ‘active awareness’ means that the classes teach you how to be aware of your muscle movements in relation to your posture. You will learn how to engage with this sort of awareness when you’re being taught about core stabilization.
As the classes progress you will learn how to correct your posture during stretches, which will result in the lengthening of your spine.
This process can also improve breathing patterns, when you take your first class or step on the reformer machine for the first time you may struggle to adapt to a comfortable breathing pattern. However, over time you will gradually see your breathing pattern improve significantly, allowing you to gain better core stability, as well as increasing your endurance and allowing for a much longer workout.
As you can tell all of these results relate back to core strength. Because of this the most physical result you can expect to see will be the toning in your stomach area.
You can expect to see your stomach becoming flatter and more toned in as little as three weeks.
Core strength is everything in reformer Pilates, so naturally, you will see more physical results in the core area of your body, by having a strong core your body will become more stabilized and balanced, which in turn will affect several of the other benefits and results we have previously shared.
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What is the cost of a Pilates reformer?
Ultimately, the pilates reformer machine is an expensive piece of equipment: although prices will differ depending on where you shop, you will end up spending a substantial amount of money.
For example, the BBPC Studio Pilates Reformer Machine from Amazon will set you back £2182.00: this one comes with a half trapeze tower, a lifetime warranty on the wood, and a large number of various adjustments so it would be a good (but large!) investment.
A cheaper option would be the Aeropilates 4 Cord Reformer at £484.00. This comes with a variety of cords as well as beginners DVDs and workout packages which would be beneficial to new practitioners.
The Pilates reformer cost is quite expensive, so if you don’t want to shell out too much for the machine we would recommend signing up for some reformer based classes instead.
But how much do Pilates reformer classes cost?
Whilst prices will obviously vary depending on where you are located, the prices for the classes will be significantly less than that of an actual reformer machine. Traditionally, most pilate studios will also offer a bulk deal for a better price.
Single classes will likely cost anywhere between £10-20 and will likely cost less if you attend them through your gym membership or buy them in bulk.
Before You Go
We hope we have assisted in answering any thoughts or questions you have regarding how the Pilates reformer benefits you and your body. Hopefully, you can now begin your reformer journey and begin feeling more confident than ever!
Remember to take things slow and steady, ensure that you keep your balance and above all else have fun.
- Stephanie Mansour, Reformer Pilates: (2020) What it is, who it's best for and how to do some moves without the reformer? NBC NEWS
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- Margaret R, Aimie K, Janna B, Dawn-Marie I, Allyson C, Gabrielle S (2018) Pilates Reformer exercises for fall risk reduction in older adults: A randomized controlled trial - PubMed.Gov
- Andrade Martin C, Fernandes Alvares R*, Reis Nascimento T, Waldemar Paranaiba SS, Karen da Silva Morais T and Carvalho Santos D, (2017) Pilates for Pregnant Women: A Healthy Alternative, Journal Of Women’s Health Care
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