An Instrument of Torture?
To an untrained eye the Pilates Reformer may look like a device of medieval torture. A sliding platform, ropes, springs, handles and foot bar, it can be overwhelming to behold. Watching a workout on the Reformer you may wonder why anyone would want to put themselves in such a contraption, but once you start working on the Reformer you’ll discover that it’s one of the most versatile and interesting pieces of Pilates Apparatus that can bring huge benefits to your body and mind.
Michael King describes it as a ‘Breathing Machine’, and I love that description, the Reformer connects your breath to your body and vice versa.
What is the Pilates Reformer?
Pilates reformer was developed as part of the Pilates protocol for whole-body fitness by Joseph Pilates in the 1930’s, matwork is only a small part of the whole Pilates repertoire. 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 method unite mind and body through controlled breathing and a carefully sequenced flow of movements. In the case of reformer, the series of movements provides a sequence of pulls, pushes, twists and lifts in a controlled and flowing system.
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 helps to keep 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 moving platform while others are performed kneeling, sitting, laying on the side and even a standing sequence.
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.
What are the benefits of the 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 moving platform, 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).
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!
Is the Reformer for You?
Working on the Reformer is challenging, you’re constantly in touch with your own bodyweight, plus the added resistance from the springs. It works deep in to your core, you’ll feel muscles you’ve never felt before, and you will sweat. But your body wants to move in this way, it will undo all of the sitting, slouching and damage of the sedentary lifestyle.
Your posture will improve, you’ll feel lengthened, stretched out and like you’ve had a good workout.
You be as addicted as me in no time.
If you’d like to find out more about my Pilates Apparatus Sessions, then you can see my Apparatus Packages here.
The person in the photos is my husband, he was officially the most immobile man in England. He’s had a double hip replacement and now he’s loving working on his mobility on the Reformer, he’s able to get into positions he never thought possible.