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What is a Pilates Reformer?

What is a Pilates Reformer?

To Pilates enthusiasts, there is probably no piece of Pilates equipment more important than the Pilates reformer. The reformer makes a dramatic impression when you first see one, and an even more dramatic change in your body when you use it. Pilates studios have been offering private and group reformer classes for almost 100 years! Find out if the popular Pilates Reformer is the right choice of exercise equipment for your home gym or personal Pilates space. Let's take a look at what a reformer is and how it works, plus explore the AMAZING benefits a reformer could  have for your body.


The reformer was invented by Pilates inventor Joseph Pilates. Its bed-like frame carries a flat platform, fittingly called the carriage that serves as the centerpiece for a multitude of exercises. The padded carriage rolls smoothly back and forth on wheels within the reformer frame. It is attached on one end of the reformer to a spring bar with  a set of springs. The springs provide choices of differing levels of resistance as the carriage is pushed or pulled within the frame. The carriage has shoulder blocks that provide a secure hold as practitioners push or pull the carriage. Good reformers are having adjustable headrests for stability and comfort.

At the spring end of the reformer is an adjustable foot bar. The foot bar is used for different feet or hands positions as a practitioner moves the carriage. The reformer also has long straps with handles that are attached to the top end of the frame. They are pulled with legs or arms to move the carriage. Body weight and resistance of the springs are what make the carriage more or less hard to move. Well-made reformers are adjustable for different body sizes and different levels of skill.

How is Pilates Reformer Used?

A wide variety of exercises are done on the reformer to promote lengthening of the body, strength, flexibility, and balance. Most Pilates reformer exercises have to do with pushing or pulling the carriage or holding the carriage steady during an exercise as the springs are providing resistance.

One of the best things about the Pilates reformer is its versatility. Exercises can be done lying down, sitting, standing, pulling the straps, pushing the foot bar, perched on the ​foot bar, perched on the shoulder blocks, with additional equipment, upside down, sideways, and all kinds of variations. In other words, the reformer can train many parts and dynamics of the body in many different ways with just one relatively sleek piece of equipment.

There are many, many reformer exercises, including those for beginners and those that challenge the most advanced practitioners. 

Benefits of Pilates Reformer Exercises

The reformer offers all the benefits of Pilates including overall strength, flexibility, coordination, and balance. These things, in turn, lead to daily life improvements like better posture, graceful and efficient movement, and for many, relief from pain associated with physical imbalances such as back pain.

The Pilates powerhouse muscles—the muscles of the core—are paramount for building strength. Flat abs, strong backs, toned buttocks, and firm thighs are all results of this emphasis. Other equipment and Pilates mat exercises do that too, but the reformer creates a fun, challenging, unique and varied exercise environment.

The reformer is large enough to accommodate full-range motion, which is wonderful for increasing flexibility while building strength. It seems to invite the length you want to create in the body, and it trains the body to sustain that length.

Pushing and pulling with legs or arms against the resistance of the springs, carriage, and body weight is generally strength-building. The exercises provide enough resistance and movement variety to help build strong bones. A specific, hard to come by feature are eccentric muscle contractions. This is when a muscle lengthens as it resists a force. The reformer's set-up for eccentric contraction is one of the keys to achieving the long, strong muscles without bulk for which Pilates is known.

The movement of the rolling carriage with the springs set at different levels of resistance provides all kinds of stability challenges that develop core strength and promote better balance. For example, having less of the body on the carriage is one of the ways Pilates exercises get harder. It means more body weight has to be supported by the practitioner, and the body and machine have to be controlled even more from the core. Paradoxically, when the springs are in a lighter setting, some exercises are more challenging for the core because it has to work harder to control and stabilize the movement. The stronger the core, the better the balance, posture, and overall well-being.

Exercising with the reformer is possible for anyone, at any level of fitness. It's no wonder the full name of the reformer is the universal reformer.

How to Learn Pilates Reformer Exercises

The best way to learn Pilates reformer is in a class or through private instruction. Once you learn some exercises and begin to understand the foundations of Pilates exercise, it might make sense to buy a Pilates home reformer. Once you have taken a class with a live instructor you can explore your options for taking Pilates reformer classes online from home.

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