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What is Reformer Pilates?

If you’re thinking of going to your regularly scheduled Pilates class, and you’re looking for something more strengthening and challenging, maybe it’s time to consider taking on the demanding, resistance-based workouts of reformer Pilates. Reformer Pilates – an off-mat, hands-on cousin of the original celebrity-adored fitness routine – incorporates equipment (some of which you may already have in your garage gym), the reformer, which is guaranteed to give you a level of resistance and training that you might not find just by doing mat Pilates. Read on to find out how!

How is it Different from Normal Pilates?

Once you’ve become comfortable with the uses and benefits of simply staying on the mat for your core-focused workout with a YouTube video on the side, the idea of introducing machinery that leverages these exercises may sound particularly daunting. However, the reformer has been proven to be one of the most versatile and effective pieces of exercise equipment ever made: “Relative to mat Pilates, ‘Quite simply, you can do more on the Reformer’, says Justin Rogers, Head of Brand at Ten Health & Fitness. ‘With the combination of adjustable spring resistance and a sliding platform, the Reformer can create resistance or instability (or both) to make exercises easier or harder in a way that the mat can’t.’” (Women’s Health Mag)


When done effectively with great dedication, mat Pilates provides better back health, flexibility, body awareness, improved heart rate and bone density by targeting specific muscle groups – many of which you may never work in your usual fitness routine – though exercises are generally performed at a slower pace, focusing on eccentric movements. Additionally, it helps build your core strength like no other routine by improving the stabilising muscles through the back and throughout the centre of the body. That said, the reformer offers these benefits and more.


Things to Know Before Your First Reformer Pilates Class

Reformer Springs are Colour-Coded

The springs and pulleys assist the body, allowing you a full range of motion that may not be achieved on the mat. There is more resistance offered on the reformer, as opposed to just body weight on the mat, which betters your overall posture and alignment. On the piece of equipment itself, the level of resistance can normally be adjusted by the number of springs attached – one spring would provide the least resistance whereas five springs would normally represent the maximum resistance available on a standard reformer. Some springs are tighter than others and therefore provide more or less resistance, as is required. These are often colour coded so that reformer instructors and their students can identify them easily. Throughout a typical reformer Pilates class, the instructor will usually shout out which colour is needed at any given moment during the workout – so listen carefully for any options based on experience level and important guidance on how to complete a particular movement.

Invest in New Clothing

Due to the newly increased range of positions and more rapid, dynamic movements during a reformer Pilates class, you might want to purchase more tight-fitting clothes which won’t ride up and cause discomfort. Socks and gloves with rubber grips on them will also prove beneficial in the long-run, since they’ll give you better grip even when you’re not sweating, so you can focus on activating the proper muscles and not crunching your fingers or toes to stay in place.

You’ll Be Completing New Exercises

Like mat-based exercises, reformer exercises are often grouped into and performed as a series, which may also be referred to as a repertoire. Each exercise within a series is designed to flow into the next and builds upon the previous movement. While there are some variations between the exercises in each series and even the order of each series, most reformer sessions follow a structure similar to the following:

  • Footwork
  • Hundred
  • Overhead
  • Rowing (front and back)
  • Long box
  • Short box
  • Stomach massage
  • Side-lying
  • Kneeling
  • Long stretches
  • Knee stretches

Be Prepared to Work Every Muscle

Since, generally, Pilates works a lot of the smaller, less commonly used muscles in your body (including the wrists), make sure to take time at the end of each class or exercise to stretch these muscles and joints in order to avoid any potential injuries due to overworking them. On the other hand, reformer Pilates classes are more resistance-based, full-body workouts, so don’t be surprised if you’re having to stretch more often, or if you find yourself struggling more throughout class when it seems harder than you initially thought it would be. Chances are you’ll be working many muscles you don’t use very often. And your core will take a beating.

The core, including your abs, lower back and pelvis are utilised throughout the entire class – whether to stabilise the torso so that the arms and legs can move or as a mobilizer so the ribs and hips can rotate and shift, your core will be activated. With a flick of a spring and change of resistance, it can transform into a tremble-inducing, heart racing lunge or plank series. You quickly build muscle and tone, hugely improve flexibility, balance, and stability. It encompasses all parts of your body.

Of course, not everyone’s experience or transition from mat-based workouts to more dynamic routines will be the same – nor something you want to do yourself – but, like in any workout program, it is important to challenge yourself in order to see physical and emotional progress throughout every step of the way to becoming a better version of yourself.

Try Reformer Pilates with Element Fitness Today!

We hope that this blog post has shed some light on the benefits of reformer Pilates, and the differences between this workout regime and the well-known mat-based pilates. If you’re a personal trainer or group exercise enthusiast, you may have found it useful to read up on the appropriateness of one form or technique over another in terms of providing the most beneficial class to your students. And, who knows, reformer Pilates with Element Fitness might just be the next step for you.