Pilates Reformer 101

Ever thought about signing up for a Pilates Reformer class and then quickly dismissed the idea because you’re worried about having to navigate the Reformer? Never fear! Our quick tour of this apparatus, which boosts balance and stability and builds strength through resistance training, will help you understand each part and enable you to use one with confidence. But first, let’s take a look at its origins…

Where it all began
Besides inventing and progressing the discipline of Pilates, Joseph Pilates also designed and built several apparatuses to accompany his practice. These included the Spine Corrector, Wunda Chair, Ladder Barrel and, of course, the Reformer, which Pilates named the Universal Reformer as he had designed it to reform the entire body.

According to the history books, the Reformer came about during World War 1, when Pilates, who was living in England at the time, was interned, together with other German nationals. At one point during his internment, Pilates found himself attending to the many interns who were struggling with illness and injury. To help with their rehabilitation, he began attaching various springs to their beds so that they were able to stretch and exercise their muscles where they lay.

Understanding each element
The Reformer comprises several distinct parts. Here’s a look at what you can expect to find when you step onto one in an Elixr Group Reformer class.

1. Carriage
The carriage is padded for comfort and moves forwards and backwards on a set of rails. Exercises are completed by lying down, kneeling, standing or sitting on the carriage and either pulling on the straps or pushing away from the foot bar.

2. Springs
The springs, together with the weight of your body, create the resistance against which you work, and the level of resistance can be increased or decreased depending on which springs you engage. The Allegro II Balanced Body Pilates® Reformers we use at Elixr Health Clubs have four green full-weight springs and one blue half-weight spring. If it’s starting to sound a little complicated, don’t panic – our instructors have spent years mastering the Reformer and will advise you as to which springs to use for which exercise or set of exercises.

Good to know: Your ideal spring tension is dependent on various factors, including your height, weight and level of skill. If you’re performing an exercise correctly, but don’t feel as though you’re achieving the required result, speak to your Elixr instructor about whether or not to adjust the tension of the springs, bearing in mind that you should always be able to perform each exercise in a controlled way.It’s worth remembering that fewer springs don’t always make an exercise easier, while more springs don’t always make it more difficult.

3. Straps
These are connected to the top of the Reformer and like the springs, provide the tension against which your body works. Each strap ends in two loops, with the larger one being hooked over the shoulder rest when the straps aren’t in use.

4. Head rest
The head rest is adjustable and can be either flat or raised. The height at which you set it depends entirely on which position feels most comfortable for you. Some exercises require the head rest to be flat. If this is the case, your instructor will inform you before you start the exercise.

5. Shoulder rests
While most Reformer exercises require you to push against these padded shoulder rests as you move backwards and forwards on the carriage, there are certain exercises that will require you to rest your hands, feet or knees against them.

6. Foot bar
Pushing against the foot bar with your feet or, in the case of certain exercises, your hands, allows you to move the carriage. The foot bar can be adjusted to suit your height, weight, the length of your legs and torso, and your strength. Your Elixr instructor will help you work out your optimum position.

Want to know more? Book a Pilates introductory workshop. It’s free!