Pilates Apparatus

Many of you know I am in the middle of my pilates comprehensive course, learning how to use and teach the different pieces of apparatus. I thought an article on the four main pieces of apparatus would be useful for all of you that are curious. This month is about the Reformer - the reason I fell in love with Pilates. For those of you not familiar with the reformer, keep reading.

Frog on the Reformer

What is a pilates Reformer?

The reformer is one of the original pieces of equipment designed by Joseph Pilates, the inventor of Pilates method.

The reformer consists of a bed-like rectangular frame. Depending on whether the reformer is a classical studio version or a contemporary model, this frame is made from either wood or metal. On top of the frame sits a padded platform known as the carriage. The carriage is attached to hidden runners and so is able to slide up and down the length of the frame freely. Design elements like this makes the smooth execution of exercises possible. At one end of the reformer frame is the foot bar. This is adjustable. It can be moved to change the size of the reformer to accommodate for different heights. The foot bar can also be quickly lowered or raised if an exercise requires it. The carriage is attached to this end of the reformer with a series of springs in a range of spring tensions. These springs are only hooked on to the frame, though, and are easily removed. By adjusting the spring tension in this way, the resistance provided by the reformer is altered. Exercises are made either easier or more difficult. Surprisingly, one light spring is often more challenging than several heavier ones. At the opposite end of the frame are two long ropes with loop handles attached to pulleys. When it comes to the loop handles there is usually an option of a small one and a large one. The smaller ones are intended for hands and the larger ones are designed for feet. The reformer carriage has other features such as shoulder rests (to stop you from sliding off when you’re lying down) and an adjustable headrest. All of which is designed to make your experience on the reformer more comfortable.


How does it work?

The reformer is an incredibly versatile piece of equipment and can be used lying down, standing, kneeling or on all fours. Most exercises on the reformer involve some sort of pushing and/or pulling action. Other exercises involve keeping the carriage still whilst the tension of the springs works against you. Another useful application of the reformer – and part of why it is so effective – is that it can be either assistive or resistive. In basic terms, this means that exercises can be made more or less challenging using the machine.

How can it be assistive?

Take an exercise like the “roll down”, for instance. The “roll down” involves the fluid movement of the spine from a “neutral” position in seated through to a rounded one. It is an exercise that mobilises the spine and strengthens the abdominals.

You can do this exercise on the mat without any equipment. But it is a pretty difficult one to do without over-recruiting muscles or using the wrong ones to help you cheat your way through it. On a reformer, however, you have the choice to hold on to the straps and add extra springs for support. This makes the exercise easier to execute.

So, rather than challenging your movement, the reformer in this instance is actually helping you perform the movement correctly. In doing so, you are forced to activate therightmuscles – the muscles intended to work in “roll down”


The reformer works differently for standing exercises such as “Scooter”. This is like a running movement where one leg is placed on the floor and the other on the reformer.

Instead of aiding the movement, the leg extension phase of the exercise is resisted by the springs of the reformer. This means that, as well as teaching the body to move in the “correct” way, the force created by the reformer springs is also building strength in the leg and glute.

Challenging the body

The reformer’s moving carriage and variable spring settings create a lot of opportunities for challenging the body. For example, movements performed on the unstable surface of the carriage in combination with a light spring are great for strengthening the body’s deep stabilising muscles. These types of exercises also promote better balance and coordination.

Other important features of the reformer, such as the straps and pulleys, are designed to help improve mobility, flexibility and range of motion, and they are particularly effective at doing so.

Elements like the adjustable spring tension also mean that Pilates on the reformer can be made to work for everyone. This includes beginnners, pregnant womenand people with injuries.

Now that you have some basic knowledge on what the Pilates reformer is and how it works. Hopefully this piece of apparatus doesn’t seem quite so daunting anymore!

Movement is Medicine


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