Reform, or Else!
One of the beauties of Pilates is that whatever your level of fitness and regardless of your age, you can exercise safely and effectively.
For example, let’s take a look at the rather strange looking piece of Pilates apparatus that has a name that suggests its purpose, the REFORMER!
Firstly, let’s get an idea of what a Reformer is and how it works. Then we’ll look at the benefits that exercising on a Reformer might have for you.
Invented by Pilates founder Joseph Pilates, the Reformer is a bed-like frame with a flat platform on it, called the carriage, which rolls back and forth on wheels within the frame.
How is the Reformer used?
One of the best things about the Reformer is its versatility. Exercises can be safely 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, and sideways. There are all kinds of variations. In other words, the Reformer can train many parts of the body and its dynamics in so many different ways, with just one sleek piece of equipment.
All kinds of exercises are done on the Reformer to promote length, 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 it is pulled on by the springs. The images above show examples of the ways Reformers are used. There are many, many Reformer exercises, ranging from those for first-time beginners to exercises that challenge the most advanced practitioners.
The Reformer’s parts are adjustable for differing body sizes and for differing levels of skill.
What are the benefits of Pilates Reformer exercises?
The Reformer offers all the famous benefits of Pilates, including overall strength, flexibility, coordination and balance. These things in turn lead to daily life improvements like better posture; graceful, efficient movement; and for many, the relief from pain associated with physical imbalances such as back pain. When we talk about strength building and Pilates, the Pilates powerhouse muscles, and the core muscles are paramount. Flat abs, strong backs, toned buttock and limbs are all results of this practice. Other equipment and Pilates mat exercises achieve the same result, but the Reformer creates a unique and varied exercise environment.
The Reformer is large enough to accommodate full-range motion, which is wonderful for increasing flexibility whilst building strength. It helps to create the length we want to achieve in our bodies as 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 a strength-building exercise. The exercises provide enough resistance and movement variety to help build strong bones.
And there is a special feature: eccentric muscle contractions. This is the condition achieved when a muscle lengthens as it resists a force. The Reformer is a set up for eccentric contraction. That is one of the keys to achieving the long, strong muscles without bulk that Pilates is known for.
The instability of a 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 increase the level of difficulty. 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 on a lighter setting, some exercises are more challenging for the core, because it has to work harder to control and stabilise the movement. The stronger the core, the better the balance, posture and overall wellbeing one is likely to experience.
Exercising with the Reformer is possible for anyone, at any level of fitness. It’s no wonder it’s also known as the Universal Reformer.
How to learn Pilates Reformer exercises
The best way to learn Pilates Reformer exercises is through private instruction or in a small class. It is important to undertake Pilates exercise under the careful guidance of a well-qualified Pilates instructor who will train you to exercise safely using the correct techniques.
Words: Laraine Ludwig