A Pilates reformer may look more like an odd wooden bed frame than a piece of exercise equipment. Its design, however, speaks to its roots. Developed during World War I to help rehabilitate injured and sick soldiers, Joseph Pilates actually created the first reformer using disassembled army cots, according to the Pilates Method Alliance. Pilates took the parts such as springs from the beds to develop an exercise machine on which to practice his workout method. The secret to the reformer are its springs and pulleys, which are used to create resistance for Pilates exercises to tone and lengthen your muscles.
Pilates reformer exercises focus on strengthening what Pilates himself referred to as the muscles of your “powerhouse” -- the abdominal, butt and back muscles, according to JoyMoves Pilates studio. The more than 500 combinations of exercises in Pilates aim to stabilize, stretch and strengthen. The Pilates reformer uses the same types of deep breathing and exercises you practice on the mat as the basis for exercises performed on the reformer. The reformer adds springs for resistance, which mimic muscular contraction.
Reformer exercises aren’t just performed on your back. Exercises on the Pilates reformer are performed on your side, on all fours, lying on your front or even standing. Using the same technique as Pilates mat exercises, the emphasis is on focus and control. You’ll use every inch of your movements, focusing on quality and technique rather than how many reps you’re doing. You’ll use the reformer’s ropes to work your body as you maintain your balance on the sliding seat.
The Pilates reformer allows for a full range of motion during exercises, while offering more resistance and support than a mat. With its structure and moving platform, the reformer can help place your body into proper alignment. If you’re an experienced student, you can take your workout up a notch by adding higher resistance to the adjustable springs. In fact, some students say practicing Pilates on reformers with higher resistance could help tone and define your muscles in as few as 12 sessions, according to Gaiam, a lifestyle and fitness organization that produces Pilates workout DVDs. The Pilates reformer is also credited for correcting scoliosis, postpartum abdominal weakness or even rehabilitating after injuries.
Pilates, himself, invented the reformer to help those sick and injured during wartime. The reformer helped bedridden patients with motion, strength and flexibility, according to the Pilates Technique Pilates Certification Program website. Even professional dancers, such as former New York City Ballet artistic director and School of American Ballet founder George Balanchine and modern dancer Martha Graham, looked to the Pilates reformer for its rehabilitative effects. Some physical therapists use the Pilates reformer to help patients with multiple sclerosis.
- Pilates Method Alliance: An Exercise in Balance: The Pilates Phenomenon
- JoyMoves: About Pilates, Pilates FAQs
- Oshman Family Jewish Community Center: Pilates
- Gaiam Life: Should You Do Pilates on a Mat or Reformer?
- University of North Carolina Wellness Centers Meadowmont: Pilates Reformer Sessions
- Pilates Technique Pilates Certification Program: History of Joseph Pilates
- Pilates Pro: Working With Multiple Sclerosis on the Pilates Reformer
Mikel Chavers has been writing and editing since 2006, specializing in health, business, government and technology topics. She got her start as a reporter at “The Business Journal” in Greensboro, N.C., and later covered state government for a national magazine. Chavers holds a Bachelor of Arts in media studies/journalism.