What is Reformer Pilates

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What is Reformer Pilates?


Written by fitness expert Chris. Last updated:

Reformer Pilates refers to a piece of equipment called a reformer. It is an exercise machine that uses your body weight to enable Pilates. There is a carriage that connects to springs and pulleys that people can manipulate during exercise. The device allows for controlled movement that strengthens muscles and flexibility.

There are different styles of Reformers and most are made of metal or wood. No matter the variations, though, the essential components are the carriage and the straps that provide resistance. Before delving into the ways to use and benefit from the Reformer, let’s step back into its history.

History of Pilates and the Reformer

Joseph Pilates developed Pilates in the early 20th century as a way to alleviate illness. He took inspiration while being held in a WWI internment camp, working on the system for four years. While there is limited evidence to suggest that Pilates cures sickness, the exercise caught on for its other benefits, such as improved posture and reduced lower back pain.

After the war, Pilates moved to the United States in 1923 and opened his first studio in New York. His teachings were especially popular among dancers, who found it improved balance and prevented injury. During this time, he produced the complementary apparatus known as the Reformer.

The device is meant to improve the flexibility and strengthen of the body. People can accomplish these goals by pushing/pulling the carriage or holding it steady during the workout. One of the reasons people still use it today is for its versatility.

Reformer exercises can be standing up, sitting down, prone, pulling on straps, upside down, or sideways. The Reformer lets people train many different parts of the body within the single apparatus. Plus, the pieces are adjustable depending on your size or level of skill.

Principles of Pilates

A woman using a pilates reformer machine in the gym

There are several different core principles to Pilates, and the number varies depending on the source. Pilates himself started out using six, which he published in his book, The Pilates Method of Physical and Mental Conditioning. Many versions today use nine principles.


Breathing is an essential part of the exercise as Pilates saw it as a way to increase circulation and cleanse the body. Pilates believe people should fully inhale and exhale, emptying their lungs in the same way you would wring out a wet towel. This process requires deep abdominal and chest contractions that align with the movement of the exercises.


People partaking in Pilates should be entirely in the moment when it comes to each movement. Pilates demands a concerted focus to ensure people perform each activity properly. It also fosters a robust mind-body connection.


Part of being mindful means being in control. While you are concentrating on your movements, you should move without unwieldy stress. Everything should be conscious and deliberate from start to finish.


The concept of centering requires an individual to focus on the core of their body. Pilates himself called the torso the “powerhouse” as it is the source of our energy. While the exercise does not contain as many spiritual aspects as yoga, it does promote a connection between body and spirit.


The flow goes hand-in-hand with precision. Movements should take on an elegant and effortless economy that allows exercisers to make the necessary transitions easily. If someone wants to develop flow, they have first to build their strength and stamina. Using the Reformer can measure one’s smoothness, as clunky movements will lead to a noisy and mechanical experience.


Each action in Pilates comes with a purpose. Precision is the tool that ensures those actions occur in the appropriate place and at the right time. Pilates believed that people should optimize their movements to the point where it becomes second nature.

Postural Alignment, Relaxation, and Stamina

These three principles are some of the additions made after Pilates’ 1980 book. Postural alignment focuses on providing a balance and coordinating the approach to each exercise. Relaxation and stamina ensure that there is effective muscle usage and the ability to perform routines for an extended time.

Benefits of the Reformer and Pilates

A woman stretched out on a reformer pilates machine

The Reformer and Pilates have stood the test of time, in large part because of the comprehensive benefits. We have already touched on a few of those perks and how they correspond with the exercise. Here are some of the most significant benefits of using the Reformer for Pilates:

Full Body Workout

The range of movement required to use the Reformer ensures a complete workout. That includes engaging groups of muscles in the arms, legs, shoulders, core, and back. The dynamic range also makes it a performance-enhancing option for athletes who want to build up their coordination and balance.

Additionally, while Pilates can be intense, there is minimal impact on your joints and bones. The springs and straps of the Reformer also make Pilates a method to treat injuries or take some pressure off of bad knees. The low impact makes it possible for people to do Pilates multiple times a week.

Improves Posture

One of the rewards of using the Reformer is a solid core. The workout can also do wonders when it comes to your posture. Pilates requires regular muscle contractions at the torso, which also work to stabilize and coordinate muscles in the back.

Put another way: exercisers can’t rely on superficial muscle movement to properly do Pilates. There needs to be a coordinated effort involving all facets of the torso. The core and back work together to make each other stronger, and as a result, you will stand taller and straighter than ever.

Increased Flexibility

Because Pilates works the entire body, you will reap the benefits of added flexibility in the hips, hamstrings, back, and more. Having an enhanced range of motion is essential properly executing the movements of Pilates. Each deliberate and systematic approach to stretching muscles will improve flexibility over time.

That is because Pilates focuses on many of the smaller muscle groups that people overlook, in say, weightlifting. These are tiny building blocks that work to maintain balance and control. Keeping these small muscles limber can minimize the chance of injury, too.

Though you might often see a reformer at the gym, you can easily get the same effects with a home pilates reformer. No matter where you use one, the benefits to adding this piece of equipment to your workout is undeniable.

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