The Reformer Lifestyle

Pilates on the Reformer

Jessica Curnier is a Body Control Pilates qualified instructor in Guildford who is dedicated to giving you a well-rounded workout that will leave you feeling empowered and in this article she uses her experience to tell us about her new toy the reformer. Jessica is passionate about training bodies to become stronger and showing people how Pilates can help overcome the problems incurred by sufferers.

Hoorah! My new toy the ‘reformer’ has finally arrived! Since attending the reformer course at Body Control Pilates London in January I have been eager to purchase this large machine. Ten months later I am pleased to announce that reformer work is now an additional form of strength training available to my private clients. Many clients, on first seeing this large piece of equipment, have described it as a ‘machine of torture’. They have nevertheless thoroughly enjoyed working on it and have more often than not requested to use it again in subsequent sessions.

On the Reformer

So what exactly is the reformer and why does it have such a dramatic impact on clients?
The reformer was invented by Pilates founder, Joesph Pilates and as shown in the picture above, is based around a bed-like frame. It consists of a flat platform called a carriage that slides up and down the frame on wheels. The carriage is attached to one end of the reformer by a set of springs, all of varying resistance to alter the challenge of moving the carriage. Above these springs is an adjustable footbar, which the practitioner can push against with either their hands or feet to move the carriage. At the opposite end to the footbar are long straps in which either the hands or feet can be inserted as a further way of moving the carriage.

The most remarkable thing about the reformer is its versatility; exercises can be performed on it either lying, sitting, standing, kneeling, sideways, pulling the straps, pushing the footbar, perched on the footbar and numerous other ways besides. This means that almost every muscle in the body can be lengthened and strengthened very dynamically with just this one piece of equipment.

On the Reformer 2

So how is the reformer any more beneficial than the mat, if at all?
Like the mat, the reformer promotes all the known benefits of Pilates including longer, leaner muscles, a stronger core, greater mobility, better posture and improved balance and co-ordination. However, unlike the mat, the reformer provides a closed chain environment, which gives the client constant feedback with regards to their movement. This helps the client ‘feel’ their alignment more easily and also assists their learning process, thus helping them increase their strength more rapidly. The rectangular grid of the reformer and carriage creates an ideal environment for highlighting asymmetries in the body. This in turn allows for more concrete correction of joint alignment and muscle imbalances.

The varying resistance provided by the springs of the reformer can be combined with gravity to add physical work to the stability/mobility challenges already encouraged by an exercise. This extra physical work contributes to strength building, not only in muscles but also in bone. Alternatively, the spring resistance can be used to offset gravity. Whilst this reduces the physical load of an exercise, it increases instability, forcing the core to work harder in compensation. The stronger the core, the better the posture, balance and general well-being of the client. Greater strength leads to a deeper appreciation, awareness and understanding of the body in space. Translating this back onto the mat enables the client to perform mat-based exercises with greater proficiency, satisfaction and overall benefit.

In addition to the above, the reformer encourages eccentric contractions, which endorses the further benefit of muscle lengthening. In an eccentric contraction a muscle is driven to elongate rather than contract in order to overcome a force. When performing exercises on the reformer, the body is forced into such eccentric contractions by pushing or pulling against the resistance of the springs, carriage and the client’s body weight. This in turn builds the long, lean muscles for which Pilates is renowned, without adding bulk.

What makes this machine truly enchanting, however, is its fun-factor. With its plethora of adjustable features, every exercise performed on the reformer can be modified to work similar muscles groups in very contrasting ways. This means that no two sessions on the machine are ever the same. So if Pilates matwork does not tempt you then why not give Pilates on the reformer a go. You may even be surprised at how invigorated you feel by the challenges it affords!

Jessica Curnier

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