What is Pilates Reformer?

The Pilates Reformer is a unique exercise apparatus that has become popular due to its many benefits. This sliding platform with springs provides resistance training to complement traditional mat Pilates. Reformer workouts transform your body and mind in ways mat Pilates alone cannot. This blog will explain what is Pilates Reformer and how it takes your Pilates practice to the next level.


To fully understand the Pilates Reformer, it helps to start with some background on Pilates itself and how the Reformer originated.

Pilates is a well-known system of mind-body exercise developed by Joseph Pilates in the early 20th century. Originally from Germany, Joseph Pilates was a small and sickly child who dedicated himself to building physical strength, fitness, and body awareness. He rigorously studied anatomy, yoga, martial arts, and Zen meditation.

During World War I, Pilates worked with injured soldiers and designed innovative exercise techniques to help rehabilitate them. This experience led him to develop a universal exercise methodology that could be adapted to help anyone – from fitness newbies to experienced athletes – improve their physical and mental conditioning.

Joseph Pilates believed mental focus and proper breathing were integral to physical health and performance. His Pilates method emphasizes full-body conditioning, improving posture and alignment, developing core strength and stability, enhancing mobility and gracefulness, and integrating the mind-body connection.

Image of Joseph Pilates

When Joseph Pilates immigrated to New York in the 1920s, he opened an influential exercise studio where the Pilates method grew in popularity. There he designed unique apparatuses, including the Pilates Reformer, to facilitate targeted training for both rehabilitation and overall fitness.

The Pilates Reformer was originally conceived by Joseph Pilates in the 1910s for hospital bed exercises. He noticed bedridden patients lost muscle tone rapidly during convalescence. So he created the Reformer – a sliding platform with springs for resistance – allowing patients to perform leg and arm movements to rebuild strength while lying down.

Vintage photo of original Pilates Reformer

This sliding bed-like apparatus with adjustable springs became the foundation for the expansive system of Reformer exercises that are now central to the Pilates method. When Joseph opened his New York studio, the Reformer became universally used by all students for resistance training and rehabilitation. Almost 100 years later, the Reformer remains the most popular and versatile piece of Pilates equipment.

Anatomy of the Reformer

The Pilates Reformer consists of a wheeled wooden platform called the “carriage” that slides along a stationary frame. Adjustable springs connect the moving carriage to the fixed frame and provide variable resistance.

Labeled diagram of Reformer parts

Key components include:

  • Carriage – the sliding platform you lie, kneel, sit, or stand on to perform exercises
  • Springs – connected to the carriage and frame in various configurations to control resistance
  • Foot bar – stationary bar at the end to push against using your feet
  • Shoulder blocks – padded rests for spine alignment and arm support
  • Straps & handles – for assistance, support, and adding challenge
  • Headrest – cushioned pillow supporting your head and neck
  • Resistance gear bar – adjusts spring connections and resistance load
  • Safety straps – prevent the carriage from separating fully from the frame
  • Cushioned mat – padding for comfort and impact absorption

As you lie, kneel, sit, or stand on the mobile carriage, you push and pull it along the frame rails using your arms and legs. The springs provide adjustable resistance to challenge your muscles in different ways through full ranges of motion. This allows progressive strength training of both the upper and lower body simultaneously.

What Makes the Pilates Reformer So Unique?

So what exactly makes the Pilates Reformer so unique compared to other exercise equipment? Here are some of its defining features:

  • Sliding carriage – The wheeled platform rolls back and forth along the frame rails, providing an unstable surface to challenge your core and balance.
  • Adjustable springs – Connected to the moving carriage and stationary foot bar, the springs allow variable resistance levels to be tailored to your strength and specific muscles being targeted.
  • Accessory handles and straps – These provide stability, assistance, and support for exercising different body parts through complete ranges of motion.
  • Versatile positions – The Reformer allows you to exercise from seated, kneeling, standing, and lying down positions for full-body training.
  • Progressive loading – From gentle beginner springs to heavy-duty tension, the Reformer enables progressive loading to continually strengthen and tone.
  • Total body focus – It provides focused isolation on specific muscle groups, combined with total integrated body movements not possible with free weights.
  • Dynamic flowing sequences – The springs allow smooth transitions between exercises to link the upper and lower body in flowing sequences.
  • Mind-body connection – The controlled, precise movements foster mindfulness and body awareness. Mental focus is integral.

This unmatched diversity and customization is what makes the Pilates Reformer so unique and effective for both conditioning and rehabilitation. No other single apparatus allows for such tailored, full-body training.

Signature Benefits of Regular Reformer Training

Using the Pilates Reformer apparatus for resistance training provides immense whole-body benefits:

Increased Core Strength

The Reformer targets the abdominals, back extensors, inner thigh muscles, and shoulder girdle in functional integrated ways, improving core stability, balance, and coordination.

Improved Posture

Focused exercises counteract poor posture caused by sitting, realign the spine, and strengthen core muscles supporting proper spinal articulation and upright carriage.

Enhanced Flexibility

The springs assist you in moving joints through complete ranges of motion, enabling safe progression to greater flexibility in the hips, shoulders, spine, and more.

Woman doing a Reformer exercise

More Defined Muscles

You’ll develop long, lean muscle definition without bulk throughout the arms, legs, chest, back, and waist for an elegant physique.

Injury Prevention

Building balanced strength around the joints while moving with proper alignment reinforces ideal mechanics, preventing imbalance, wear, and tear.

Heightened Body Awareness

The concentration and breathwork required help foster mindfulness of the mind-body connection for greater coordination and motor control.


The gentle progressive resistance exercises safely stabilize vulnerable joints, rebuild supporting muscle strength, and increase mobility after injury or surgery with zero impact.

Common Exercises Performed on the Reformer

Woman doing a Reformer exercise

Hundreds of targeted exercises working every major and minor muscle group are possible on the Reformer. Some popular classic moves include:

The Hundred

  • Lying supine, lift legs to a 45-degree angle. Pump arms up and down in small pulses, breathing deeply in for 5 counts, and out for 5 counts. Integrally works the transverse abdominals, intercostals, and shoulder girdle.

Footwork Series

  • Facing the shoulder blocks, kneel or lie prone on the carriage. Press the platform away from your core using your legs against spring resistance to tone glutes, thighs, hamstrings, and calves.

Leg Springs

  • Lie supine with arms extended overhead to stabilize your torso. Use your core strength to keep your legs hovering vertically while springs attached to the carriage pull your legs out for added resistance. An intense full-body exercise!

Short Spine Stretch

  • Sit upright with legs extended. Sequentially articulate each vertebra of your spine, rounding forward to decompress the spine. Reverse back to upright spinal extension. Mobilizes each segment.

Long Stretch

  • Sit sideways with one arm opened fully overhead. Side bend the torso while springs push the carriage out, increasing lateral stretch through the obliques and intercostals. Rotating enhances the stretch.


  • Supporting yourself on the frame, raise your torso and legs in a ‘V’ position. Maintaining perfect form, slowly lower back down with control. Keep your legs lifted at a 45-degree angle throughout using your core strength. Ultimate abdominal exercise!

Adductor Stretch

  • Lie prone with a cushion placed between your knees. Allow knees to straddle outward as springs press down, gently stretching the inner thighs and hip adductors. Breathe deeply into the stretch.

With proper progression, the possibilities are endless for exercising all major muscle groups and joints using the Reformer’s full range of spring loads and body positions.

Reformer Pilates Classes – What to Expect as a Beginner

If you’re new to Reformer Pilates, you’ll want to take classes from a certified instructor to learn proper form and technique. Here’s an overview of what to expect:

  • Arrive early and introduce yourself to the instructor so they know you’re new. They can provide extra cues and modification guidance.
  • Most studios have private changing rooms but wear comfortable workout clothes that allow a full range of motion.
  • Classes begin with a brief warm-up of stretches or light cardio to prepare muscles and increase joint mobility.
  • The instructor will provide an orientation to the Reformer carriage, springs, and accessories so you understand how to use them. Don’t be shy to ask questions!
  • They will demonstrate each exercise first and explain the objectives, then observe and provide feedback as you perform it. Expect hands-on adjustments to your form.
  • Follow instructions closely, moving slowly and with control. Don’t strain or use momentum. Let the springs provide the resistance.
  • Modifications will be provided to easier versions of exercises based on your current strength and flexibility so you can work at an appropriate level.
  • Cueing about proper breathing technique, ribcage position, and pelvic placement will help you perfect form.
  • Class finishes with stretches to allow the body to cool down before restoring normal activity. Expect to feel energized yet tranquil!

The overall atmosphere in Reformer classes is welcoming and encouraging. Everyone had a first-class once, so don’t feel intimidated! Simply focus on your own experience.

How Often Should You Practice Reformer Pilates?

When starting Reformer Pilates, here are some general guidelines for ideal training frequency:

  • Beginner – 1-2 times per week allows the body to acclimate to the novel movements and resistance safely.
  • Intermediate – 2-3 times per week provides substantial cumulative strength and endurance improvements.
  • Advanced – 3-5 times per week maximizes training effects for athletic skill development or rehabilitation goals.
  • Therapeutic – 1-3 times weekly depending on the recovery stage. Slower progression for post-rehab.
  • Maintenance – Once weekly provides excellent upkeep of strength, flexibility, and body awareness.

Of course, your lifestyle, schedule, and budget will dictate what is realistic. Even occasional Reformer sessions offer tremendous lifelong fitness value. But increased frequency accelerates the conditioning effects and mind-body gains.

What Results Can You Expect with Dedicated Reformer Practice?

The benefits you’ll experience and the timeline vary individually. But in general:

2-4 Weeks Later

  • Improved posture, shoulder function, and balance
  • Greater core awareness and lung capacity
  • Increased flexibility in the hips, hamstrings, and spine
  • Reduction of common aches and pains

2-3 Months Later

  • Noticeably improved strength stamina and endurance
  • Defined and toned upper and lower body musculature
  • Enhanced proprioception, motor control, coordination
  • Greater sense of mindfulness and mental clarity

6+ Months Later

  • Consistently stronger and more resilient functional physique
  • Expanded mobility through full comfortable joint ranges
  • Optimal spinal health and ideal upright posture
  • A sense of embodied poise, grace, and efficient movement

1+ Years Later

  • Comprehensive musculoskeletal transformation
  • Deepened mind-body connection and neuromuscular control
  • The strength foundation for lifelong fitness and wellbeing
  • A mindset of positive embodiment and self-care

With proper dedication and practice, Reformer delivers comprehensive results not achievable through mat Pilates alone. But consistency is key.

Different Types of Pilates Reformers and Models

While traditional full wood frame Reformers remain the most versatile, various other models exist:

Combo Chair – A hybrid Reformer with an adjustable, weighted chair attached allowing challenging seated exercises. Sturdy and multipurpose for studios.

Wunda Chair – A Reformer with an elevated, cushioned platform for core and leg exercises performed while seated. Includes resistance bands for the upper body.

Side-by-side images of a Cadillac and Wunda Chair

Wall/Tower Reformer – A more compact Reformer with springs mounted to a wall without a full frame. Saves space for home use. Ideal for beginners.

Tower/Pole System – Adds a weighted tower with movable pole and ropes attached to the Reformer for advanced exercises using hanging, suspension, and body weight leverage work.

TRX Reformer – Uniquely combines a Reformer carriage with a TRX suspension trainer for additional challenge, instability, and leveraged bodyweight exercises.

Portable Reformer – A lightweight, foldable Reformer often with handles that can be transported between locations. Convenient for mobile instructors or minimal storage.

Electric Reformer – Electronically controlled Reformers allow precise adjustment of spring resistance at the touch of a button. Eases transitions between exercises.

While traditional full-frame Reformers with manual spring positioning remain the most ubiquitous in studios for their durability and versatility, various models like the Reformer with Tower add capabilities and options.

How Does Reformer Pilates Compare to Mat Pilates?

The Pilates Reformer takes traditional mat Pilates exercises to more intense levels by adding adjustable spring resistance. Here are some key differences between mat Pilates vs Reformer Pilates workouts:

  • The Reformer provides full-body resistance training while the mat uses only body weight. The springs allow progressive loading not possible on the mat.
  • The unstable carriage challenges core stability dynamically. Mat Pilates provides core strengthening but through stabilization rather than constant destabilization.
  • The Reformer enables advanced abdominal exercises like a Teaser to strengthen rectus abdominis and obliques more directly.
  • The springs assist movements through the full range of motion for greater flexibility. Resistance variability facilitates deeper stretches.
  • More energy expenditure and calorie burn due to increased heart rate from resisting springs. Mat Pilates is lower exertion.
  • The reformer allows multi-planar motions and spinal articulation. Mat Pilates often involves just sagittal flexion/extension.
  • Reformer connects exercises in flowing sequences linking the upper and lower body. Mat has more isolated hold exercises.
  • Reformer accommodates all levels. Mat Pilates requires a baseline level of core strength and control.

Who Can Benefit from Regular Reformer Pilates Training?

Due to the vast array of resistance modifications possible, Pilates Reformer training is appropriate for nearly every population:

  • Beginners – Build functional strength and body awareness without injury risk or high impact. Requires no prior experience.
  • Athletes – Augments sports performance through increased power, mobility, proprioception and neuromuscular control. Also helps prevent common overuse injuries.
  • Dancers – Develop ideal lean muscles while improving alignment, balance, and coordination specific to dance. Prevents dance injuries.
  • Seniors – Provides low-impact training to maintain joint health, improve balance and daily functioning, increase bone density, and prevent falls.
  • Post-Rehab Patients – Ideal for stabilizing joints, redeveloping supportive strength around injuries, and safely regaining mobility after surgery or chronic conditions. Zero impact.
  • Pre & Postnatal Women – Safely strengthens core and pelvic floor muscles essential during pregnancy and recovery. Provides gentle, supportive prenatal exercise.
  • General Fitness – Adds functional strength, flexibility, balance, and endless exercise variety to enhance any fitness regimen and prevent imbalance or overuse.

Nearly any population can achieve targeted conditioning and rehabilitation goals efficiently on the Pilates Reformer apparatus due to full customizability.

Concluding Takeaways

In summary, regularly performing Pilates exercises on the specialized Reformer apparatus provides:

  • Progressive full-body resistance training using springs instead of weights
  • Customizable exercises from gentle to advanced for any fitness level
  • Fun, motivating dynamic movements sequenced together into flowing workouts
  • Safe rehabilitation from injuries, prenatal/postpartum recovery, and chronic conditions
  • Multidimensional benefits ranging from improved strength and muscle tone to enhanced mind-body connection
  • The ideal functional fitness foundation for health, well-being, and lifelong movement

For uniquely integrated conditioning and rehabilitation not possible through mat Pilates alone, Reformer training is absolutely worthwhile. Experience the remarkable benefits for both body and mind! This guide provided a comprehensive Reformer overview. Now it’s time to try it yourself.


[faq question=”Q: Is the Reformer workout really intense enough to build strength?”]

Yes! Integrated resistance training provides an incredibly effective and efficient full-body workout. The springs allow you to progressively increase intensity and resistance. [/faq]

[faq question=”Q: Do I need Pilates experience before trying Reformer?”]

Not at all. The exercises can be readily modified for all levels. Even those new to fitness can practice Reformer safely under proper instruction. [/faq]

[faq question=”Q: How often is ideal for the best Reformer results?”]

Aim for 1-3 Reformer sessions per week minimum. More frequency will quicken results, but even occasional training provides excellent lifelong fitness value. [/faq]

[faq question=”Q: Is Reformer Pilates beneficial during pregnancy?”]

Absolutely. It’s very safe when instructions modify exercises for pregnancy. Reformer builds core and pelvic floor muscles essential for delivery and postpartum recovery. [/faq]

[faq question=”Q: Can Reformer training help treat or prevent back pain?”]

Yes! The focused spinal articulation and core integration provide immense benefits for reducing, rehabilitating, and preventing chronic back pain or injuries. [/faq]

[faq question=”Q: Will Pilates Reformer make me bulky?”]

No. The controlled movements create uniformly defined, lean-toned muscles rather than bulk. You’ll develop an elegant, balanced physique. [/faq]

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