Everything you need to know. (Picture: Runway Pilates)
If you’re looking for a new form of exercise to get in to – reformer Pilates could be the perfect thing.
You’re probably pretty clear on what Pilates is, but reformer Pilates is a whole different kettle of fish. It involves some pretty complicated-looking pieces of equipment, but don’t let that put you off.
The reformer – the bit of kit used in the practice – can help you hit new goals and develop new skills of flexibility, strength and stability. But it’s still a low-impact workout, which means it’s really accessible for different ages and abilities.
Catherine Hebb, the founder of Runway Pilates in Altrincham, Cheshire, has created an expert guide that every beginner needs to read.
From figuring out the key basic moves, to overcoming nerves about using the equipment, Catherine has shared her top tips to get you started:
What is reformer Pilates?
‘Reformer Pilates uses a unique piece of equipment combined with specially designed exercises that are low-impact, good for every body and all ages and abilities,’ says Catherine.
‘All you need is 45 minutes to work your big and small muscles, elevate your heart rate and start feeling the benefits. It’s like WD40 for your joints as well as an excellent workout for your muscles – fantastic for increasing strength, tone, balance, flexibility, mobility leaving you with a body that feels great, looks great and is great.’
Joseph Pilates officially started the Pilates revolution back in 1940. He is the one who designed the reformer machine, which was originally called the ‘Universal Reformer’.
‘It is a piece of equipment which looks a little like something out of 50 shades of grey,’ says Catherine. But it’s actually really straightforward to use.
‘The carriage section of the reformer can be loaded using a number of springs which attach directly to the static frame,’ she explains. ‘When the carriage slides, resistance is generated using the tension created on the springs.
‘You can attach a variety of ropes and pulleys to both the carriage and frame, allowing a variety of resistances to be applied dependent on the needs of the participant.
‘The reformer is unique as it only uses springs, levers and the weight of your own body to provide resistance.’
What are the basic reformer Pilates techniques?
We all know that performing an exercise correctly is more valuable than performing it with poor form and technique, multiple times – quality over quantity.
‘Ensuring that the correct technique and optimal posture is used – individuals will reduce the likelihood of injury and promote greater physical wellbeing,’ says Catherine.
‘In your class, expert instructors will ensure that everyone is focusing on their technique as a priority. This allows you to promote correct posture and improve strength in the correct positions.
‘This will naturally enhance your mind and body awareness – leading to an improvement of your overall core strength and stability as well as your posture.’
Catherine says that reformer Pilates involves you moving up and down on a sliding carriage, against weighted spring resistance.
There are so many moves you can do with the kit. (Picture: Mark Helliwell)
‘One of the greatest strengths of the reformer is its adaptability and versatility,’ she says. ‘Exercises can be performed in many positions, including: lying down, sitting, standing, pulling the straps, pushing the foot bar and many more variations.
‘The reformer can train the body in a variety of ways by simply using one piece of equipment.
‘In your initial class you will be introduced to the five basic principles that will be key in your reformer Pilates journey as these basic principles are used in every single exercise:
- Pelvic placement
- Rib cage placement
- Shoulder movement and stabilisation
- Head and neck placement
‘It is scientifically proven that these five basic principles will allow for more efficient movement patterns and significantly reduce the chances of injury.
‘Think of your Pilates reformer class as your classroom for learning correct movement patterns so you can take these into everyday life.’
What to expect from your first class
The first time you take any new class can be a little intimidating, but Catherine says she often sees higher levels of nerves in novices.
‘Maybe it’s the teformer, maybe it’s the exercise names that you’ve never heard before. Either way, booking an intro class will set you up for success,’ she suggests.
‘Your first class may seem daunting – but friendly staff will put you at ease and will be on hand to guide you through the entire process.
‘We also offer virtual and pre-recorded on-demand mat and reformer classes led by our experienced instructors, so you can get involved from the comfort, privacy and convenience of your own home.’
In terms of fitness levels, reformer Pilates is suitable for anyone from complete novice to advanced, young and old, male and female. Classes typically last around 45 minutes, and you should wear something you can move in comfortably – gripped socks are recommended.
Nine surprising benefits of reformer Pilates:
Builds bone density
While strength training is a known bone-density builder, reformer Pilates also offers surprising bone-building benefits.
Bone is dynamic tissue and responds to resistance and weight-bearing exercises. Resistance exercise involves muscles pulling on bone to create tension, which therefore fortifies the bone.
Pilates uses resistance from apparatus springs and resistance bands – thus increasing bone density. Great for those who have osteoarthritis.
Helps with weight control
Losing a pound of body weight a week requires a deficit of 500 calories per day.
The caloric burn during a Reformer Pilates workout ranges from four to eight calories per minute, depending on your intensity. Therefore, for a 45-minute class, you can burn approximately 180-360 calories per class.
Relieves back pain
Research has shown that people with lower-back pain found significant pain relief after a four-week Pilates program, maintained for a year.
This is due to Pilates strengthening the core to support the back, teaching correct alignment and providing gentle stretching for tight back muscles due to misalignment and overuse.
Strengthens your core
Reformer Pilates strengthens your abdominal muscles much more effectively than regular sit ups.
It also targets deep abdominal muscles like the transverse abdominis as well as superficial ones like the rectus abdominis muscles that form a much desired six-pack.
Pilates emphasises precise alignment and correct form, which requires your abdominals to fire effectively.
Pilates helps improve flexibility, increase strength and improve balance – reducing your chance of injury.
For example, if you can increase your hamstring flexibility by 10 degrees, you will be less likely to hurt your back when you bend to pick something up from the floor.
Reformer Pilates provides a greater body awareness to create efficient movement patterns, thereby reducing stress on joints, tendons, muscles and ligaments.
Improves range of motion
Most exercises involve movement in only one plane of motion – usually this is a forward-and-back motion (like in crunches) – whereas, reformer Pilates requires motion in several planes.
At Runway Pilates, we ensure that we move your spine from flexion to extension, lateral flexion (side to side), internal and external rotation encouraging an increased range of motion throughout the body.
Working within these additional planes of motion increases and improves flexibility and decreases the overall risk of injury.
Sitting at a desk all day and constantly looking down at a smartphone can lead to hunched shoulders and poor posture. Over time, this creates muscular imbalances.
Reformer Pilates helps reverse the effects of these bad habits by improving muscle symmetry and balance. It also encourages your body to work in symmetry due to the pulleys and resistance of the carriage, promoting balance and strength throughout the body.
The development of a strong core allows you to freely move through daily tasks without pain and with improved posture.
Mix it up
You are putting yourself at risk of overuse injuries if you never vary your workout.
By incorporating Reformer Pilates into your workout routines, you will keep yourself strong and also prevent boredom.
Pilates enhances body awareness through challenging positions that require optimal postural alignment.
Improves your cardiovascular system
Like most workouts, the aerobic benefits of reformer Pilates vary depending on intensity.
Our ‘Energise’ classes will boost your heart rate through dynamic jumping and will raise your heart rate to an average of 120 to 130 beats per minute. Our ‘Full Body Classes’, with exercises such as knee presses and planks, will boost your heart rate well within the target zone, but prone or seated exercises such as the seated twist and leg circles cause heart rates to drop.
Moving between exercises quickly and decreasing resting time works best.
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