fitness

'I'm a personal trainer and I tried a reformer Pilates class. Here's my honest review.'

I’m unsure how reformer Pilates got the reputation for being ‘gentle’ or ‘easy’ or as one of my friends (wrongly) presumed (“I was expecting a nice gentle stretch”), but it sure has suckered in a bunch of us that may have never tried it in the first place.

Actually, this isn’t a terrible marketing tactic. 

The reformer is a piece of equipment that resists and assists movement - think of it like one of those late-night-TV-infomercial-all-in-one-home-gyms where you can do almost anything on the one piece of equipment. 

The reformer is so incredibly versatile you can execute exercises you couldn’t even imagine, working muscles so deep in your soul that by the time you realise reformer Pilates is in fact not ‘gentle’ or ‘easy’, it’s too late. 

Watch: You may have heard a Pilates instructor say something along the lines of “engage your pelvic floor muscles”, but what does that actually mean? Post continues after video.


The reformer is a contraption made up of several parts, including springs, rope pulleys, a foot bar, standing platform, shoulder rests and a headrest. Other equipment can also be added and used in conjunction with the reformer, such as boxes, balls and hand weights.

I could talk to you about the reformer itself and the myriad of functions for pages upon pages, but for the purpose of not scaring you to death (and honestly you shouldn’t be), I’ll give you the heads up about the part of the reformer that you can adjust: the springs. 

The springs (literally springs, like boing boing) are the mechanism that “adds weight” on the reformer that gets hooked onto a metal bar. 

There are typically five springs on a reformer; for more resistance, add more springs, for less resistance, remove springs. Think of the springs like weight plates on a barbell: the more weight plates you add, the heavier it is. 

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What does reformer Pilates do?

Reformer Pilates is a resistance (strength training) workout, but the difference between this kind of strength training and the strength training you would do on the gym floor or in a BODYPUMP class is the muscles being targeted. 

Without getting overly technical, gym floor exercises typically target big muscles, and reformer Pilates (or any kind of Pilates, for that matter) targets small 'stabilising' muscles.

Big muscles are typically the ones you can see on the surface, and the small muscles lay beneath and play an important function in keeping your body stable. Think of your big muscles like the exterior walls of a house and the small muscles like the interior load-bearing walls. Sure, the outside of the house is strong on its own, but remove those interior walls and you have a far less stable structure – or a studio apartment in Canberra worth $1.8 million.

This is precisely the reason even the most seasoned of gym goers are surprised as to how challenging reformer Pilates actually is (as they are similarly surprised at outrageous property prices) – they have strong, big muscles, but not necessarily strong small muscles.

What happens in a reformer Pilates class?

Generally speaking, reformer Pilates are small group classes where each person has their own reformer (although there are 1:1 class options depending on where you attend). 

A Pilates teacher will guide the group through a 45-minute to one hour workout starting with a warm-up, followed by various sequences of exercises targeting different areas, before finishing with a cool-down. 

Smiling is my coping mechanism. Image: Supplied.

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If you are new to reformer Pilates, it’s essential that you turn up to your class 15 minutes early to get a run-down on how the equipment works and discuss any physical limitations you might have. 

Even if you’ve done reformer Pilates before, if you are new to a facility, it’s a good idea to get a refresher on how their reformers work, as they are all slightly different. Some studios even offer ‘orientation’ classes that are specific for the first time attendees. 

Who should do reformer Pilates?

Everyone (ok almost everyone, get your health care practitioner's all-clear if you’re unsure). Reformer Pilates is a fabulous addition to your regular exercise regime as it strengthens muscles that are difficult to target on your own without specialised exercises, instructions, and guidance. 

Something to consider, however, is whether you participate in reformer Pilates as part of a group or in a 1:1 setting. The following are by no means hard-and-fast rules, but generally speaking, if you have no major restrictions in movement, a group situation would be suitable where you don’t necessarily need an eye on your every movement. 

If you have more complex restrictions or are doing reformer as part of specific rehabilitation, then you may benefit from 1:1 attention. 

Where can I do reformer Pilates?

Even though reformer Pilates has been around since the 1920s, it’s really experienced a resurgence in the past few years and has gone mainstream – do a Google search in your area and you might be surprised. In fact, within a five minute walk from where I teach my classes, there are three other studios... but seriously, come to my classes. 

A reformer BED, you say? We're listening! Image: Supplied.

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Final word.

Maybe people think reformer Pilates is ‘gentle’ because the name of the equipment is actually a reformer ‘bed’, but there is nothing restful about this workout.

The good news is that just like any exercise, it can be adapted to suit your fitness level through spring adjustments and exercise regressions and progressions that your Pilates teacher will be able to provide. 

Image: Supplied.

You will get strong in ways you never thought you could and many exercises are performed lying down –  so that’s a win in my book.

Verdict: 5 springs out of 5. 

Feature Image: Supplied/Mamamia.

Marie has been a fitness industry professional since 2005 and currently owns UBX Boxing + Strength in Belconnen (Canberra). Marie is a qualified Personal Trainer, Les Mills group fitness instructor, CrossFit coach and Pilates teacher. You can follow her on  Instagram.

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