Reformer Pilates for Beginners

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What is a Reformer?

The Pilates Reformer is one of the best known and most used pieces of Pilates equipment. Joseph Pilates designed and built the first Reformers and used a Reformer in his studio until his death in 1967. The Reformer is often used to assist Pilates students in the exercises. A Reformer is made up of a frame and platform bed that is generally 7 feet in length and about 2.5 feet wide. The Reformer includes a set of risers with pulleys and ropes attached, a footbar, and a sliding carriage with a headrest and shoulder blocks that attaches to the springs and gear system. A Reformer’s springs vary in light and heavy resistance.

Benefits of Reformer Pilates for Beginners

The Reformer adds another layer to beginner Mat Pilates Exercises. Along with the ability to work the body with heavy or light spring resistance, controlling the movement of the carriage offers an added challenge. On the Reformer, the student is "driving" the carriage versus "riding" it and must control the machine’s speed and flow. The spring system, footbar, and straps provide feedback to the body and additional challenges. As the student becomes stronger, lighter springs can be used to make the exercises more challenging. Both beginner and experienced practitioners can benefit from the assistance the Reformer gives in maintaining alignment while performing Pilates exercises.

Beginner Reformer Pilates Tips

Beginners should always familiarize themselves with all parts of the Reformer before getting on it. To prevent injury, hands and feet should remain out of the spring area. Initially, heavier spring weight will allow you to have better control and stay safe, especially when getting on and off the Reformer, but should not be so great that it feels like weight lifting or straining. Pilates exercises begin and are centered on the core, so if it feels like you are getting a leg or arm workout, your springs may be too heavy. Taking a private Reformer Pilates class from a trained Pilates teacher or a few group classes in a Pilates studio are great ways to become more comfortable on the equipment. Additionally, online Pilates Reformer classes like those offered on Pilates Anytime are also helpful when first becoming acquainted with the Reformer.

Step-by-Step Teaser Progression on the Reformer

Get back to basics in this Teaser progression with Carrie Pages on the Reformer. She sets you up for success in executing the coordination, form, technique, and timing necessary to perform the exercise with straps. This workout is great for strengthening your upper body and core, as well as improving body alignment and coordination.

Beginner Mistakes to Avoid on the Reformer

Similar to all Pilates students, a beginner practitioner new to the Reformer should focus on awareness, breath, and control. Oftentimes, beginners use too many springs or too heavy spring settings and race through the exercises. Don’t forget that you must first stabilize and engage your core before moving. We recommend moving as slowly as you need to in order to maintain control. While Pilates is also about flow, beginners can fall into the trap of continuous movement without focusing on proper execution of the exercise.

Reformer Modifications for Beginners

Beginners should focus on their ability to safely practice each exercise on the Reformer. Kneeling versus standing, bent knees versus straight legs, and using a smaller range of motion are all good modifications when starting out. You may also skip exercises that feel too challenging. Small pelvic tilts can be as effective as a full bridge at any stage of your Pilates practice! Furthermore, the parts of the Reformer are all adjustable to fit your size and needs. The footbar has multiple positions depending on your flexibility. The shoulder rests can also adjust for width and placement of your body on the carriage. You can adjust the headrest to an angle to help support your neck. The key is to make sure you are comfortable before you begin.

Featured Reformer Classes

We have over 800 Reformer Pilates classes to begin and grow your Pilates practice.

Beginners Ready to Progress

It may take several months of classes to become strong enough to move from beginner to intermediate work. Once you are comfortable performing the beginner Reformer exercises, you will be ready to advance your practice. You will know you are ready when you can maintain a slow and steady pace, control your movement and stabilize your body even when your legs and arms are moving. Remember that the most advanced Pilates practitioners often use beginner exercises within each session, adding more advanced exercises to the mix for new challenges. Think of an Olympic figure skater or a gymnast starting out; they must perfect the basic exercises before approaching more difficult moves. Each basic exercise is a building block for something more challenging. The same is true for Pilates!

Tips and Advice for Intermediate Classes

Don't be in a rush to advance to the next set of exercises. Pilates is a practice and you are never done building your strength, improving your flexibility, or learning about your body. If you find yourself getting bored, focus on the muscles you haven't used in other types of exercise and movement work. Learning to listen to your body is one of the critical skills to gain before you progress. That being said, don't be afraid to take on a challenge. Pilates is designed to support you as you grow in balance, coordination, efficiency, and fluidity of movement with intention. Sometimes, we learn just as much from what we are not yet able to do as from things that have come easily. Pilates can be hard and sometimes frustrating, but it’s important to enjoy the journey as you progress in your practice.

Reformer Pilates Frequently Asked Questions

Is the AeroPilates Reformer a good alternative for at-home Pilates?

An AeroPilates Reformer is a popular, entry-level "home" Reformer on the market today and is sturdy enough for all Pilates exercises. Rather than using springs for resistance, AeroPilates Reformers use a cord system. Although the cords may feel lighter than the spring system, the AeroPilates Reformer easily adapts to exercises done in the Pilates studio. These Reformers are made of lighter-weight material and you will need to assemble them at home. AeroPilates Reformers do not come with a Reformer Box, but one can be purchased. While the AeroPilates Reformer is not quite the same as other studio Reformers, it is a safe alternative allowing you to practice Pilates at home.

Is Reformer Pilates safe for people with back pain?

Many doctors and physical therapists believe that Pilates can help those who suffer with back pain. Reformer work is an excellent entry to Pilates for someone with back pain because the apparatus can help support the body within the exercises as strength and flexibility increases. It’s also harder to "cheat" on the Reformer as is in Mat Pilates, meaning you won't compensate for weakness in areas needing strengthening with muscles you already overuse. Those who suffer with back pain or history of back issues should begin their Pilates program with a teacher versus at home alone. Furthermore, we recommend they start at a Pilates studio rather than a group class at a local gym so that the teacher can take proper safety precautions to help you build your strength and flexibility.

How do I find a good Reformer Pilates teacher?

Working with a good teacher is one of the best ways to learn Pilates, especially when it comes to starting to practice on the Reformer. Initially, you may want to search for Pilates studios in your town. Remember that Pilates teachers will have taken at least 450 hours of training for Mat and Equipment, including Reformer training. Call your local studio and ask questions. Look at teachers' profiles online and read about their experience and philosophy to find someone who feels like a good fit. Many teachers will speak with you or allow you to watch a class to see if you are comfortable with their teaching style. Ask friends and colleagues if they know a good Reformer Pilates teacher or check out equipment manufacturers for a list of teachers in each state. Most importantly, make sure you feel comfortable with whoever you choose. If your first choice does not feel like a good fit, communicate and ask to help find the right teacher for you. Pilates teachers love Pilates and want you to find a teacher who will help you love it too.

How do I deal with soreness after the Reformer?

A great beginner Pilates Reformer program should include a regular schedule, optimally practicing on the Reformer two or three times a week. Even if you are an active person, you will likely feel some new muscle soreness as you begin your Reformer practice. You can relieve soreness by stretching on the Mat in between workouts, exploring reaching and lengthening with your arms and legs, going for a brisk walk, taking a hot shower, and soaking in the tub. Pay attention to what your body feels like when you are walking, sitting down, standing up, getting out of bed, bending over to tie your shoes, or washing your hair in the shower. If you feel sore in moving through daily activities, pay attention to which muscles you feel in each situation to gain more body awareness. Feeling your lower abdominal muscles when you walk after a Reformer workout or your glutes when you sit or stand up will help you understand how to use those muscles in your everyday activities.

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