At-Home Reformer Pilates

Benefits of At-Home Reformer Pilates

Have you been thinking about buying a Pilates machine of your own? You’re not alone. During the pandemic, there was an uptick in the number of people investing in a Reformer of their own. When studios were closed, a home Reformer was the only game in town. Even as studios begin to reopen, depending upon where you live, those who made the investment will likely keep up their home practice. And why not? Having a Reformer at home is convenient. It enables you to avoid the commute to and from a studio, it frees you from having to work out at a particular time, it’s cost-effective (once you have owned your Reformer for a while), and after your workout, you can jump right into your own shower.

How to Set Up Your Space

The Reformer is an ingenious apparatus for working out, but it sure dominates a room. At 80 to 89 inches long and approximately 26 inches wide, and not easily movable, you’ll want to have plenty of space, including several feet of clearance on all sides to enable you to get on and off safely and have room to store the optional box piece, traditionally stored on the floor at the back of the Reformer.

You’ll want to also have storage space for the small accessories such as pads, poles, and extension straps. Ideally, these will be stored in a location that’s within easy reach but also somewhere that you won’t trip over them.

Finally, if you’re planning to workout with either an instructor over Zoom or using video-on-demand, you’ll need to set up your screen in the right place. Keep in mind that Reformer exercises are performed in a range of positions, from seated to lying down to standing and kneeing, so you will need to have your device in an ideal spot, especially at the beginning of your practice. After a while, you will not need to look at the screen the entire time.

Tips and Precautions

Pilates machines are big, heavy pieces of equipment with many moving parts. Before you use it, make sure to review the safety precautions provided by the manufacturer. These will vary by model and manufacturer, but some good guidelines include the following:

Step onto a stable platform: Before you step or sit on the Reformer, check that at least one or two springs are connected (if not more!). This will ensure that the carriage (the part you sit or lie on) won’t slide out from underneath you. Whenever possible, step on a stable surface first. For example, in Side Splits, step onto the footbar and then place one foot on the moving platform.
Release springs with care: Only attempt to remove springs when they are not stretched. Not only is it dangerous to release a fully or partially loaded spring, but it also takes more effort. Waiting until the spring is slack and the carriage has come all the way into the stopper will save your hands and forearms from unnecessary strain over time.
Dress appropriately: Avoid dangling jewelry, scarves, or loose clothing that can become tangled in the springs. Wear bare feet or grip socks so your feet don’t slip.
Don’t Slip and Slide: If you perspire heavily, or if your hands tend to get sweaty, make sure to have a towel nearby to wipe down your equipment or yourself. (And of course, make sure the towel doesn’t get caught in the springs!)
Keep it Simple: If you are working out at home, avoid advanced exercises that are best attempted with a spotter. For example, the splits, headstands, certain arm circle variations, and backbends are best done in a studio with a skilled instructor offering guidance and assistance if necessary. Use your wisdom.

Featured At-Home Reformer Classes

At-Home Reformer Exercises

You can do most if not all of the Reformer exercises you would do in a Pilates studio on a home Reformer. For example, if you are a beginner, you’ll probably start with the Footwork, then the Hundred, Leg Circles, Frog, and continue with Stomach Massage, Knee Stretch, Running, and Pelvic Lift, at a minimum. If you have a Box accessory, you will add the Long Box and Short Box series. If you have a Jump Board, you can add in jumping at the beginning, middle, or end of your Reformer program to get some extra cardio.

While the repertoire isn’t different than what you would do at a studio, there may be omissions or modifications that make sense for someone practicing on a home Reformer (if you are an instructor, this is probably not the case). You may want to focus on simple and safe exercises that are appropriate for all levels. You might choose to add some creative Footwork variations such as one-legged Footwork or add another set of the classic series. You can add in Jump Board, if you have one, adding jumps between traditional exercises for a bit of HIIT. For safety’s sake, you might omit the most advanced exercises, in particular, those requiring a great deal of balance, control, and coordination. You can add these into your home routine when you feel totally confident. You’ll still get an efficient full-body workout even if you stick to the basics.

Pilates Reformer Exercises

Down Stretch

This exercise strengthens the back extensors and shoulders.

Side Splits

This exercise challenges your balance, stability and works the inner and outer thigh muscles.

Frequently Asked Questions

Which Reformer is best for at-home workouts?

That depends on your budget, your living situation, and your Pilates practice. If you’re just starting out, you may want to choose an entry-level Reformer for home use, like those sold at big box stores. A used model can be another good choice. Check yard sales or online bulletin boards. If you have been practicing for a while and you know that you will continue your practice for years to come, a studio-style Reformer with or without all the bells and whistles makes sense and will amortize over time. Keep in mind that studio-style Reformers tend to have a larger footprint, weigh more, and cost more than those made for enthusiastic home practitioners. Models for home use are easier to move and store, but they don’t provide the same distinctive feel as a studio Reformer.

Can I start Reformer Pilates without a teacher?

Yes, and during Covid that’s what many people did because in-person teaching was not possible. In Joe Pilates’ original studio in New York City, students worked out autonomously, sticking to their prescribed exercises, and Joe or another instructor would wander around and give the occasional suggestion or hands on nudge. That last bit is important: while it’s a good thing to be responsible for your own Reformer workout (remembering your order, changing your springs, and putting the Footbar up and down, for example), Pilates is traditionally taught in the studio setting, where a seasoned instructor can observe your body on the apparatuses and in space. If you begin a home Reformer practice, consider adding in some instructor-guided sessions, either in-person, at your home, or in a studio when that is feasible, or via Zoom, so that you can progress your practice as Joe Pilates intended. Pilates teachers very quickly leveled up their Zoom skills during the pandemic, proving that even Covid couldn’t keep them from doing what they love.

Do you need a Reformer to practice Pilates at home?

Not at all! In fact, Joseph Pilates left us a series of highly effective Mat exercises in his book “Return to Life.” These original 34 exercises have spawned countless variations since then. With a supportive, soft mat and a variety of small props, you can get an amazing, varied, and fun workout. Many of the Mat and Reformer exercises share a vocabulary of shapes. If you start your Pilates practice on a Mat, when you finally experience the Reformer, you will get even more “juice” out of each exercise because you’ll already have an understanding of the basic Pilates principles.

How do I know what level I’m at?

When you begin, stick to the beginner-level exercises. In general, these are exercises that are two-limbed, not one-sided (for example, yes to Footwork, no to Lunges and Splits), without twisting, and with limited spinal extension (think flat/tall spine and forward or lateral flexion). These “simple” exercises can be plenty challenging. In fact, even expert-level practitioners begin their Reformer workouts with the same exact Footwork that beginners do! Remember also that unlike other fitness methods or sports, we don’t do Pilates to be “good” at Pilates. We do Pilates to do life better. That is, to make the activities and tasks of daily life more satisfying and easier. So let go of the idea that you have to tick the boxes of a certain number of exercises. Focus on the journey, and the quality of each movement, and you’ll see and feel a change.

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