Though well-versed in the benefits of reformer Pilates – increased mobility, a tightened core and deeper mind-body connection to name a few – it’s not a mainstay in my workout routine. Instead, for years, I’ve favoured the immediate rush of running over stretch-based training; the ease of throwing on my kit and getting outside for some solo endorphins.
But with more people raving of reformer Pilates’s transformative effect (Adele, Hailey Bieber and Margot Robbie are now all avid fans) and my stress levels and flexibility on an equal downward trajectory, I decided it was time to see what all the fuss was about.
And so, I signed up for a month of reformer Pilates. Here’s what happened.
What is reformer Pilates?
Unlike mat Pilates, it involves a large piece of equipment (a reformer machine) designed with a system of springs and pulleys to provide resistance; it has a surface, a footbar and static platforms at the front and rear to allow for different exercises and movement.
‘The cushioning, height and instability of the rolling carriage with the variety of spring resistance provides all kinds of stability challenges that develop deep core strength and improved balance and coordination,’ explains PT and founder of Heartcore, Jessie Blum. ‘The machine works the whole body resulting in a low impact method that integrates breath with movement and activates your deep core muscles.’
Remember: it’s a full body workout working every muscle, big or small– from your deep front abdominals to your side waist to your back and glutes, and pelvic floor. Your diaphragm also plays an integral role in keeping you healthy in movement, Blum reminds me. The aim? Build core strength, strengthen your muscles and challenge your balance and flexibility.
Can anyone do reformer Pilates?
Yes. Beginners and pros alike will reap the rewards of reformer Pilates and you can tailor the practice and make it beginner friendly. ‘You can apply the same principles but at different spring tensions or different setups meaning it’s totally adaptable to beginners and the stronger you get the harder you can make it,’ confirms Blum. ‘When the springs are in a lighter setting, some movements are more challenging for the core, working extra hard to control and stabilise the movement.’
Given that every reformer class is unique, and every trainer adopts a different approach, if you do have any injuries or health conditions, it’s worth doing your research before booking a class. Similarly, if you have any spinal conditions it’s worth speaking to a professional before to avoid exacerbating any preexisting issues.
Check out our complete guide to reformer Pilates for more info, including the best classes and kit you’ll need.
What did my month-long reformer Pilates challenge look like?
My reformer Pilates challenge took place at one of London’s revered reformer studios, Heartcore, a space that prides itself on doing things differently. With various locations across London, the setting itself is enough to lure anyone in (sleek interiors and soft lighting scattered with high-tech reformer machines) but the allure lies wholly in the practice and expert PTs who build on traditional Pilates and yoga to create innovative dynamic pilates classes.
I booked onto two one-hour classes a week (which, FYI, is a lot for me) for a month to see if it would yield physical and mental benefits.
What happened when I tried reformer Pilates for the first time?
Arriving for the first time at the St John’s Wood studio, I actually felt nervous. Not only am I a complete beginner but it’s been a few years since I joined a group fitness class and I’m sure some of you will agree the reformer machines look a little intimidating. How hard can it be, I asked myself. It turns out, very.
During my first dynamic Pilates class, I puffed my way through the slow, precise movements, my core burning and my heart racing, and feeling out of unison with the rest of the class. There were squats and lunges; downward dogs and frogs. How did I feel afterwards? Incredible.
5 things I learned when I tried reformer Pilates
1.Reformer Pilates is hard but practice pays off
There’s no sugarcoating the fact that reformer Pilates is tough. It’s the kind of workout after which you feel physically drained but equally full of energy. Not only do the movements feel easier after a couple of sessions (I would also highly recommend doing a PT session so you can really understand the movements better), but it yields results a lot faster than I was expecting.
After about three weeks, my arms appeared more defined (I rarely train my upper body, which probably contributes to the reason why I saw a *slight* difference so soon, but it’s likely that this may also have been due to a muscle pump – when blood rushes to your muscles to repair them which makes them appear more defined, but this appearance doesn’t last). My energy levels were also noticeably higher, which brings me onto my next point.
2. Reformer Pilates boosts your energy levels
For some reason, I hadn’t envisaged reformer Pilates to give me the same kind of rush I get from running. But it really does. Contrary to running though, I felt full of energy after every reformer session without that addictive running high; instead I felt calm, motivated and positive.
3. Reformer Pilates is easy on the joints
Pounding the streets on a weekly basis and a recent half marathon has left my poor joints in a bad way. And you know what hasn’t helped? Not doing the adequate stretches and yoga afterwards. After a few sessions of rerformer Pilates, I noticed that my knees felt less sore, which is a huge win. This comes down to its low-impact nature – you strengthen the joints and surrounding muscles without putting them under any pressure, which allows any in need of recovery to do so.
4. Reformer Pilates works wonders for tech neck
The stretches and breathwork involved in reformer Pilates really helped alleviate some muscle tension in my neck caused by staring at a screen for so long (hello, tech Neck), and stress. ‘When we hold onto stress and tension, the body’s physiological response is to puff up in the stomach area and tighten the neck and shoulders,’ explains Blum, which is why breathwork and building up core strength are so important.
5. You can combine reformer Pilates with home workouts
Reformer Pilates is incredible, but it can be expensive to practice regularly every single week. I like the fact that you can take some of your learnings and apply them to a home workout. For example, using a Pilates ring to challenge your abs on the mat.
Exactly what I will be doing now that I’ve completed my reformer Pilates challenge: one weekly class and one at-home Pilates workout from here on out. Running who?
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