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 What is a Reformer?

A question I am asked often! Learn more....

The Pilates reformer was originally designed by Joseph Pilates to rehabilitate patients during World War I. He attached springs to hospital beds to support patient's limbs which enabled effective strengthening and stretching exercises. This formed the inspiration for the modern-day reformer.


The main part of the reformer is the large frame on which the other parts are built upon. On top of the frame is the carriage, which is a platform that slides up and down the carriage. 

The carriage of the reformer is loaded by a number of springs attached to one end of the frame – when the carriage slides, horizontal resistance is created. Ropes and pulleys are attached to the end of the carriage frame to add or remove additional resistance.


The level of resistance is adjusted by the number of springs attached – one spring would provide the least resistance whereas five springs would represent the maximum resistance available on a standard reformer. 


In addition, each spring provides a different load. These are colour coded so that the instructor and the student can identify which load they want to use. For example, Green = Heavy, Red = Medium, Blue = Light and Yellow = Ultra Light.


Different spring loads can be used in a variety of ways depending on the exercise. For example, a heavier spring can be used to work on power or for support to make it easier to control the carriage movement. Or, a light spring can be used to reduce the resistance to make the movement easy, OR to make the user work harder to stabilise whilst the carriage moves. 


After the war, Joseph travelled to America and with his wife Clara and opened a studio in New York. The strengthening and restorative nature of Joseph’s work very quickly attracted the attention of dancers and others from the world of performing arts.


Joseph believed that performing an exercise correctly only a few times was far more beneficial to one’s overall health and strength than repeatedly performing an exercise poorly. By using the reformer, his students learned the correct technique from a supported posture. Once a technique was mastered and the student had acquired sufficient strength, they would then progress to more advanced mat-based exercises where the body was required to support and stabilise itself.

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