Your Guide to Joseph Pilates Reformer


So What Is Joseph Pilates reformer machine?


Joseph Pilates invented the reformer which he originally called the Universal reformer, due to the fact that it could be used for numerous movements (Joseph Pilates didn’t regard his system as exercises – but movements and movement patterns).


The reformer is a great piece of exercise equipment that I am sure will be in most gyms in the near future. As it is an excellent addition to any fitness regime.


Apparently, whilst held captive during the First World War and often confined to their ‘bunks’, it was designed around a bed and bunk bed. His original versions were made mainly of wood, where very heavy and sturdy. The more modern designed can be very light weight, and run very smoothly on rollers. 


Heavy or Light Resistance Springs?

The resistance is controlled via springs and differing resistance. This means that for certain movements a heavy resistance may make that particular movements very challenging. Yet the same resistance used on another movement may mean it is made easier.


Conversely a light resistance does not mean that the movement is going to be easy, quite the reverse. And with other movements a light resistance may make one part of the movement hard and another part easier ( I am loathe to use the term ‘easier’ or ‘hard’ but for simplicity sake I have chosen to . 


The carriage of the reformer moves on the reformer ‘bed’ via rollers that help it cast along. When springs are attached it is possible, if you use incorrect technique, for the carriage to ‘slam’ against the reformer bad, making aloud noise. Apparently Joseph Pilates would come rushing out of his office to berate the poor soul who was clashing the reformer about. Not sure if it as because of their incorrect technique, style or lack of control, or because of the damage this could cause to the reformer!


Ropes have handles attached and can be used with the hands or feet. On the other side of the carriage a foot bay again may be used for the feet or the hands. This adds to the repertoire of movements that may be performed on the Universal reformer.

Is the Reformer Advanced Pilates ?

Most people wrongly consider the reformer to be advanced level stuff. Nothing could be further from the truth. His intention was to use the reformer to perfect his movements, and this was translated over to the mat work.


Apparently Joseph was trained in martial arts, one concept from martial arts training that Pilates certainly adopted was the concept that ‘less is more’. He believed that it was more beneficial to perform a few correct movements with strict style – with focus and concentration, than to mindlessly perform numerous repetitions. 


The reformer is considered more dynamic and stricter / harder than mat based work. For this reason again he preferred few repetitions on the reformer. Similar to his mat based work of 34 exercises, Pilates had a set ‘routine’ on the reformer. Grouped into series of movements that were linked. Each movement built of the previous and flowed together, complimenting the last series of movements.

Similar to the mat work, his movements have changed and been added to and adjusted over the years. The order likewise has and can be adopted and changed around to suit the needs of the client. 


Reformer or Mat Pilates ?

The reformer is a marvelous addition to your Pilates mat based work – but it is not meant to replace the mat work its aim is to go hand in hand and compliment the mat based movements. It is tempting to view the reformer as ‘superior’ to mat work – but it truly is not, they genuinely complement each other. Your mat work will be enhanced due to using the Joseph Pilates Universal reformer.



Much Love from Devon

Tanja x

Elite Pilates & Yoga Services (Teacher Training)
St Marychurch Road, (next to Plant World)
Newton Abbot
TQ12 4SE
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