Pilates Reformer: what it is, exercises and contraindications

Pilates Reformer: what it is, exercises and contraindications

Let's see how it is born, how it is used and what are the benefits of the Pilates Reformer, one of the machines of the method


  • What is the Pilates Reformer
  • Benefits and contraindications
  • How to use
  • Exercises on the Reformer
  • The other Pilates machines

What is the Pilates Reformer

In fact, Joseph H. Pilates had first structured the exercises on the mat to improve his own physical condition. At the same time, his mind as a craftsman of movement was preparing to develop even complex tools with simple materials. Much of the work the soldiers in rehabilitation did with him was done by lying in bed and using resistances. This matrix also has the Reformer, whose meaning lies precisely in the idea of ​​forming a new body, re-accustoming it to movement in a different way. It consists of a structure on which a trolley slides connected to springs of varying strength. The person lies supine on the trolley and the feet rest on what is called the footbar, the bar from which one pushes to stretch the whole body and move the trolley away. As for the arms, if for some exercises they remain close to the body, in other cases they slip into the so-called handles (dumbbells), connected to ropes.

From exercise to exercise the shape in the space changes and so does the position, even reaching to have the hands on the footbar and the rest of the body pushing the cart or coming to stand with one foot on the cart and one on the footbar. The distance of the trolley from the springs is adjusted through a retractable block (gear) according to the height of the person and his anthropometric characteristics.

Specific tools are used on the reformer for some series: the box, on which one sits or lies down in a supine or prone form, the stick, the cane, to adjust some movements at a postural level. Recent Reformer models are foldable and some transportable. If you add the Tower to the Reformer, you can create exercises that include additional dumbbells, springs and bars to articulate the spine. The Reformer has evolved over time into a very interesting variant that includes jumps and work of the diaphragm, or rather, of all diaphragms, from the pelvic to the respiratory one to the visual one: it is a vertical platform placed at the bottom of the machine on which you can place both feet to give yourself the push. The exercises on the Reformer always follow the basic principles of the Pilates method: centering, precision, control, concentration, fluid movements, awareness.

Benefits and contraindications

The first advantage of the Reformer is to let the body experience movement in conditions that are completely different from those of a standing position. The body dances with gravity in a different way and resistances are used, a little like when you swim and have fluid resistance. This machine improves neuromuscular coordination in an extraordinary way, brings great benefits in terms of posture and balance, makes every single movement efficient even in daily life and allows you to experience a sensation of magnificent stretching. Paired with a healthful diet, the Reformer work also has highly slimming and toning effects.

Among the contraindications – but we would rather say a generic indication in order not to incur coarse and dangerous ways in the execution – we will clearly say that the beginner person must equip himself with a fundamental ingredient: patience. The tool requires that in the first lessons you have to absorb a lot of information and you have to manage the body in a completely different way. Slowly the movement becomes natural, but you have to go through several moments in which you could feel slowed down and perhaps a little awkward. Over time, this passes.

What remains is the need for caution: the feet never go on the springs and some actions must necessarily be done with the trolley closed. In some positions, a lot of attention must be paid to the neck and lumbar area of ​​the back. Also be careful not to get caught up in enthusiasm and not to overdo it: the sensations of stretching and lightness are important, but progress must always be made gradually (respecting what Joseph H. Pilates called building blocks, the "bricks" to build plan the whole execution of the exercise).

How to use

The reformer is a safe and very effective training system, but first of all we should learn to get on the reformer correctly, this is an important part of the practice. The best trainers teach it from the start, so that every gesture is not approximate or distracted, but precise, as Pilates itself would have liked. To sit on the trolley, one leg remains in front of the spring and one in front of the trolley while standing with your back to the machine. Bring the arms forward and close the thumbs in the elbows and then go down by leaning one buttock, levering up a shoulder rest with one hand and then lying down the whole back, always keeping the abdominals active. In this way you are ready with your feet on the footbar, your legs bent, your back on the cart and your hands and arms close to your body, ready to start the whole series to "wake up" the feet (footwork) and warm up the body . Once you have become familiar with the machine, you will be able to pleasantly discover that the exercises on the reformer are many and therefore you get tired very hard and you can train many muscle groups even at the same time and in an always different way.

There are some important mistakes to avoid when using the reformer: you never straddle the trolley, as if you were riding a horse, you never go beyond the reformer entering the space inside the structure and near the trolley, but you pass always around the machine, for safety reasons. In some exercises where the head remains close to the footbar and the feet are on the movable trolley, the trainer will be able to manage the trolley with one foot to prevent the less able person from losing control. Once you have become familiar with the machine,

Exercises on the Reformer

Let's take 3 typical exercises (2 of which are named after the imitation of the movement of animals) that are performed on the Reformer and activate different parts of the body always starting from the center, based on the basic principles of the method to which the concept of resistance is added. :


Borrowed from the exercise of the mat, Hundreds on the Reformer helps to manage breathing and movement, strengthens the abdominal center and also the arms. From supine, the hands are put in the handles and then they are lowered close to the body, while the legs are drawn towards the chest. They then stretch upwards and then at 45 °, keeping the abdominal center contracted and moving the arms up and down with a small range of motion, counting 5 pumps while the breath continues to be long. After 100 executions (hence the name of the exercise), the legs are reflected, the arms are brought back to the ceiling and the dumbbells are put back into the shoulder rests.


Excellent for strengthening the legs, for stable management of the pelvis and for learning to move the limbs from the center. It improves bilateral alignment and strengthens the buttocks. In short, as a figure in space it resembles a "frog" on its stomach. The dumbbells are put on the feet, spreading the fabric well and taking care to leave them in the medial part of the foot arch, so that they do not slip. The knees are bent leaving them shoulder width apart and the heels are above the buttocks, the back does not arch. The arms are along the body and the triceps are active. By inhaling, the legs are extended to 45 °, exhaling they are drawn towards the abdomen. The ribs remain anchored to the carriage throughout the exercise, so as not to arch the back too much.


This exercise is part of the Long Stretch Series and has many benefits: it strengthens and stabilizes the shoulders, teaches how to manage movement from the abdominal center, strengthens the hip muscles and opens and loosens the muscles of the lower back such as the square of the loins. .

It is performed by climbing on the Reformer, then first one hand on the footbar and then the opposite foot on the trolley and then two other limbs in order to ensure a stable position. A large "hump" is then created in the upper part of the back and the hips are pushed forward as if to bring the coccyx between the legs, the head is left soft and also the neck. By inhaling, you push the cart out and exhaling it is recalled by strongly contracting the abdominals and keeping the back curved towards the ceiling.

The other Pilates machines

Among the other Pilates machines we mention the most common and classic ones:


A sort of "four-poster bed" surrounded by a metal structure on which ropes, dumbbells, springs for arms with handles, for legs with straps can be applied. On a Cadillac there are also Roll Down Bars with springs, trapeze complete with precision sliding system, springs and belt, Push through Bar, Tower (which also fits on the reformer), fur handles, safety belt. With this tool, training becomes truly multifaceted and it becomes possible to practice a very wide range of exercises. Pilates himself was very proud of this structure, so much so that he defined it as the best machine in vogue at that time.


Pilates had thought of it as a real chair in the waiting rooms that would revolutionize centers, professional offices, doctors' offices. Inspired by the platform of a circus acrobat (Pilates had dedicated himself to the circus and acrobatics), it is a cube-shaped tool with a pedal attached to two springs. The springs are managed by or by the trainer to offer more or less resistance. You can do many exercises to strengthen the upper and lower part of the body, as well as learning to better manage the movements from the abdominal center.


This wooden tool takes up enough space and consists of a semi-cylindrical padded part (Pilates i was inspired by the construction principle of the barrels) faced by a ladder that allows the hooking of hands or feet depending on the exercise. With this machine many exercises of muscle stretching, counter-twists and twists are possible and benefits are obtained at the muscle, tendon and bone level.

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