Life

Reformer Pilates: Don't let the torture-device look of the machines put you off

As specialist 'reformer' Pilates studios continue to pop up, Liz Connor explains some of the key benefits of this buzzy exercise trend

A Pilates instructor shows a woman how to use a reformer machine

ANYONE who thinks that Pilates is easy has clearly never tried a 'reformer' class before. This trendy type of exercise class delivers a killer workout by transferring the techniques taught in the original mat-based Pilates workout on to a machine that's loaded with springs and pulleys.

During a class, your own body weight and the spring-loaded table on the machine are used as resistance, and you're challenged to perform movements that are designed to target specific muscle groups. It's no wonder it's loved by super fit A-listers like Vanessa Hudgens, Karlie Kloss and Meghan, the Duchess of Sussex.

The reformer machine looks a bit like a rowing machine and consists of a cushioned platform (called the carriage) which is attached to a metal frame by springs and moves as you push or pull with your legs and arms. The springs are weighted to provide resistance, and there are also long straps with handles attached, which can be pulled to move the carriage.

According to data from fitness booking website Mindbody (mindbodyonline.com), Pilates (including reformer Pilates) was the third most booked class in the UK of last year, and you only need to look at the swathe of studios that have opened up to know that the trend isn't slowing down any time soon.

The machine you use might look like a torture device, but don't let that put you off giving it a go. Here are some of the seriously great benefits you can reap from a regular reformer routine.

1. It works all the muscles

Pilates is famed for helping people to achieve abs of steel, but it's secretly great for targeting every area of your body. Although the exercises don't look as explosive as plyometrics or cardio classes, the range of movements engage muscles in the legs, arms and shoulders.

Lorraine Jenkins who is a teacher at Love Lagree (lovelagree.com) and teaches her classes on a megaformer machine (a souped-up version of a reformer) says: "Clients leave the 50-minute workout feeling complete from head to toe, working not only their larger muscle groups but also the intrinsic muscle groups. Many of them say that they've worked muscles they didn't know they had."

2. It's the ultimate leg toner

Looking to achieve perfectly toned pins? The reformer might look like your worst enemy, but it's your best friend when it comes to leg toning.

Pushing away the carriage of the machine with your legs requires brute strength and ultimate control, which is no easy feat over the course of an hour-long class.

"It takes a lot of stability to balance on the reformer machine so the muscles have to work even harder," says Jenkins. "Quadriceps, glutes and hamstrings are all fired up from squatting and lunging in all directions.

"Performing inner-thigh exercises on the moving carriage also works the abductors to prevent hip and knee pain."

3. It's low-impact

Using springs, straps and the padded carriage in a reformer class makes it the perfect low-impact fitness option if you're recovering from an injury. Ahead of the class, you should let your instructor know so they can modify the exercises to work with your injury.

Lying on the carriage and moving the legs using the foot straps keeps the range of movements while taking the pressure off weak or damaged joints, for instance.

"Even though the method is low-impact and safe on the joints it doesn't mean we lose intensity," says Jenkins.

4. It promotes flexibility

Flexibility is one of the key benefits of the reformer workout. "The different range of motion used in the workout lengthens and strengthens the muscles at the same time," says Jenkins.

During exercise, it's important to not only lengthen the muscles but strengthen around the joint to prevent injuries, says Jenkins.

"For example, the lunges performed on a light spring with a long back leg lengthens the hip flexors while working the quads, hamstrings and glutes in the primary leg to strengthen around the hip and knee joints."

5. It can blitz away stress

If you don't like the sound of getting barked at in a boot camp class or performing repetitive burpees in a HIIT session, reformer Pilates is a great way to reap the benefits of a post-exercise high without gasping for breath or feeling like you're on the verge of passing out.

Classes are usually an hour long and are a great excuse to get out of the house, leave your phone in a locker and escape from the day's stresses.

5. It can improve your posture

Putting your core through its paces during a reformer Pilates class isn't just about honing that six pack; it can also keep your posture in check too.

Pilates is great for improving your spinal alignment as it strengthens your body's core, relieves tight back muscles and challenges you to stretch out your entire body to its fullest.

The beauty of Pilates is that anyone, at any age, can start, and you don't need loads of expensive gear to get going – just find a local studio, invest in some comfortable activewear and head in barefoot. You'll be rocking body confidence in no time.

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