9 Things to Know Before Your First Reformer Pilates Class


Posted By: Pamela Toy

Training on a Pilates Reformer for the first time can be intimidating and daunting. The machine’s frame is huge and has straps and springs that make it seem really complicated to use.

The truth is, it’s not, especially if you are taking classes with a certified instructor who knows what they are doing. However, in a larger class setting, it can feel a little more challenging as the instructor has a lot of people he/she needs to help. Having some insight as to how a reformer works and how to properly prepare can make for a much more pleasant first experience.

Here are 9 things you can expect before jumping on the reformer for the first time:

1. The carriage moves and so will you
2. Props are often incorporated to improve form
3. This isn’t a mat class
4. Each Spring represents a different level of resistance
5. Tight Clothing is the best
6. Grip Socks can be really helpful
7. The Reformer is a full-body workout
8. Follow Along with Your Instructor
9. You will Break a Sweat

1. The Carriage Moves and so will you


If you have ever used a leg press machine, it can feel somewhat similar, except instead of you moving the weight, you are sliding along with the carriage as you push off the foot bar or straps.

Lying on your back flat on a moving platform can feel a little bit unsettling. Getting used to a moving reformer takes time with practice. Just remember to breathe and follow along with the class.

2. Props are often incorporated to improve form


Often times instructors will utilize props to help improve form, create added tension or add a new dynamic to their classes. Some of the common props used are magic circles, reformer boxes, stability balls, and therabands, which all serve different purposes.

Magic Circles

The magic circle is a ring created by Joseph Pilates that has two rubber sides. It can strengthen your abdominals, legs, and arms by pushing the sides together. This is great for muscle stability and overall balance.

Reformer Box

A Reformer Box is used with your reformer and creates a whole new world of exercises. This includes prone exercises, abdominal exercises, side stretching, and much more. It can also offer more support when doing seated exercises.

Stability Ball

The stability ball can be used to improve form and add an added challenge to the workout. For example, you can use a mini stability ball to squeeze in between your legs while you push off the jump board or foot bar.

Resistance Bands

Resistance Bands are great for stretching, lengthening, and strengthening the muscles. They can be used for added arm or leg workouts.

3. This isn’t a Mat Class


Previously we wrote about the differences between training on a mat versus a reformer. However, to give a brief synopsis, training on a Reformer is very different because while a lot of the same principles may apply, you are on a sliding carriage system using a resistance system (usually springs or elastic). The resistance system can be adjusted to fit your needs.

Training on a mat is challenging because you are required to hold yourself up while stabilizing your muscles. If you have a limited range of motion, some mat exercises may be difficult, while the reformer can provide some more assistance.

Additionally, the reformer can be more difficult overall because you can continue to add springs, whereas the mat workouts are limited by your body weight and some additional props.

Because of the limited space, Reformer classes can be a bit smaller than regular mat pilates classes. This can result in more individualized attention.

4. Each Spring contains a different level of resistance


Most reformers have at least 3 different springs (yellow, blue, and red). With yellow being the easiest, blue being medium difficulty, and red being heavy.

However, on a Stott Pilates Machine, the resistance system goes White, Blue, Red, and Black. With White being 25% resistance, Blue being 50% resistance, Red being 100% resistance and black being 125%. (1)

Subtracting the springs will make things easier and adding springs makes the exercises more difficult. This is no different than using any exercise equipment like a leg press (adding more plates will make it harder).

5. Tight Clothing is the best


When taking a Reformer Class, tight clothing is always the best. This is because baggy clothing can get caught on the reformer, under your back, and get in the way when you are doing arm exercises. Check out our fully comprehensive list of what to wear on a reformer.

6. Grip Socks can prevent slipping


Grip Socks are not mandatory, but if you have the budget you should consider investing in some before your first class. This can help prevent your foot from slipping on the straps, foot bar or springboard. Slipping can be really unpleasant and can cause injuries in some cases.

7. The Reformer is a full-body workout


Working out on a Reformer is a full-body workout. You will be working a lot of small muscles that you may have never worked out before. Needless to say, your core is going to be engaged throughout virtually every exercise on the reformer.

You will likely be doing some exercises that work your legs and core more and others that hit your arms and core more aggressively.

For example, the footwork on the foot bar is more leg heavy whereas exercises like bicep curls and airplanes using the straps can isolate your arms a bit more. (2)

8. Follow along with your instructor


During class, it can be tempting to get ahead of your instructor, especially if you are a quick learner. However, try to stick with the tempo of class and listen to instructions very carefully. Using incorrect form can lead to injuries, so try to do everything slowly and on pace with your peers.

9. You will Break a Sweat


You will definitely break a sweat during your class. We recommend that you bring a towel and some water in order to cool off. Check out our post on what you should bring to every reformer class.

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