The Anatomy of a Pilates Reformer

An Overview of the Pilates Reformer

Three women exercising on a Pilates machine.
Kristian Sekulic/E+/Getty Images

The reformer is a piece of resistance exercise equipment designed by Joseph Pilates. It consists of a platform that moves back and forth along a carriage. Resistance is provided by the exerciser's body weight and by springs attached to the carriage and platform.

Pronunciation: re-form-er

Despite the somewhat medieval name, the Pilates reformer is actually an amazingly elegant machine. The reformer provides finely tuned exercise resistance that allows one to work very precisely to develop good alignment, core strength, and flexibility.

There are many styles of reformers. The reformer pictured here is a classic Pilates reformer made by Peak Pilates. Some reformers are wood and some are metal. There might be leather straps or ropes, and the reformer may be on legs or not. Nevertheless, the basic parts and their functions will be the same.

You will feel much more comfortable at your first reformer class if you take a moment to look over the reformer and get a sense how it works. These are the basic parts of a reformer:

The Springs, Footbar and Gear System

pilates reformer
footbar and gear system. (c)Peak Pilates

The height of the foot-bar is adjustable. There will be two to four notches on the inside of the frame that will allow you to adjust the height of the foot-bar. Your instructor will help you figure out which height is best for you.

The springs provide resistance from the machine. The rest of the resistance is provided by your own body weight. The springs hook on the spring bar, and different springs can be unhooked to increase or decrease the resistance. There is also a gear system that allows one to change the distance of the spring bar from the end of the carriage. This is sometimes used to adjust for a persons height. Again, your teacher will suggest gear changes if need be.

The springs are color-coded by the amount of resistance they provide. Usually, green is the lightest spring, then blue, yellow, and finally, the most resistance from red. Many levels of resistance are achieved through varying combinations of the springs. There are some variations in color-coding, but you will get to know the machines at your studio. Your instructor will tell you which springs to use for each exercise. Beginning students are never expected to know which springs to use.

The Carriage

pilates reformer
The Carriage. (c)Peak Pilates

The carriage is the part you put your body on. The carriage is moved by pushing against the foot bar, or by pulling the straps or ropes at the other end of the reformer. The carriage glides back and forth along the inside of the frame, responding to the effort you exert and the amount of resistance set up by the springs. Reformer exercises can be done lying down, sitting, kneeling or standing on the carriage.

Head Rest and Shoulder Blocks

pilates reformer
Head Rest and Blocks. (c)Peak Pilates

Many Pilates reformer exercises are done lying down with the head on the headrest. The important thing to be aware of is that the headrest can be down flat or propped up. In many cases, it will be your preference whether the headrest is up or down. You will want to find out what is most comfortable for your neck. However, it is important to have the headrest down anytime you are going to bring your legs over your head. There are also exercises where you turn around and put your feet through the headrest area.

The shoulder blocks keep you stable on the reformer as you push or pull the carriage. Often your shoulders are against the blocks, but there are also exercises that use the shoulder blocks as props for the feet, knees or hands.

The Straps or Ropes

pilates reformer
Reformer Straps and Ropes. (c)Peak Pilates

The straps are connected to pulleys at the top end of the reformer. The straps have handles on the end that you can grasp to pull or push the carriage. You may also be asked to thread the straps through the handles in order to work with your feet in the straps. Again, the basic principle is that you will be pushing or pulling yourself on the carriage against the resistance provided by your own body weight and the springs.

See More: a Pilates Reformer Workout
Read More: The Amazing Pilates Reformer - an in-depth explanation of how the reformer works and the benefits of reformer exercises.

Continue Reading