Let's just lay it all out on the table: Megaformer workouts burn tons of calories, while knocking out cardio, strength training and muscular endurance training all in one class. And plenty of A-listers like Chrissy Teigen, Meghan Markle, Jennifer Aniston and Michelle Obama swear by the core-crushing, total-body sweat session.
When you book a class, you won't be alone. ClassPass, the workout class booking app, named it "one of the fastest growing trends in fitness," citing the more than one million Megaformer classes their users booked in 2019 — a nearly 40-percent increase from 2018.
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If your curiosity is piqued by this beast of a fitness machine, then it might be time to give this breakout workout trend of 2020 a try. Read up on all the details before your first class.
What Is a Megaformer?
To back up a bit — what the heck even is a Megaformer? Created by Sebastien Lagree, the machine is designed specifically for the Lagree Fitness Method, which is a full-body, HIIT-alternative workout found in more than 400 studios worldwide.
The machine is about 10-feet long and four-feet wide and features a rolling carriage between two platforms at either end. You use a system of springs and pulleys — and your own body weight — to create a level of resistance that's safe on your joints and back.
Plus, the Megaformer has a number of different handlebar variations and cables, so you're able to perform a wide variety of different exercises as well as variations and modifications to fit your fitness level or history of injury. "Exercisers are planking, squatting, crunching, lunging and more on the platform, utilizing all 600 muscles of the body to maintain balance and fight resistance," says Lagree.
But the really cool thing about the Megaformer, says Jenny Brian, a certified Lagree Fitness Master Trainer, is that most exercises are compound, full-body movements. "So you may be doing a leg exercise, but your arms and abs are engaged as well and doing a ton of work; or if we're focusing on an oblique exercise, your chest, arms, and shoulders are still working as well."
Megaformer vs. Reformer Pilates
Despite what you may have heard, the Megaformer is not Reformer Pilates on steroids. The two methods are separate entities that use different machines. The confusion often occurs because the Megaformer and the Pilates Reformer share some similar features.
Some of the similarities, says Heather Dorak, co-owner of Pilates Premium, are the carriage mobility, handlebars, tension and long straps. The differences include the weight of the carriage (which is lighter on the Megaformer) and the width and length (the Megaformer is much wider and longer than the Reformer), she says.
Additionally, the ability to adjust the handlebars for different exercises and modifications on the Megaformer are a bonus. Plus, the shorter handles at the back allow for more movement versatility, says Dorak, who uses Megaformers in her studio classes.
What to Expect in a Megaformer Class
If you're ready to tackle this powerhouse machine, you should know what to expect. Depending on the studio location and the version of the Megaformer they have, Lagree says to expect a class to last between 45 and 55 minutes. Classes are considered a moderate- to high-intensity workout, even for the most advanced students.
"The sequence of the class is meant to focus on, and train, specific muscle groups to the point of exhaustion before moving to the next muscle group," Lagree says. Most trainers will start with exercises involving the lower body, then go into an upper-body sequence, with core muscles incorporated into every movement.
The tempo of the class is also worth noting. The key to any Lagree Method class is the concept of time under tension, since you'll be performing exercises on a four-count in, four-count out. Unlike other workouts, Lagree says the Megaformer is not about lifting more weight or increasing the reps. It's about enduring the exercise longer while maintaining proper form.
"Megaformer classes utilize slow and controlled movements, which means, the movements are not performed using momentum," says Dorak. When working with and against the resistance slowly, Dorak says the tension on the muscles stays constant, recruiting more muscle fibers.
"Staying in control keeps the joints safe and stimulates the intrinsic muscle fibers and connective tissues, plus, slow and controlled movements activate the slow-twitch fat-burning muscle fibers in the body, effectively stimulating the body for maximum results," she says.
Once you become a regular, one thing you'll notice is that no workout is ever the same. "There are hundreds of thousands of routines and exercises available," Lagree says. And don't count on the workouts getting easier — Lagree makes it well-known that the method wasn't designed that way. Instead, as you get stronger, hold the moves longer and continuously slow down and perfect your form, you'll get better at it.
Tips for Your Best Megaformer Workout
Using a Megaformer is a lot different than hopping on a treadmill and pressing the quick-start button. This is why Brian always reminds new participants that there's definitely a learning curve. "All of the moves have funny names, and many have your body moving in new ways," she says.
To help ease the newness of the workout, Dorak says to arrive about 15 minutes before the start of class to get familiar with the studio and machine. Also, consider booking a class online to save you time.
Don't forget to bring a pair of grip socks that have the rubber dots on the bottom. Brian says these help you maintain a good connection and traction while on the Megaformer, especially with you start to get sweaty.
Once you arrive at the studio, take a few minutes to clear your head. To be effective, these workouts require a strong mind-body connection. "A lot of these exercises require you to stand up and balance, so you need to be able to concentrate on the movement," says Lagree. Clear your mind and listen to the instructor. Also, stay on tempo and go slowly.
But most importantly, make the class what you need it to be. Since classes are designed for all fitness levels, Dorak says there are ways to modify every exercise. "This is true if you need a bit less intensity or to add variations when a challenge is needed."
Most Common Exercises for the Megaformer
Megaformer workouts are designed to target several muscle groups simultaneously. That's why the exercises included in these classes are so effective. And while you're sure to benefit from all of the moves, some that stand out as the top picks among instructors and participants.
Since these exercises are fairly complex, it's easiest for beginner to understand them if you're in class and watching someone demonstrating. Consider this a preview of the moves you'll potentially hear in your first class.
Wheelbarrow: If there's one exercise that Lagree says is essential, it's the wheelbarrow. You start on your hands and knees, and use your shoulders and arms to push the carriage back and forth. Lagree says the wheelbarrow is excellent for posture (stabilizing the spine) and abs.
Escalator Lunge: This technical move is Lagree's favorite lunge on the Megaformer because it targets the quads, glutes, hamstrings and inner thighs.
French Twist: Designed to strengthen your core and torso, Lagree says the French Twist is the ultimate oblique-core exercise.
Scrambled Eggs: This move is great for trunk stabilization. It also works the shoulders, arms, glutes, quads and obliques.
Super Lunge: For a move that's got it all, Brain says to try the Super Lunge. "This is a leg-focussed body move that hits the glutes, hamstrings, and quads; plus, your back, arms and abs," she says.