What Are the Benefits of Pilates Reformer Exercise?

Woman doing  workout exercises on pilates reformer at gym
The reformer makes traditional Mat Pilates moves harder. (Image: razyph/iStock/Getty Images)

You'd probably recognize the Pilates reformer even if you've never used one. It's a hulking machine that consists of a sliding carriage rigged with springs, bars and straps. On this apparatus, you lie, kneel, stand and sit to create a balanced body and strong core — or "powerhouse," as creator Joseph Pilates called it.

The reformer may look like another fitness fad, but it's endured since the early 1900s, when Pilates first cobbled a version together for bedridden patients to exercise, despite their illnesses. The reformer kicks up the positives a Mat Pilates program provides, including better back health, flexibility and body awareness. Regular reformer workouts offer other unique benefits, too.

Strong Core

Mat Pilates is all the rage for core-strength building. In these workouts, you roll, twist and curl in ways you never thought imaginable to target the entirety of your torso, from your hips to your shoulders. Back and stabilizing muscles, which are often left out of traditional fitness core workouts, benefit from this.

Pilates reformer workout exercises woman brunette at gym indoor
Core workouts on the reformer include the hundred. (Image: LUNAMARINA/iStock/Getty Images)

The reformer offers all of these Mat Pilates core-building benefits and more. The resistance of the pulley and spring system offers more resistance than what you get with just your body weight on a mat. You'll achieve even better posture and coordination than you would with a Mat or classic fitness core routine.

Full Range of Motion

The bars and cables of the reformer guarantee you'll move your body through a full range of motion — something you might not be able to do on your own. When you hold the cables at your arms or fix the cables to your feet, you can't help but extend to the fullest to follow their track. When doing exercises alone without such guidance, it's easy to fall back into old patterns of movement that aren't as beneficial. You might habitually bend your knees or elbows, for example.

You may hear that Pilates lengthens the muscles, which isn't really possible. What it does do is give you the appearance of greater length because you find this full range of motion and train to maintain it day in and day out. You'll look taller, slimmer and sleeker as a result of regular reformer work.

Fast and Comprehensive Results

The multiple attachments on the reformer mean you can dial your workouts back, if you find Mat Pilates moves too challenging, or go beyond what you can do on the mat if you crave a greater push. This allows you to work to your level and progress appropriately.

While Mat Pilates does include some exercises that train your arms and legs, they're usually done with no — or very light — resistance. The reformer works your arms and legs more thoroughly, providing a more comprehensive workout.

The resistance of the reformer means you'll get results from your workouts faster. The tension of the springs on the moving carriage adjust to different levels of difficulty. As you become stronger and more proficient with the reformer, you progress from reclined exercises to ones that put less of your body surface on the carriage, meaning you need to use more of your own strength and coordination to execute the moves. You may even notice greater definition in your arms, legs and abs after just a few months of consistent work on the reformer.

muscle man working at gym
Achieve improved body awareness by exercising on the reformer. (Image: muratemre/iStock/Getty Images)

A Better Body

Consistently working out on the Pilates reformer yields improvements in your body composition. A study published in a 2015 issue of Women & Health had women, who did have prior experience on the reformer, perform 16 weeks of regular workouts on the reformer following a four-week period of detraining during summer vacation. Following these four months of reformer workouts, the women lost fat from their triceps, waist and thighs, and gained lean mass instead.

The women achieved these results after a one-hour session conducted twice per week for 16 weeks. With such commitment, you, too, will grow stronger and experience shifts in your body composition.

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