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There is probably no piece of Pilates equipment more famous than the Pilates reformer and for good reasons. The reformer makes a dramatic impression when you first see one, and an even more dramatic change in the body when you use it.
What Is a Pilates Reformer?
Invented by Pilates founder Joseph Pilates, the reformer is a bed-like frame with a flat platform on it, called the carriage, which rolls back and forth on wheels within the frame. The carriage is attached to one end of the reformer by a set of springs. The springs provide choices of differing levels of resistance as the carriage is pushed or pulled along the frame. The carriage has shoulder blocks on it that keep a practitioner from sliding off the end of the reformer as they push or pull the carriage.
At the spring end of the reformer, there is an adjustable bar called a footbar. The footbar can be used by the feet or hands as a practitioner moves the carriage. The reformer also has long straps with handles on them that are attached to the top end of the frame.
They can be pulled with legs or arms to move the carriage as well. Body weight and resistance of the springs are what make the carriage more or less difficult to move. Reformers parts are adjustable for differing body sizes and differing levels of skill.
How Is a Reformer Used?
One of the best things about the reformer is its versatility. Exercises can be done lying down, sitting, standing, pulling the straps, pushing the footbar, perched on the footbar, perched on the shoulder blocks, with additional equipment, upside down, sideways and all kinds of variations. In other words, the reformer can train many parts and dynamics of the body in so many different ways with just one relatively sleek piece of equipment.
All kinds of exercises are done on the reformer to promote length, strength, flexibility, and balance. Most Pilates reformer exercises have to do with pushing or pulling the carriage or holding the carriage steady during an exercise as it is pulled on by the springs.
What Are the Benefits of Pilates Reformer Exercises?
The reformer offers all the famous benefits of Pilates including overall strength, flexibility, coordination, and balance.
These things, in turn, lead to daily life improvements like better posture, graceful, efficient movement, and for many, relief from pain associated with physical imbalances such as back pain.
The Pilates powerhouse muscles, the muscles of the core, are paramount for building strength. Flat abs, strong backs, toned buttocks and thighs are all results of this emphasis. Other equipment and Pilates mat exercises do that too, but the reformer creates a unique and varied exercise environment.
The reformer is large enough to accommodate full-range motion which is wonderful for increasing flexibility while building strength.
It seems to invite the length we want to create in the body, and it trains the body to sustain that length.
Pushing and pulling with legs or arms against the resistance of the springs, carriage, and body weight is generally strength building. The exercises provide enough resistance and movement variety to help build strong bones. And there is a special feature, eccentric muscle contractions. This is when a muscle lengthens as it resists a force. The reformer is a set-up for eccentric contraction. That is one of the keys to achieving the long, strong muscles without bulk that Pilates is known for.
The instability of a rolling carriage with the springs set at different levels of resistance provides all kinds of stability challenges that develop core strength and promote better balance. For example, having less of the body on the carriage is one of the ways Pilates exercises get harder. It means more body weight has to be supported by the practitioner, and the body and machine have to be controlled even more from the core. Paradoxically, when the springs are on a lighter setting, some exercises are more challenging for the core because it has to work harder to control and stabilize the movement. The stronger core, the better the balance, posture, and overall well-being.
Exercising with the reformer is possible for anyone, at any level of fitness. It’s no wonder the full name of the reformer is the Universal Reformer.
Easy-to-learn exercises on the CoreAlign emphasize an upright posture and are designed to improve posture, balance and functional movement. Developed by physical therapist Jonathan Hoffman, CoreAlign exercises facilitate musculoskeletal rehabilitation by stimulating core stability muscles to fire in perfect timing while performing challenging exercises, very deep stretches and core-controlled aerobic training. Also great for performance enhancement and as a regular exercise regimen for a healthy lifestyle.
The CoreAlign’s frame encloses two tracks and carts, which move independently with smooth resistance (or assistance) created by six elastic resistance tube assemblies on each cart. Resistance/assistance is possible in one or both directions. Extraordinary versatility – hundreds of functional movement exercises!
Claire Webster (of The Rivermead Osteopaths) said recently “I had a go on Stewart Heath’s (of Bodysense UK Ltd) new CoreAlign machine two days ago. Really great! Legs aching today, but in a positive way. Great addition to Stewart’s Pilates repertoire. This could form an integral part of staying strong, improving posture, and avoiding aches and pains (after the first couple of days!).”
See some CoreAlign exercises here
Cadillac (Trapeze Table)
The word Cadillac conjures up big convertible cars with fins, electric windows and fancy hub caps and in Joseph Pilates hay day Cadillac stood for All-American comfort, innovation and luxury . That is why Pilates named this piece of equipment he invented the Cadillac – it has all the bells and whistles you could possibly want and it is big and comfortable.
There are so many elements to the machine: leg springs, arm springs, fluffy loops to hang from, a push-through bar to stretch you out, and even a trapeze.
As a piece of equipment it looks pretty intimidating – it is about 6 feet tall. When clients first see the Cadillac, they joke that it looks like a medieval torture device or kinky sex playground – and the name trap table, fluffy cuffs and trapeze just feeds into the imagination.
You can isolate almost every muscle group on the machine. It’s an excellent piece of equipment tool for breaking down motion into small pieces to restore correct motion patterns. Using the leg springs is one of the best ways to get runners to fully use their hamstrings. Because the Cadillac is such a large piece of equipment it is rarely used in group classes. So the best way to experience this machine is in a private Pilates session.
The Pilates Cadillac is an extremely vestal piece of Pilates Equipment and like all other pieces of Pilates equipment can be used to progress and regress movement in order to address the functional needs of the of the advanced as well as the beginner Pilates enthusiast.
See some Pilates Cadillac exercises here
Victoria and David Beckham (Posh and Becks) use the Pilates Cadillac Trapeze here