The Pilates Reformer

A Pilates Reformer often seems a little intimidating to a beginner, with its gears, straps, springs, and pulleys it appears menacing and medieval. A Pilates Reformer is used to provide resistance while working on alignment and core strength through Pilates exercises.

Pilates has become a worldwide sensation and is attracting everyone from Hollywood stars to grandmothers with its promise of core strength and long lean muscle tone. Many people begin looking into a Pilates class or Pilates DVDs in an effort to benefit from this method, however, they soon become confused by all the Pilates equipment and methods available.

The Pilates Reformer vs. Mat Pilates

The Pilates mat workout and Pilates Reformer both provide similar results and produce the same benefits of Pilates exercises. To help you decide which type of Pilates is right for you, we've provided a brief description of each method.

Pilates consists of 500 different moves or exercises which use resistance to strengthen the body's core, or "powerhouse" – the lower back, hips, buttocks and abdomen. You can get the necessary resistance through mat work, where you use the weight of your body to create the resistance, or by using a Reformer, where pulleys and springs will create the resistance for you.

Mat Pilates:

Many instructors recommend beginners start with mat Pilates before they attempt using any Pilates equipment, such as the Pilates Reformer. Mari Winsor, the founder of the Winsor Pilates method, agrees. "Mat work is a great option for beginners because of its emphasis on learning how to control your muscles during exercises," she says. "The work is too specific to be done in a group reformer class. You need to be watched like a hawk in the beginning." Most students will take mat Pilates for about three months before attempting a Reformer Pilates class.

One of the advantages of mat Pilates is its lack of equipment. All you need is a Pilates DVD, a Pilates mat and a little room to workout. Many people like using Pilates video because it allows them to work out in the comfort and convenience of their own home.

Mari Winsor also recommends taking advanced Pilates mat classes if you're looking for something more challenging than the intermediate mat level, or the reformer workout. "Advanced mat classes are the hardest because you're using your body all the time. The reformer isn't assisting or supporting you," she says.

Pilates Reformer:

The Pilates Reformer looks a little like a single bed frame with a sliding carriage. The reformer has springs that can be adjusted to regulate resistance and tension. With its cables, straps, bars and pulleys, the Reformer allows the various Pilates exercises to be performed in a variety of positions, including standing.

Most students take several months of private instruction on the Pilates Reformer before they join a group class. In fact, many facilities won't even let a beginner take a Reformer class until they've had several private sessions in order to learn the basics.

The spring and pulley system of the Reformer creates a more challenging workout than a mat workout. It is also capable of providing faster results. Visible results are often seen in a dozen or so sessions, resulting in arms, legs and abs looking firmer and more defined.

There are many Pilates reformers available at very reasonable prices, these Reformers are designed for home use and often come with an instructional DVD led by a certified Pilates instructor.

The Reformer has many attachments to help increase the modifications that can be made to the Pilates exercises, as well as allowing more exercises than can be done on a mat alone. This, combined with the added support and resistance of the Reformer itself makes it an ideal choice for people with limited range of motion or injures because they can safely practice modified Pilates exercises on the Reformer.

Is the Pilates Reformer right for you?

If you're having a difficult time deciding between the Pilates Reformer and Pilates mat work, Mari Winsor says, "Both forms will teach you how to use your powerhouse, make performing daily activities and sports easier, and tone your body along the way." There's no reason to anguish over your decision, both approaches will give you similar results.