There are two types of Pilates programs; one uses strictly a mat while the other one uses a series of equipment. A Reformer is one of the pieces of equipment.
Consisting of a bed-like framework made of wood or metal, a flat platform called a carriage with a head rest and shoulder blocks that slides back and forth, a foot bar, and a series of springs, ropes and pulleys, a Reformer creates additional resistance along with using body weight. Using the Reformer makes movements more challenging and garners results quicker than doing just mat-style Pilates.
The springs are color-coded to denote tension, but that is not something you have to learn right away. Your instructor will set up the Reformer with the correct springs to match your fitness level and what you are trying to accomplish.
A typical Pilates exercise on a Reformer will have you laying on your back on the carriage – head in the head rest and shoulders up against the shoulder blocks. Place your feet on the foot bar and push it away from you. The difficulty of pushing it away will be directly proportional to the strength of the springs attached to it. Be sure to inhale as you push the bar away and exhale as you resist the bar coming back. There are several different positions your feet can take; do 10 repetitions in each position.
Other movements may have you reversed – head at the foot bar end and feet pressed up against the shoulder blocks. And that is the beauty of the Reformer – versatility.
While both mat and equipment-based Pilates all work to improve strength, flexibility, coordination, and balance, the result from using either method is flat abs, a strong back, toned buttocks and thighs in return; the Reformer creates a unique set of conditions that cannot be created with mat-based exercises alone.
One of those unique conditions is its ability to work on eccentric muscle contractions – where a muscle lengthens against a force. This is one of the secrets to building long, lean and strong muscles without all of the muscle mass.
If you want to take your Pilates workout up a level or two, consider signing up for an equipment-based class that uses a Reformer, along with other pieces of equipment such as rings, circles and resistance bands. Not only will you see results sooner, but it will add a new dimension of variety to your Pilates workout.