What is a Pilates machine and how do you use one?

The Rise of Pilates

If it feels like everyone is talking about Pilates these days, it’s probably because they are.

The low-impact exercise method has been around in the United States since German-born founder Joseph Pilates emigrated here in the 1920s, but interest in the practice has recently increased.

That may be due, at least in part, to technology. In the past, Pilates classes were taught in a studio, mainly in the big cities.

Now many great home fitness apps list Pilates as one of their offerings. So you can take a Pilates class in your living room, or wherever you are.

All you need for a great workout is a floor mat.

If you’ve practiced mat-based Pilates at home or in a studio, you may be ready to graduate on a Pilates reformer, otherwise known as a Pilates machine.

The large, menacing machine is often what makes Pilates so intimidating. But the Pilates reformer is actually a very practical piece of equipment, and it’s easy to understand once you learn how to use it.

You’ll need to take a class at a Pilates studio to learn how to use the reformer, but before you do, it helps to have a general understanding of the device and how it works. Keep reading to learn all about this handy training tool.

What is Pilates?

“Pilates is a form of exercise that focuses on both physical and mental conditioning,” says Davina Wong, chief instructor at Club Pilates in Los Angeles.

During Pilates, you don’t just focus on the movement movements. You will also pay attention to your breathing and how your body is aligned.

“Throughout the class, you’ll be guided through your breathing and given specific instructions on shape and alignment, leaving you very little room to wander and think about your to-do list for the rest of the day,” says Amanda Jenny. , Pilates expert and founding instructor with virtual fitness community Bande. “Being present, turning inward and connecting with your body is what Pilates is all about.”

Pilates exercises are meant to be done slowly and in a very controlled manner. This is so you can really focus on which muscles you are working out and perform movements with proper form. Again, moving mindfully and deliberately is key.

There’s a chance you’ve already done some classic Pilates exercises without realizing it. If you’ve ever done a roll-up, leg circles, single-leg, or spine stretch, you’ve done a Pilates move.

Benefits of Pilates

There are many benefits of Pilates. The low-impact system of movements improves your strength, flexibility, coordination and balance, while also reducing stress and improving mental focus, Wong says.

The mental health benefit comes from the fact that deep and intentional breathing with your movements is an important part of the training method.

“Emphasizing breath and mindful thinking can help reduce stress and improve concentration,” says Jenny.

Pilates is truly a total body workout, with moves to target your upper body, lower body and your core. “Most Pilates exercises work multiple muscle groups at once in a smooth continuous motion,” says Jenny.

The practice is beneficial in itself, but it can also equip you to perform other activities better.

“Pilates is for anyone who wants to improve their performance during their sport or training,” says Jenny. “A stronger core, greater flexibility and improved body awareness will not only help you perform basic daily activities, but they can improve your golf game or even help you run faster.”

A stronger and balanced body can also help you avoid injuries.

The Pilates Reformer

When Joseph Pilates created his movement system in the 1920s, he invented a device that eventually became today’s Pilates reformer. The goal: to address physical dysfunction and injuries and to condition the body.

The Pilates reformer is a large fitness device that looks like a bed frame. It may look complicated, but once you understand the parts and how to use them, it’s easier to pick up the exercises.

The device consists of a few important elements:

  • Carriage: This is a flat, moving surface that slides along the frame of the machine on wheels. It is the part of the device on which you sit, stand, kneel or lie down.
  • feathers: The carriage is attached at one end to several springs, which vary in weight.
  • football: At the end of the reformer that contains springs is the adjustable foot bar. This is where you rest your feet or hands.
  • Belts: At the end opposite the foot bar you will find straps with which your hands and feet can do different exercises.

There are many different ways to do Pilates exercises on the reformer, but ultimately they all require you to control the carriage and work against the resistance of the springs.

“Most exercises are designed to push or pull the springs, or keep the tension of the springs and carriage still as you perform a movement,” says Jenny.

While you can do the same Pilates exercises on the mat and on the reformer, the reformer makes for a more versatile experience and offers endless ways to mix it up.

“The resistance created by the springs makes for a more challenging strength and endurance workout,” says Jenny. “The versatility of the equipment ensures that students never reach a plateau, as there are always ways to make an exercise more challenging.”

(Check out these 11 other Pilates equipment that will help turn things around.)

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How to use a Pilates reformer machine?

Chances are you won’t come across a Pilates reformer in your regular gym. They can usually only be found in Pilates studios or other specialty boutique fitness studios that offer Pilates-style classes.

Reformers aren’t just for experienced Pilates practitioners — there are plenty of beginner classes that will get you on the machine. But it’s important to always work with a certified and experienced Pilates instructor when using a reformer for the first time.

They can teach you how to set the springs and help you get a feel for different resistance levels. A little supervision as you become familiar with new equipment and how your body moves on it is the best way to avoid injury.

For some background, here’s an overview of the different parts of a reformer and how the machine works.

Adjust the springs

A Pilates reformer’s feathers will have specific colors that represent different tensions — usually light, full (normal), and heavy, Wong says. “There can be all kinds of combinations, depending on the brand [of reformer you’re using],” she says.

While it may seem like using a heavier spring will always make the movement harder, that’s not necessarily the case.

“You’d be surprised to learn that some of the most challenging moves are performed with the lightest spring load,” says Jenny. “Of course it depends on what the exercise is, but for the most part it’s because the springs essentially support you and help you move the carriage.”

The less weight you help with a movement, the less support you get. Basically, a lighter spring means your muscles have to do more work to keep you stable and in the right position as you move.

Move the straps

“The tires are connected to the carriage and the carriage is connected to the springs,” says Jenny. “So if you move the tires, the carriage moves too.”

Depending on which movements you make, put your hands or feet in the straps.

Because the tires are connected to the cart, moving them means you’re constantly resisting the springs, says Jenny.

Where can you find a Pilates reformer?

You can buy a home reformer, but that’s only a good idea if you’ve used one in a Pilates studio. To start with, the device is a very large investment. If you’re not sure if you’ll be practicing Pilates regularly, it’s probably not worth the splurge.

If you’re interested in trying a Pilates reformer, it’s best to find a studio near you and drop by for a few sessions to get acquainted with the machine.

Jenny recommends taking a few mat Pilates classes before your first reformer class.

“The equipment can be intimidating to newbies, so it’s best to know the Pilates principles and how to control your body during an exercise before you also have to worry about controlling a moving surface beneath you. “, she says.

If you decide to take a reformer class first, let your instructor know that you’re new to Pilates. “They can give you a machine demo and keep a close eye on you in class,” explains Jenny.

No idea where to find a Pilates studio? Try the Pilates Near You app, which helps you find Pilates studios near you. MindBody is another great resource for finding studios nearby.

However, you may not be able to find all the local studios, so you can also do a Google search to see what’s available. Better yet, ask around your community for personalized recommendations.

If you want to try a few mat Pilates classes at home to get acquainted with the fitness method in general, Alo Moves, FitOn, Peloton, and Glo are all great home fitness apps that offer Pilates classes.

Next, check out these Pilates chairs, which you can use at home for a better workout.

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