Let's look at the Pilates reformer, what it is, what it does, and what the springs mean. I also share what you can expect in a reformer Pilates class if you are feeling a little hesitant about taking the leap and trying one. Tune in!
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[00:00:00] Hello and welcome to Pilates Students' Manual, a podcast helping you get the most out of your Pilates classes. I'm Olivia, and I'll be your host. Join the conversation and share your thoughts on Instagram at @pilatesstudentsmanual. You can support the podcast by visiting buymacoffee.com/OliviaPodcasts. Let's learn something new.
[00:00:47] Hello, hello, everybody. Welcome back to the podcast. Today we're talking all about the Pilates reformer, which I have alluded to and discussed a bit in [00:01:00] the episode talking about Pilates equipment, and then last episode also, talking about buying Pilates equipment, kind of talking about the different styles of reformers and different ways they work.
[00:01:12] Today, we're going to be doing a deep dive into the Pilates reformer and talking about the anatomy of the reformer, as well as doing some spring math, which as you will soon find out if you didn't already know, can be unnecessarily complicated. So I'm here to simplify that for you, as well as sharing what happens in a reformer Pilates class. And then also me talking about the reformer that I just purchased. It's new and fresh, and I'm excited about it.
[00:01:44] The reformer is an apparatus that was designed by Joseph Pilates. Kind of a funny story about that coming up a bit later, but the reformer itself is a piece of [00:02:00] equipment that is about nine feet by just, you know, under three feet or 2.7 meters by about a meter roughly. Reformers do come in multiple sizes, but that's like the general idea.
[00:02:15] Studio reformers often have legs that lift them up off the ground about, you know, 14 to 16 inches or, you know, just about a third of a meter off the ground. The reason studio reformers often have legs is because it's easier for more people to get onto the reformer when it's a little bit lifted off of the floor. There are also clinical reformers that are even taller and wider and longer for, just to accommodate more body types and more abilities of getting around in some cases.
[00:02:50] The reformer itself is a moving platform inside a frame. As we talked about last week, it could be an [00:03:00] aluminum frame or it could be a wooden frame, but it's pretty much a big rectangle um, with this little moving platform on the inside.
[00:03:08] There are different things at the different ends of the reformer. One side on the short bit of the rectangle there, has the foot bar, which looks a lot like what straps you into a rollercoaster that bar that when you're sitting down it like comes towards your belly. It's kind of like that. And in some cases we do use it like that, or I have used it like that, but that's the foot bar. We call the end of the reformer that has the foot bar, the front of the reformer.
[00:03:40] The moveable platform is called the carriage and it attaches to the foot bar side of the reformer with springs that hold the platform tight towards the foot bar side. The springs stretch as the carriage moves away from the foot bar. And [00:04:00] then that spring tension helps to pull the carriage back towards the foot bar, to what we call close the carriage, or bring the carriage home, or bring the carriage in. All of those phrases are just about bringing the carriage back to the foot bar.
[00:04:16] The other side of the frame of the reformer, the back end of the reformer has pulleys. And those pulleys have cords or straps that are threaded through them and those cords or straps then attached to the other end of the carriage that's closer to the back of the reformer because they're attached to both the frame of the reformer on the other end and the carriage.
[00:04:41] When you pull the straps that also causes the carriage to move away from the foot bar. And as you gently release the strap the carriage will move back towards the foot bar with the help of that spring tension. The pulleys may be set inside the frame of the [00:05:00] reformers so that they're in line with the frame of the reformer, or they may be on risers, which are posts that lift the straps out of the frame more towards the ceiling. And the risers aren't terribly tall. You can- everything's adjustable on reformers- so you could make them taller shorter, but they might just be like, a foot or so, so maybe like a third of a meter.
[00:05:24] The carriage has a couple other features on it. In addition to the springs that are attaching it to the foot bar side, kind of a fun thing that you can do, actually, if you're in studio, if where you are is open and you can look at a reformer if you don't have one in your house, if you look under the carriage, kind of like a mechanic, and take a peek at what's under the hood. It's pretty much just a metal plate that, you know, the springs have hooks on one end that attached them to this metal plate under the reformer. And then the hooks that attach the springs [00:06:00] to the frame of the reformer that we use to adjust the spring tension is where they attach on the other side. It kind of is mysterious until you look and then you're like, oh, that's just literally a hook right there. Yep. Yep. Yes.
[00:06:14] So in addition to the springs and the straps that are attached to the carriage as well, kind of what these little pin ball, windshield wiper things that allow you to adjust the length of the straps, right beside those strap attachment points in the carriage are shoulder blocks, which kind of stick out. They're little foam bricks that when you're lying down on the carriage with your feet on the foot bar, your shoulders will nestle into them. So we call them shoulder blocks. I've also heard them called shoulder stops. That's another fun thing about Pilates. We have lots of names for the same thing.
[00:06:50] In between the shoulder blocks is your headrest, which is where your head will rest when you're lying down in that position with your feet on the footbar, [00:07:00] back on the carriage, head on the headrest, shoulders tucked in right there in the shoulder blocks. The head rest is often adjustable. It can be lifted up or down at an angle, which allows your head to be slightly elevated, which may or may not be more comfortable for your neck. So that's the anatomy of the reformer. Those are all the pieces of our friend, the reformer.
[00:07:21] Um, now let's talk about Springs because every different brand of reformer uses different colors or no colors for their springs. If you're going to Pilates classes at a studio, you may already know what the general spring resistances are because you've worked on that machine before. Or if you have a reformer at your house, you may be very familiar with what the spring resistances are. Something that I think is important to know is that it's less important to memorize the spring colors and more important to know [00:08:00] what that spring tension is roughly equivalent to.
[00:08:04] So there's four different types of spring tension.
[00:08:07] The most common spring is a full or standard spring. Which is the equivalent to a one in terms of resistance. When we're doing our math, we're keeping it simple. We'll call a full or standard spring a one. Then you have a medium spring that has half of the resistance of a full or standard spring. So we call that a medium, or we call it a half spring. There's also a quarter spring, may be called a light spring, which is half of a half spring, that's math for you. And then we have a heavy spring, which is about a one and a quarter, and that might be a heavy spring.
[00:08:52] So depending on the machine that you're using, the heavy spring might be green. It might be red. It might be blue. You may not [00:09:00] have a heavy spring. If you're on a classical reformer, you have four standard springs. They don't have colors. They all have the same resistance. And it's just playing with whole numbers. Some reformers have elastic cords that have a little bit less resistance. And so you may have something like five half springs or the equivalent of five medium springs, which you can still definitely do all of the exercises with, but. You know, it could be set up like that.
[00:09:32] The reformer that I have has three full springs, a medium spring and a light spring. I know that Stott reformers come with a heavy spring in addition to standard springs, I want to say they have three standard, one heavy, one medium or something like that. You can also buy additional springs, so I'm definitely [00:10:00] considering getting some heavy springs to play with as I get stronger. I want to have a little bit more resistance on some exercises.
[00:10:09] But if you're like, wow, Olivia, that sounds really complicated. Why is that? The answer is yes, it is very complicated and I'm not sure. I don't know why we don't have standardized spring situations, but the heavy, full, medium, light is standard. I think at least in my teacher training, I just learned the colors of the Springs instead of what the resistance is. I mean, I knew what the resistance is are, but I never personally made the connection that was like, oh, a red spring is a standard spring. So if I was telling someone to do this exercise and they weren't on the same brand of equipment, you know, I would tell them to use a standard or a full spring.
[00:10:55] Um, so that's something that I'm just recently adapting to because the teacher training that I'm doing [00:11:00] with Breathe Education has people with all different types of reformers. Some are former brands that I have never even heard of. So if I told someone, you know, Hey, let's try this on a red spring, that would not be super useful to them if they didn't have a red spring or red was a different kind of resistance.
[00:11:20] Coming up after the break, I will share with you that funny story about Joseph Pilates and his reformer, as well as talk about what you can expect from reformer classes. And I've already been sharing about my reformer, but I'll probably keep doing that. That's coming up next.
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[00:12:40] So, funny story about Joe's reformer. Um, and this is something I learned from Pilates any time, there's an interview with Ken Endelman, who is the owner of Balanced Body equipment. And he did a lot of research on Joseph [00:13:00] Pilates' patents and the equipment that he designed. So Joe's original reformer plan when the patent was filed, didn't have springs. Instead it relied on a counterweight system, which is how theaters, like live theater places, bring heavy pieces of scenery and drops in and out.
[00:13:26] So basically if there's a piece of scenery that weighs 600 pounds, or I don't know, like 300 something kilograms and they wanted to lift it from the stage up into the ceiling so that it was no longer visible on stage, they would put an equivalent amount of weight attached to that piece of scenery via pulleys, like in the side of the stage, in the wings. And then one or two people would be able to pull a rope and because the [00:14:00] weight was countering the weight of the scenery. They would be able to lift and lower that piece. Now that's also why theaters have a ton of fly space, which is that space above the stage that the audience can't see, usually that fly space is three times as tall as the stage so that they can hide, you know, set pieces up there.
[00:14:21] So how would that work for a piece of exercise equipment? Well, in the original plan, the reformer would be on a, like two story tall platform that had, you know, a bunch of weight attached to police that was like down on the ground. And then the teacher and the student would like climb up onto this platform. The student would lie down on the reformer and the teacher would teach them Pilates while standing, um, you know, way up there on that platform. So really glad that we decided to use springs instead of climbing a two-story platform, um all the time, because I don't know, I'm a little iffy on heights and that [00:15:00] just sounds like a lot. So really nice that we decided to use springs as a resistance instead of that counterweight system. Great for theater, less great for Pilates.
[00:15:11] The other thing I wanted to share is what to expect in your reformer classes, because if you have done mat Pilates and you've been, you may be doing it at a gym, or maybe you've been doing it at a studio and the reformer has been a little bit intimidating. I just wanted to share a little bit about what you can expect from classes on the reformer.
[00:15:36] So first thing to expect is that you are going to be using the reformer, which is really exciting because for the vast majority of us, we don't have a reformer just lying around that we'll be able to work with. So it can be really fun to play with this, you know, expensive and hefty, and you don't have to worry about storing it when it's in the studio. You can just visit, use it and then, uh, leave it [00:16:00] behind.
[00:16:01] If you've never been on a reformer before, it's definitely a different way of moving and exercising. So you may get the feeling when you're just starting that your movements feel kind of clunky or jerky, or they're not smooth. And I kind of want you to lean into that because the only way you get more smooth is by practicing and by starting in that clunky place. So really embrace the clunkiness and keep at it. And honestly, before you know, it, it'll start to get into your body. You'll be able to move with a lot more control, but it's definitely a practice, practice, practice situation.
[00:16:46] I think you should also expect it to be a little bit weird because it is weird. You're lying down, your feet are in straps. Your hands are in straps. Your feet are on a foot bar. This is moving. There's springs. Like it's strange. It's objectively really strange. And I [00:17:00] feel like in the Pilates community, we're like, no, it's totally normal. But like, honestly, it's really weird. If you just accept that, like your body is going to be in like kind of a weird funky position and we're going to do this weird funky little movement. Yeah, just acknowledging that and kind of bringing a sense of adventure and like a willingness to try things, um, knowing that your teachers looking out for you and that you're safe as you're moving. I think that'll help as well.
[00:17:31] You're going to be challenged and supported by the springs. Something that I've seen with beginners is they want it to be harder. So they want to put more springs on for some exercises. Sometimes the springs are helping you, so having more springs is actually easier. And sometimes you're working against the springs. In which case, having more springs would be more challenging, but also know that depending on the exercises, like not every [00:18:00] exercise is going to be done with maximum spring resistance. The goal isn't to be able to do every exercise with all the springs on. Like the springs are doing different things for us in different exercises. So try not to be too much in your head or too much in your ego about, you know, what spring setting you're on, because that is super changeable and will change as you get stronger, as you get more comfortable and confident with the exercises, things like that.
[00:18:30] And the last thing I'd say to expect when you're going to be in a reformer class is. That you're going to be putting your body in lots of different positions, so wear comfortable clothes, but also know that you might be lying on your back with your feet straight towards the ceiling. And if you're wearing really loose pants, they'll fall towards your groin. Just be aware of that. [00:19:00] I know that instead of basketball shorts, sometimes people wear, they'll wear shorts, but then they'll wear tights underneath. You might wear choose to wear leggings. You might choose to wear something that isn't a legging, but isn't quite as loose. Maybe it's like a jogger so there's some elastic at your ankle so that your pants don't fall.
[00:19:20] And the reason I bring that up is because the most comfortable clothes in the world may not be comfortable if you're like, oh my gosh, you know my, now my underwear are visible. Like that's not- that doesn't make me feel super comfortable. So just know that same thing with loose shirts, not saying you have to wear a super tight tank top or a super tight shirt, but just know that your body's going to be in shapes. And if you were to do a forward fold and your t-shirt kind of fell towards your shoulder, That you know, that might also happen. So I want you to be comfortable and also know that your body is going to be, uh, in all those positions as well. [00:20:00]
[00:20:00] I am absolutely loving the Metro IQ reformer that I have from Balanced Body. I'm calling it a little baby reformer. So it sits right on the ground. It has the same springs as an Allegro or a Studio Reformer if you've ever worked on those Balanced Body pieces of equipment. Um, so it has three standard springs, a medium, and a light, and I'm probably going to get a heavy spring as well, just to mix it up. But I am absolutely loving the fact that I can just walk into my room and do my reformer adventure.
[00:20:35] So if you're interested in going down the reformer purchasing rabbit hole, the previous episode was talking about buying a Pilates equipment, reformer included. But I, I knew I was going to love it, and I'm just really happy that I have it to play with. So more to come on that.
[00:20:52] Really big thank you to all of my supporters on Buy Me a Coffee and really, really big thank you to members who have [00:21:00] chosen to make a recurring donation to the project. I appreciate your contribution so much. It's so nice to see you on zoom and hear what you're up to. And hopefully answer some of your questions about Pilates as well. You're always welcome to schedule that zoom chat with me um, once you're a supporter of the podcast. Look forward to seeing you always. I hope you have a great week and I'll talk to you again.
[00:21:35] Thanks for tuning in to this week's episode of Pilates Students' Manual, a podcast helping you get the most out of your Pilates classes. Be sure to check out the podcast Instagram at @pilatesstudentsmanual and subscribe wherever you're listening. Interested in teaching Pilates too? Check out Pilates Teachers' Manual, available everywhere you listen to podcasts. I hope to see you [00:22:00] next episode. Until next time.