Reformer Pilates: The all-round exercise that can work for everybody

Everything you need to know about reformer Pilates (and no, it’s not just for celebrities).

Reformer Pilates and the machines it’s practised on can seem intimidating. But with studios and gyms teaching it across the UK, is the exercise method worth a try?

A woman being instructed on a reformer Pilates machineCredit: Shutterstock /Julio Ricco

What is reformer Pilates?

The nuts and bolts of Pilates

Reformer Pilates is essentially Pilates performed on a specially designed machine. If you’ve seen the machines, they can look intimidating, especially when they’re lined up in a row at the gym or studio.

But there’s nothing to fear – the reformer machine is little more than a bed-like frame with a platform on it, and is simple and easy to use.

Pilates instructor Rachel Lawrence explains that the reformer was created by the founder of Pilates – Joseph Pilates – for rehabilitation from injury or illness.

“Joseph Pilates invented the reformer when he was interned as a prisoner of war during the First World War,” she says. “He wanted to help other injured or ill inmates, and the only equipment he could find were the metal beds they slept on.”

She adds: “He would take the bed springs off so people could lie on the beds and use them for resistance to help stretch and strengthen their muscles.

“After the war, Pilates moved to New York and went on to develop the reformer machine, which still resembles those bed frames.”

Two women on reformer Pilates machinesCredit: Shutterstock / BearFotos

Benefits of reformer Pilates

Great exercise across the board

In a nutshell, reformer Pilates is a full body workout. The practice combines Pilates exercises, which are normally done on a mat, with the extra resistance provided by the machine.

Devotees say it combines core stabilisation, strength, flexibility, balance and proper alignment with mindfulness, breathing techniques and fluidity of movement. Reformer Pilates has been shown to have a variety of health benefits,  especially as we get older.

  • Tones muscles – reformer Pilates uses resistance and body weight to tone a variety of the major muscle groups
  • Increases flexibility – the exercises combine resistance with dynamic stretching
  • Builds strength – adding resistance through springs to movements on the machine works muscles
  • Improves posture – reformer Pilates includes core strength exercises, and the full body workout can improve your posture
  • Prevents injury – by focusing on posture, flexibility and strength, reformer Pilates can help your balance and guard against some injuries
A woman laughing as she works out on a Pilates reformer machineCredit: Ten Health & Fitness

What is a reformer machine?

One size fits all

The reformer is a frame that is approximately 250cm (8ft long). It is topped with a flat platform, called the carriage, which is on wheels and rolls backwards and forwards. The carriage is attached to one end of the reformer by a set of springs.

At one end of the frame there are shoulder blocks and at the other an adjustable bar – either for your feet or hands. Attached to the top end of the frame are long straps with handles. These can be pulled with the arms or legs, to move the carriage.

The machine is adjustable for body size, level or skill. Your body weight and the adjustable resistance of the springs are what make the exercises easier or more difficult.

Who can do reformer Pilates?

Those who need it most

You might think that reformer Pilates is just for the young and beautiful, after seeing videos on social media of celebrities and influencers – including Lady Gaga, the Kardashians and Harry Styles – using the machines.


harry doing pilates today. he even makes that look attractive. 😭🫢🫡🪩✌🏼 #harrystyles #harryshouse #loveontour #hslot

♬ sure thing – sky 🔭

Lawrence says the reformer was developed for rehabilitation. “So it is great for those who have had hip or knee replacement operations, ACL [anterior cruciate ligament] reconstructive surgery to the knee, or anything that needs careful and gentle exercise. You just have to make sure you find the right instructor for you.

“It’s also useful for people who struggle to get down to the ground onto a mat, as the springs make it very low impact and it doesn’t jar the body,” she says.

“Don’t let the social media videos put you off! The people who are least likely to do reformer Pilates are probably the ones who need it the most. I love the reformer, it’s a really useful workout for everyone, whatever their fitness levels and age.”


How to find a reformer Pilates class

All stages and ages

You can find instructors with reformer machines across the UK. Google searches and social media are a great starting point.

In London, Ten Health & Fitness has 11 reformer Pilates studios across the capital. The centres aren’t just for fitness but for rehabilitation too, and they have physiotherapists and medically trained instructors in their teams.

Ten’s head of brand, Justin Rogers, says it’s advisable for anyone starting out in reformer or mat Pilates to attend a few group classes or one-to-one sessions to ensure they are doing the exercises correctly.

Three women taking part in a reformer Pilates classCredit: Ten Health & Fitness

He says: “The beginners’ classes are all about the basics, about getting people comfortable on the reformer, making sure they are safe and are getting the techniques right.

“Sometimes just a small change will make a big difference to which muscles you’re working – a trained instructor will adjust your position manually to ensure you are performing each exercise as effectively and safely as possible.

“Reformer Pilates is for everyone. We have people of all ages – literally from 18 to 80 – attending our classes. You can use it for corrective exercise, you can use it to get back to exercise after injury or illness, and you can use it for extremely functional exercise. I would think of it as a horizontal multi gym that can give you a great workout in a short space of time.”

First person experience

I tried a reformer Pilates class

I went to Ten King’s Cross and joined one of its beginners’ reformer Pilates classes.

I felt quite confident, as I do a weekly mat Pilates class. But when I saw the reformer machines lined up in the studio, that confidence vanished.

Instructor Jeanna talked me through all the basics, including how to use the different coloured springs and how to avoid getting tangled up in the straps.

Then it was off into some simple exercises. Anyone who does mat Pilates will recognise the moves involved, but the machine adds an extra dimension, and to start with I felt as if I was trying to rub my belly and pat my head at the same time. But as the class went on, I got more coordinated, and the machine didn’t feel intimidating any more – in fact I started to enjoy myself.

A woman on a reformer Pilates machineCredit:

The others in the group were all regulars and a mixture of women and men – there wasn’t an influencer to be seen. The moves seemed very simple, but I could feel my muscles starting to shake with the effort.

There’s a mindfulness element to it as well, as you need to focus on doing the exercises correctly. I wasn’t sweaty by the end, but I knew that I’d worked hard. Two days later I could really feel it in my arms, legs and core muscles.

So would I go again? Yes, definitely. After steering clear of reformer machines for years, I finally understand why they are so popular. It’s a great workout for any ability and any age, and now I’m going to be making it a regular habit.

If you want to improve your muscle tone, flexibility and balance, then you should consider giving it a go too.

Phillipa Cherryson

Written by Phillipa Cherryson she/her


Phillipa Cherryson is a senior editor for Saga Exceptional. Phillipa has been a journalist for 30 years, writing for local and national newspapers, UK magazines and reporting onscreen for ITV.

Her passion is outdoor fitness. She’s a trainee mountain leader; an Ordnance Survey Champion; she organises walks and instructional events for South Wales members of online community the Adventure Queens and she’s vice chair of the Bannau Brycheiniog National Park Local Access Forum.

She hated sports at school and only started getting the fitness bug as she reached her 50s. Now she loves mountain walking, trail runs, e-biking, paddleboarding and climbing. She also loves cake.

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