There is probably no piece of Pilates equipment more famous than the Pilates reformer. The reformer makes a dramatic impression when you first see one, and an even more dramatic change in the body when you use it. Reformer classes are usually one of the main choices at Pilates studios. And portable reformers continue to grow as a home exercise equipment trend.
Pilates founder Joseph Pilates, the reformer is a bed-like frame with a flat platform on it, called the carriage, which rolls back and forth on wheels within the frame. The carriage is attached to one end of the reformer by a set of springs. The springs provide choices of differing levels of resistance as the carriage is pushed or pulled along the frame. The carriage has shoulder blocks on it that keeps your alignment and the practitioner from sliding off the end of the reformer as they push or pull the carriage.
At the spring end of the reformer there is an adjustable bar called a footbar. The footbar can be used by the feet or hands as a practitioner moves the carriage. The reformer also has long straps with handles on them that are attached to the top end of the frame. They can be pulled with legs or arms to move the carriage for different exercises.
Body weight and resistance of the springs are what make the carriage more or less difficult to move. The beauty of the reformer is that parts are adjustable for differing body sizes and for differing levels of skill.
One of the best things about the reformer is its versatility. Exercises can be done lying down, sitting, standing, pulling the straps, pushing the footbar, perched on the footbar, perched on the shoulder blocks, with additional equipment, upside down, sideways and all kinds of variations thereof. In other words, the reformer can train many parts and dynamics of the body in so many different ways with just one relatively sleek piece of equipment.
All kinds of exercises are done on the reformer to promote length, strength, flexibility, and balance. Most Pilates reformer exercises have to do with pushing or pulling the carriage, or holding the carriage steady during an exercise as it is pulled on by the springs. My image above shows an example of an advanced backbend exercise on the reformer. There are many, many reformer exercises, including those for first-time beginners to exercises that challenge the most advanced practitioners.