Body & Fitness

Why you need to be doing reformer pilates if you want to tone your body

Cameron Diaz, Miranda Kerr and Kate Hudson are fans of the workout.
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Public service announcement: here at Now To Love we think we’ve found a workout that is a.) bearable during winter, b.) great for toning and weight loss and c.) actually fun and enjoyable, which is no small feat when it comes to pushing your body to its limits.

It’s called reformer pilates, and it’s a lot of (hard) fun. Reformer pilates has actually been around overseas for quite a while (there’s now even a newer, more brutal cousin-of-sorts to reformer pilates, the Megaformer, which Meghan Markle is a fan of), but the workout is still relatively new in New Zealand.

Despite the introduction of the Megaformer, reformer pilates is adored by many high-profile celebrities – celebrities with stupidly toned bodies. Think: Cameron Diaz, Kate Hudson and Miranda Kerr.

If the thought of a Diaz-esque body tickles your fancy (who doesn’t want those abs?), you might want to take up reformer pilates. But just what is reformer pilates and how does it differ to mat work pilates? We take a closer look.

What is reformer pilates?

A reformer machine kind of looks like a rowing machine, but rather than a small seat, there’s a bigger, cushioned space for you to lie down – this is called the ‘carriage’. Instead of pulling your weight forward with a handle à la a rowing machine, there are weighted arm straps that can be pulled – this helps you move the carriage backwards and forwards.

The carriage is connected to weighted springs which provide resistance, and you can remove and add weight depending on your strength and abilities. It does look like a torturous contraption, but the machine can be used in many different ways to provide some killer workouts (pun intended).

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Claire Mitchell, owner and instructor at Studio Pilates in Takapuna, explains that while the reformer may look a bit scary, it provides quicker results than mat work pilates.

“Mat work Pilates relies on body weight resistance, where as reformer adds spring resistance to tone and strengthen muscles. Results tend to show sooner with reformer spring resistance weight than with mat work.”

The benefits of reformer pilates

Do we need to mention Cameron Diaz’s toned body again here?

In addition to a sculpted and strong body, Claire says reformer pilates has the potential to improve postural issues that result from lifestyle factors.

“Joseph Pilates created the reformer machines to allow people to move organically – the way the body should move. The reformer can help fix the incorrect movement patterns that our bodies have become so used to doing (a byproduct of desk jobs, iPhones). These movement patterns create muscle tightness and movement imbalances. Reformer helps corrects posture, strengthen the core, and builds an all around stronger body,” says Claire.

“You’ll also improve your flexibility, may see weight loss results and develop long, lean muscles. People can expect to see a completely transformed and reshaped body, leaving them feeling stronger, healthier and energised.

But wait, there’s more.

“If you do reformer pilates you are likely to have a healthier life – long term. We see many people who have started with us with long-term chronic lower back or neck pain and it’s been alleviated since starting pilates reformer – a form of exercise that tones and tightens but also keeps your body moving as it should!

Who can do reformer pilates?

If you’re keen to try a class but are wondering if you need to be super fit, don’t worry, anyone can participate – just be sure to inform your instructors of any injuries beforehand.

“There aren’t really any restrictions of who can do it [reformer pilates],” says Claire. “While you certainly need to adapt exercises based on injury, pregnancy, physical limitations etc, the original pilates reformer machine was created by Joseph Pilates by attaching springs to beds so that soldiers could start to tone muscles while still bed-bound.

“You will find a reformer in many physiotherapist clinics because it is a very effective tool used for rehabilitation from injuries, correcting movement imbalances and posture and is a great low-impact form of exercise for many people.”

Now To Love’s health editor tries reformer pilates

In my role as a health editor I’ve gotten to do some pretty fun things: try out yoga nidra classes, test to see whether I could adopt Meghan Markle’s health and exercise routine, having my back worked out by a kinesiologist, to name a few. But one of the best things I’ve done is take my partner to a reformer pilates class.

My partner, let’s call him Richard to protect his privacy, was feeling a bit so-so about our class at the new Studio Pilates in Takapuna. Richard’s preferred method of exercising is something a bit more ‘intense’. At the time he’d just finished a boxing course, so I think he assumed pilates would be an easy workout for him. Wasn’t it just stretching on a mat after all? Nope. I’d tried my hand at reformer pilates several times before so I knew that while it’s very fun, it leaves your muscles sore as anything the next morning – in that ‘wow, I had a really good workout’ kind of way. Like the very sweet girlfriend I am, I was really hoping this class would challenge him and leave him eating humble pie.

So on a cold Thursday night, we head off to a class together. We arrived just on time and bagged two reformers next to each other – you know, so we could laugh at each other as we struggled/tried to hold wind in/engaged in some not-so-elegant positions. After watching the orientation/safety video on the many screens around the brightly-lit space, the workout sequence began. Our instructor Claire got to work correcting our technique and positions (not me, I was perfect – it really helps your confidence if you go to a beginner class and you’ve been a few times already. Pfft, newbies).

I was pleased (‘smug’) when I saw Richard’s eyes light up in surprise at how difficult some of the positions were. The men in the class are required to adjust their springs so their resistance is heavier and more difficult. I’d giggle to myself when Richard would look over to the other man in the class to check to see if he was shaking during some of the workouts, too. He was. Like one of those blown up, dancing inflatable men at a car yard.

The orientation class lasted half an hour, but usually classes are 45 minutes. And, as they always do, the class went incredibly fast. “Is it over already?” Richard asked as Claire was thanking us for coming. That’s the thing about reformer pilates, you’re concentrating so much on correcting the positions, you don’t notice the time flying by – and this is coming from someone who struggles with minute-long planks. I’d highly recommend reformer pilates for anyone struggling with stress, as you’re so focused on what you’re doing you’re incidentally being really mindful. It’s one of the few places my mind manages to switch off.

On the car ride home Richard mentioned how great the class was and asked when we’d be going again, which were pretty much my thoughts after I’d been to my first class (along with ‘ouch, will I be able to walk tomorrow?’).

Richard and I will definitely be back for another class. There’s something so wonderful about a class that makes you smile and gives you a great workout at the same time!

Keen to try a class? Check out Studio Pilates in Takapuna.

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