Pilates Reformer Beds and How to Choose One
I first did Pilates years ago, when I got a nasty neck injury. Ask any professional dancer and they will tell you, if they are injured and can't dance, they will turn to Pilates to keep "dance fit" - so that's what I did. I was able to exercise all my muscles on the Reformer bed, with my neck safely cradled, and was subsequently able to go back to dancing with no loss of strength.
Fast forward to today, and I've just arrived home after a year in England. For various reasons, I didn't do any dancing during my visit, in fact I didn't get much chance to exercise - and I ate too much English food! So on my return, I felt horribly flabby.
I've only been doing Pilates for two weeks. I haven't measured myself but already I can see a difference in the mirror - my tummy is more lifted and the flab is tightening back into shape. I can feel it too - everything feels more "zipped up" and I'm standing taller. However, before you head off to the gym you should know: I'm not doing floor exercises!
Real Pilates isn't done on the floor, it's done on a bed
People think Pilates is mainly floor exercises, because "Mat Pilates" is what is most taught in gyms. In fact, it's a second-best alternative for when you can't use the proper equipment, in much the same way that someone who normally does weight-training will do push-ups and squats when they're on vacation.
The proper equipment for Pilates is the Reformer bed. It's the core of the entire Pilates system. Without it, you can't get the full benefits. It's the secret to how Pilates creates those smooth toned muscles.
Few gyms have enough space for Reformers so it's hard to find Reformer classes. Luckily, these days it's possible to buy an affordable version for home use.
On the Reformer, you'll do many of the same exercises as on the mat, but against resistance. Instead of metal weights, the reformer uses springs and your body weight to create dynamic resistance. Add Pilates technique, and you get strength - but with long, lean muscles instead of bulk. That's why so many dancers use Pilates - they want a sleek elegant line to their bodies, not bulging muscles.
Why Don't Gyms Have Reformers?
As I've said, there are two reasons why Mat Pilates has become the norm, even though it's less effective - cost and space. A heavy duty, commercial-grade Pilates reformer costs several thousand dollars, so even specialist studios may have only two or three machines. And they take up space - a full-size reformer is over 8 foot long! Few gyms have room to leave Pilates machines permanently on the floor, and traditional reformers aren't easy to set up and dismantle.
So, when Pilates first became popular in the 90's, gyms opted for the next best thing - matwork. You can't get much resistance in matwork, so the benefits are far more limited than a full reformer-based Pilates workout. You can still strengthen your core but only if you do the moves with the utmost precision and concentration.
Now you understand the importance of training on the reformer bed, the next question is - how?
Correct technique in Pilates is super-important. You may have heard weight trainers talk about the important of "form" - it's even more crucial in Pilates. So hopping on your Reformer and watching a DVD or online class won't do the trick.
I recommend you have at least one private lesson with a Pilates instructor. And I don't mean with an instructor at your local gym - I mean at a proper Pilates studio which has its own Reformer beds. If you're not used to being aware of your muscles, you may need two or three classes to get the idea. Unfortunately studios are usually more expensive than a regular health club, but it will mean that when you get back home, you'll be doing the exercises so effectively that it will more than pay off in the results you get.
Buying a Reformer
I've given my recommendation for a Pilates bed already, but of course you'll need to buy one that meets your own needs.
You can pay up to $4,000 for a home Pilates bed. The more expensive models often have an attractive wood frame, so if you've got a home gym and can have the bed set up permanently, that might be appealing.
If you're going to have to pack your reformer away between workouts - which most people will - you'll need a lighter weight reformer. The AeroPliates model fits that bill, but If that's still too expensive, be very careful when looking in the cheaper price ranges: "lightweight" can often mean "flimsy"! You're going to be putting your whole weight on it, so you want to be certain it's well-engineered. Also make sure it's suitable for your height - "compact" models may be made with a shorter platform, and if you're tall you won't be able to do a lot of the exercises.
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