I tried reformer Pilates for the first time and it was harder than weightlifting

 Woman doing reformer Pilates.
Woman doing reformer Pilates.
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Reformer Pilates is nothing new but, as of lately, I feel like it’s been having a bit of a resurgence. Maybe it’s because celebs, such as Adele and Margot Robbie are avid fans, but I’m sure it’s down to the wealth of benefits it promises (a stronger core and increased mobility to name a few).

As someone who’s been doing weightlifting religiously for the past four years, reformer Pilates has never really entered my line of training. But when a new reformer studio opened just 10 minutes from my home I thought this must be a sign. So, I packed my gym bag and headed down the road for my first-ever reformer pilates class, almost pretty certain it would be a breeze. Let’s just say I was eating my words afterwards…

What is reformer Pilates?

T3 Active Writer doing reformer pilates
T3 Active Writer doing reformer pilates

“Reformer Pilates is like mat Pilates x100,” says Matilda Jones, founder and instructor at Core and Co Reformer Pilates Studio. The main difference is that reformer Pilates is performed on a pice of equipment, called a reformer. “The Reformer, is a high-spec piece of specialist equipment; a modern-day adaptation of a WW2 hospital bed, where Joseph Pilates would rehabilitate prisoners using pulleys, strings and weight,” Matilda says.

The reformer has evolved since then. Now, its equipped with a system of technical springs to add resistance to the Pilates exercises. It’s also equipped with a bar and platform at the front of it, so that you can perform additional exercises. Overall, it’s a lot more dynamic and intense than mat Pilates.

What are the benefits of reformer Pilates?

Pilates, in general, is fantastic for building deep core strength, improving mobility, posture, flexibility and strengthing your muscles. But the Reformer takes things to the next level.

“The resistance works into the small muscles, leading to a long, lean, strong dancer’s physique,” Matilda explains. “Through conscious core-engagement and breath work technique, we activate our muscles in a mindful practise that gets results. Also, you need to concentrate, so it’s fantastic for decreasing stress and anxiety and helping focus.”

‘Does Pilates help you lose weight?’ is a common question people ask and Matilda says the answer is complicated. This is because weight-loss doesn’t just come down to exercise, but is a combination of healthy eating, strength training and cardiovascular activity. Reformer Pilates can therefore be part of this routine, as it raises your heart rate helping you burn calories, but you need to look into other areas of your life too.

In terms of hypertrophy (increasing the actual size of your muscles) reformer Pilates won’t provide the same results that weight training will. This is because you need to overload your muscles, creating microtears, so that they can repair themselves and grow back bigger. It is good for muscle endurance though.

My experience

T3's Active Writer doing reformer Pilates
T3's Active Writer doing reformer Pilates

I’ll be honest, I felt a little cheated when I first walked into the Co and Core Pilates Studio in Nailsworth. There were candles lit, music softly playing in the background a big chandelier hanging from the ceiling, the atmosphere was pure relaxation and I’d been lured right in. I think that’s the instructor’s aim though, because my lesson wasn’t as relaxing, it burnt like a b*tch.

Before we jumped into the workout, we started with a warm-up, stretching out our hamstrings with a Pilates ring and our glutes by doing single leg extensions, pushing our body away from the bar, then back again. “Now pulse!” ordered Matilda. Christ, I don’t think my quads or glutes have ever burnt so much. This is honestly harder than weightlifting, I thought, I couldn't believe it was just the warm-up!

Co and Core Pilates studio
Co and Core Pilates studio

We then moved into some core work. This was the part I was most looking forward to because I was aware of how great Pilates is for building a solid core and I knew it would be super beneficial for my other training. We popped our feet into the straps and then crunched up…and kept crunching… “Now give me pulsing crunches” said Matilda. Those dreaded pulses annihilated my midsection and left it feeling like a stone slab.

What made everything harder is that you also have to be aware of your breathing. Matilda would constantly be reminding us “BREATHE” and it’s a good thing too, because there are times I forgot. We also did some lower body work, but what challenged me the most were the upper body exercises. We sat on our box on the reformer, popped our hands into the straps and slowly lifted our arms forwards, then lowered them again, moving the reformer chair back and forth.

By the end of the class I had a whole new appreciation for reformer Pilates and the people who do it on the regular. It’s not easy, it’s not the same as weightlifting (in the slightest) and it’s crazy how the movements are so simple and low-impact, but burn so much. Each movement you do is controlled, it's quality over quantity and it’s a great opportunity for some decent mind-muscle connection. I was also fascinated by how many exercises we performed on the reformer and that you can literally work your entire body on it.

Moral of the story: don't underestimate the power of reformer Pilates.