A back injury drove me to try Pilates in 2007, ten years later I qualified as a Pilates Instructor with Futurefit and I now run group Pilates classes and private studio Pilates sessions in and around my home town of Colchester. I have a special interest in sports and back, shoulder and hip injuries -having studied Orthopaedics for Pilates.
I have a Pilates Reformer in my studio which I have used for about a year now. It's been a great compliment to mat Pilates and so it seemed a natural progression to qualify to teach the Pilates Reformer to some of my clients who might find it difficult to do the Pilates exercises on a mat
I was to find that teaching Reformer Pilates classes was a totally different kettle of fish to teaching mat Pilates classes.
I signed up for a basic Reformer Instructor course for early June and My Pilates Reformer course was lead by Joanne from J Pilates who runs her Pilates teacher training courses from Moss Pilates in central London.
Here is a picture of Jo:
You can see the Reformers in the foreground behind Jo (with me in the mirror taking the picture) and fellow Pilates Instructor in the background. Jo is a wonderful, knowledgeable teacher who made the course fun, interesting and varied.
I have talked much about Joseph Pilates in my previous blogs but for those who don't know mich about him here is a brief history of the man:
Joseph Pilates was born in Monchengladbach in Germany to a large family in 1883. Pilates was a sickly child suffering from asthma, rickets and rheumatic fever and dedicated his entire life to physical fitness. Pilates trained in gymnastics, body building, martial arts and boxing.
Pilates believed that the 'modern' way of life lead to bad posture and inefficient breathing was the root of poor heath.
Pilates moved to England in 1912 where he worked as professional boxer, circus performer, self-defence trainer at Police schools and Scotland Yard. Pilates was interred in Lancaster Castle when the First World War broke out and he continued to teach wrestling and self defence to his fellow German internees. It was here that Pilates refined his mat exercises (which was later to be named 'Contrology') whilst studying Yoga, movement of animals to help train his fellow inmates in fitness.
Pilates was then moved to Knockeloe in the Isle of Man as a hospital orderly where he further developed his 'Method' by helping bed bound patients to exercise their wasted muscles. Pilates was so distressed to see patients wasting away in their hospital beds he knew he needed to help. His knowledge of fitness helped Pilates to help his patients. Pilates started by fixing a system of pulleys and springs to the beds and taught the injured patients how to push or pull with their legs and arms whilst sitting or lying down. It meant that the patients could get stronger and some patients made a full recovery. It was here that the Pilates Reformer was invented.
Here is a Joseph Pilates working with a patient using an adapted bed as a Reformer
Pilates named the adapted hospital beds Reformers because it 'reformed' the patient's wasted muscles so that they could grow stronger and regain their health.
After the war was over Pilates emigrated to New York and founded the first Pilates Studio where he and his new wife Clara taught their method of 'Contrology' (using the mind to control the muscles) to help injured dancers and circus performers. Pilates focused the body's core postural muscles to provide balance and support the spine as well as the awareness of breath, alignment of the spine and to strengthen the deep torso and abdominal muscles.
Pilates used the Reformer beds in his studio to help his clients as shown in this old black and white picture:
As you can see the Pilates Reformer of today has come all long way from the Reformers that Pilates used in his New York studios of the 1960's but the Pilates exercises can still be used in the way that Joseph Pilates intended.
THE PILATES REFORMER COURSE
THE FIRST DAY
It was a Saturday, a beautiful sunny day in London and even hotter inside the studio!
There was a buzz where everyone was introducing themselves, whilst gingerly stepping over Reformer machines and picking a spot to sit down on the floor. We all got into groups and I was paired with the only man on the course called Terry and we got on very well from the start.
Jo started off with a brief history of Pilates and then we are shown the various parts of the Reformer - Springs, Gear bar, Carriage stopper, Foot bar and Head rest.
OUR FIRST REFORMER CLASS WITH JO
There was fifteen of us in the group and only ten reformers so we did half a class each. I started first and we did a class working the feet, ankles, legs and hips and I was quite relieve to let my partner Terry do the second half. I really enjoyed the class and was a bit surprised to find that it was only a beginner's class!
THE COURSE BEGINS!
FOOTWORK ON THE BAR
We started off lying on our backs on the bed of the reformer with our legs bent at 90 degrees and just practiced moving the carriage up and down the bed. Then we put our feet up on the foot bar for the next few exercises. The foot bar can be adjusted up or down to suit different exercises.
Terry and me then took it in turns to teach each other various moves just using the foot bar - foot raises, walking, single leg with heels on the bar and single leg with toes on the bar. You would think it would be quite simple just to lie on a bed with your feet up on a bar wouldn't you? No! It is here that you realise just how much your body can get out of alignment and you just don't realise.
Terry was constantly reminding me to keep my knees in line with my cheeks (face not bum!), not to lift my bottom when bringing the carriage backwards and forwards and to work to keep my back into the bed. Terry was very patient and an excellent Pilates teacher (having been taught by Jo). It was great for me to get some teaching experience too although Terry was well used to using Reformers because his partner ran a Pilates Studio nearby so there wasn't much that I could teach him!
I have been doing Pilates for years and the sheer effort of keeping my hips still, bottom flat to the bed whilst moving the carriage up and down was challenging. Even though I have been using my reformer in my studio - being taught correctly by another Instructor makes a big difference to technique.
THE STRAPS - THE FEET
Along the side of the reformer are two straps which are large and small - the small ones are for the hands and the larger for the feet. Jo reminded us to keep the torso anchored, avoid hip disassociation and try to become part of the reformer.
We started off by lying on the bed of the reformer with our feet in the straps (as shown in the first picture) and our hands down the side of the body. Jo told us to lift our feet up in the straps to create 'frog legs' by bending our knees and bringing the heels in at a 45 degree angle and pushing the feet out straight. We were reminded to keep the rib cage flat whilst trying the 'swimming frog' which was the frog but now bringing the straps around in a circle. I thought that this was a great move for flexibility and mobility for the knees, hips and ankles. Next we tried feet in the straps with straight legs, with wide legs and arms straight, straps around the thighs circling all of the time keeping the bottom on the bed, hips stable and spine stable. Hard work!
Jo told us to keep our 'tail bone' heavy and try to keep the carriage still - easier said than done!
THE STRAPS - ARMS
Next we tried sitting up on the bed holding the smaller straps doing the Pilates exercise called the Roll Down:
THE ROLL DOWN SEATED ON THE BOX
Here is a the class doing the Roll Down but with the added challenging of being seated on the 'Top Box' - more about that later.
Jo reminded us about the 'C' curve - creating a 'c' shape using the hips and ribs (as you can see the above picture) so that the spine is moving the carriage up and down and not the legs or feet.
Then we tried Rolling Down and rowing the straps held high which is a great move to strengthen the shoulders, upper arms and back. Jo then had us kneeling on the bed pulling the straps to the sides of our bodies, whilst trying to keep the carriage still - no mean feat! I thought that this was a great way to work the muscles in the hips and the back of the arms. Then we tried 'hugging a tree' which caused a bit of laugh. This meant kneeling on the bed and drawing the straps around the body - literally like hugging a tree! Then w tried the Side Pulls which meant sitting on the bed cross legged with one hand in the strap across the body with arms crossed. This was quite challenging because I was pulling my body weight along the length of the carriage with just one arm against springs and then bringing the carriage back with control. This was a great exercise as it certainly worked the biceps, shoulders and core.
THE SECOND DAY.
We start off with a class but my partner Terry is not here today so I do the class all the way through. This time we are working with the Pilates Magic Circle and the Top Box. The class was very fast and I just remember lying on my back with my legs up in the straps, bottom off the bed with a circle between my knees the rest was a blur! I really enjoyed it. After our class we start day 2 of the course.
THREE GIRLS FROM THE COURSE
Our first exercise to teach each other is called Pulling Straps and this means lying on the 'Top Box' on top of the main bed of the Reformer, no mean feat getting onto the box when you are only 5 foot 1! We lie face down the box with legs together with a strap in each hand pulled out to the side of the body whilst pulling ourselves up and down the carriage. The first couple of pulls are okay but after about ten of pulling your own body weight against the resistance of springs is enough. This is great exercise for working the arms, upper chest, torso, bottom, spine, hips and shoulders:
OTHER PILATES EQUIPMENT
Besides the Reformer we use various pieces equipment - Pilates Magic Circle (great for providing extra resistance), Balls for balance and spatial awareness and the Top Box. The Top Box is a great 'add on' because it gives extra height and dimension to the Pilates exercises on the Reformer. You can see in the picture below Jo teaching an Instructor Pulling Straps on the box.
JO TEACHING PULLING STRAPS ON THE BOX ON THE REFORMER.
Then we try the Elephant - a Pilates classic exercise for an all over stretch. This means standing on the bed with feet against the head rests, hands on the foot bar arching the back as much as you can:
And yes, it is as difficult as it looks but an incredible stretch for the upper back and hamstrings.
Then we finish with the Mermaid a great seated rotation exercise with Jo supervising technique:
THE SEATED MERMAID
And the Swan Dive downwards:
THE DOWNWARDS SWAN DIVE
THE UPWARDS SWAN DIVE
The Swan Dive is a great 'all round' Pilates exercise which works almost every part of the body.
DIFFERENCE BETWEEN MAT AND REFORMER PILATES
Since attending the teacher Reformer course I have a deeper understanding about what Joseph Pilates was trying to achieve with his 'Method'. I could see great potential in how the Reformer can help people who struggle with mobility issues. Maybe clients would find being able to exercise whilst being supported by a stable surface and just using straps and springs to build and re-align their muscles would be a real benefit. If all they had to was to climb onto a bed then perhaps they'd be more inclined to exercise. I often have clients who say they have been advised to do Pilates but struggle to get up and down off a mat and perhaps trying Reformer exercises would help.
When I first joined the course I asked Jo which she thought was more difficult - mat or Reformer Pilates and she said that mat was more difficult. Jo explained that the Reformer provides a more closed Kinetic Chain of movement because of the support of the bed, pulleys and springs. Mat Pilates means more controlled movements required by the body because the exercises were more 'open' just using the body's strength.
Here is me attempting the downward swan:
here is the link for Joanne's website: