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How To Use The Springs Effectively On A Reformer Pilates Machine

Reformer pilates has become very popular in the exercise and rehabilitation space, but many people don’t know what a reformer is or how it works. This blog will explain the mechanics of the reformer machine and how we use this equipment at Bend + Mend to help our patients achieve their goals.

A reformer is a bed-like frame with a dynamic flat platform, called the carriage, which rolls back and forth on wheels within its frame. The carriage is attached to a set of springs on one end that determines how easily the carriage moves. The other components of the reformer include the shoulder pads which work to stop the user from sliding on the carriage; an adjustable bar which can be used by the feet or hands to push the carriage; and the straps, which can be pulled by the legs or arms to move the carriage.

The body weight of the user as well as the spring choice will determine the level of resistance and thus how easily the carriage will slide down the rails. A common misconception when using the reformer, or any piece of pilates equipment for that matter, is that the addition of more springs and heavier springs will equate to harder work. With some exercises, this rings true, however, switching to light springs (or no spring at all!) will change the muscle bias and make the exercise harder. Sometimes lighter springs are the most challenging option as it forces the user to rely on their own body strength to support them, while heavier springs facilitate strength increases in a different way while our body is more supported by the machine.

Let’s use a plank exercise as an example to demonstrate how a difference in springs will change the exercise. Imagine that you are in a plank position on the reformer with your feet resting on the fixed platform and your elbows on the dynamic carriage.

  • If we chose a heavier spring option here, there would be more resistance placed onto the carriage and therefore it would be challenging to keep the carriage pressed down the tracks. As a result, our arms and shoulders would be under the most demand to keep the carriage away from the bar.
  • On the flip side, if we chose a light spring, the carriage would be easily pressed down the tracks, therefore creating a much less stable carriage. The focus would shift away from keeping the carriage pressed out, to rather controlling the unstable surface. As a result, our abdominals would be under the most demand here.

The easiest way to understand this tricky concept is to jump on a reformer and try the same exercise with opposing springs. You will instantly feel the difference.

The ability to change the springs in such a vast way gives us as physiotherapists the ability to be very specific and progressive with our exercise prescription and in turn provide the most effective rehabilitation to our patients. The choice of spring will ultimately depend on the ability of the patient and the goal of the exercise.

If you’re interested in reformer pilates but feel a bit intimidated by the machine, book in for a Pilates Assessment at Bend + Mend to better understand how you can integrate this machine into your exercise program.

Alle Foster

Alle completed a Bachelor of Physiotherapy at the University of South Australia and relocated to Sydney from Adelaide in 2023. Alle has a keen interest in Women’s Health, including pregnancy and postnatal care and pelvic floor dysfunction and has completed further study in this area. Alle has also completed post-graduate studies in osteoarthritic care through the GLAD (Good Living with Osteoarthritis) Program and enjoys applying this knowledge to patients suffering from osteoarthritic knee and hip pain. Alle adopts a biopsychosocial approach to her management and ensures no stone is left unturned in the management of her patients. She uses a combination of manual therapy including massage and dry needling for short term symptom relief and exercise to facilitate long term results. Alle has completed further training in clinical reformer Pilates and applies these principles when treating her patients, in both an individual and class setting.

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