By Rebecca Almond
Think pilates won’t give you a heart-pounding, full-body workout? Think again. I went along to London’s Bootcamp Pilates to try out the exercise class that promises to give you a body like The Body.
I’m talking reformer pilates – a dynamic series of resistance-based exercises using a contraption that, frankly, looks not dissimilar from a medieval torture device (a flat bed with a moving carriage operated by a series of springs, straps and pulleys). Thankfully the reformer is easy to get to grips with, and the small class size (sessions are usually limited to 10 people or fewer) means the instructor can offer personalised guidance and adjustments so everyone gets the most out of the workout.
No two classes are the same – some instructors like to incorporate hand weights, others stick to using the straps and resistance combinations on the reformer carriage to challenge your balance and get your heart rate up, but the focus is always on controlling the breath (slow inhale, explosive exhale) and engaging the core. Expect questions such as, ‘Are your inner thighs burning?’ and, ‘Is you pelvic floor tensed?’ (cue blushing).
After an hour of sliding, balancing and holding the plank until my abs shake, I leave the class feeling stretched, toned – and more than a little sweaty. Five sessions later and my posture is much improved, my muscles more defined and my flexibility enhanced. Whether you’re an old hand at mat pilates and fancy trying something new, or a total beginner intrigued as to the benefits of this form of exercise, reformer pilates is a fast and effective way to challenge your strength, stability and overall fitness.
How does reformer pilates differ from mat pilates?
Mat pilates focuses on the core, whereas pilates using a reformer offers a full body workout – it allows the muscles to work against greater resistance, increasing the effort required to perform the exercises, so delivers faster results. The reformer also offers more support than the mat, taking the impact out of the joints and channelling it into the muscles.
What are the main benefits of reformer pilates?
It’s kind to your skeleton and joints, and helps to lengthen and strengthen your muscles without adding bulk – a common worry among women. Plus, it establishes stability in your torso, aligns your posture and can help you to lose weight when performed alongside a healthy balanced diet.
Who is this form of exercise best for?
Anyone – men and women of all ages and fitness abilities will benefit from reformer pilates.
Can it help heal an injury?
Pilates is a low-impact form of exercise and is often recommended by doctors and physiotherapists to aid recovery after injury. At the beginning of each session at Bootcamp Pilates the instructor will ask if you have any injuries, then tailor your exercises accordingly. We would, however, always recommend seeking medical advice if you are injured before attending a reformer pilates class.
What is the estimated calorie burn for a reformer pilates class?
It’s difficult to give a precise figure as the number of calories burned depends on the intensity of the class and the skill and effort of the class participant. However, you can expect to burn around 240–420 calories per one-hour session.
What are your top three pilates exercises?
1. The Plank
You can’t beat it for challenging your muscles – especially when balancing on the unsteady reformer carriage! Planking can take many forms, but essentially it's the act of suspending the body above the reformer (traditionally on elbows bent to 90 degrees directly beneath the shoulders, taking the body’s weight on the forearms and toes), strengthening the shoulders, arms, glutes, core and lower back as you fight against gravity.
2. The Hundred
This exercise connects the whole body – arms are stretched out parallel to the floor and pumped up and down, while the legs remain straight and elevated and shoulders lifted. Breathing is controlled (in for five, out for five) to engage the core, strengthening the abdominal muscles and spine while stimulating the nervous system and focusing the mind.
3. The Surfer
This is a really fun exercise that will develop balance and stability, targeting the obliques, upper back, quads and glutes. The Surfer is performed in a low squat on the reformer carriage. One arm is outstretched at shoulder height, the other is bent across the chest with an overhand grip on one of the reformer’s straps. The bent arm is steadily outstretched as you exhale, pulling on the strap and balancing on the moving carriage as the upper body rotates. Steadily return to the start position, then repeat.