At first glance it looks a little bit like voluntary medieval torture, but Reformer Pilates (or Pilates using 'Universal Reformer' equipment) is the exercise Victoria's Secret Angel Alessandra Ambrosio and Rosie Huntington-Whiteley use to keep their lean limbs and flat stomachs in shape.
But what exactly does it involve and why is it better for you than standard mat Pilates? We asked Dawne Likhodedova, founder and director of bePilates, to walk us through it.
So what are the key differences between Reformer pilates and mat-based Pilates?
"Mat-based Pilates has long been the norm in the UK. With the popularity of mat-based Pilates classes in gyms, it’s easy to see why that is the typical starting point into a Pilates practice, but this can be limited. Mat Pilates classes are actually often too challenging for a beginner because they lack the core strength to perform the exercises correctly. You can experience the full Pilates method better by switching between a mat, Reformer, trapeze table, chairs and barrels."
Why is it more effective?
"A Reformer-based Pilates routine is effective at providing a full-body workout because the constant resistance of spring tension on a moving carriage keeps the whole body awake and working through full ranges of movement. The Reformer acts as a teacher - it helps you to get into the right position to ensure you're working the muscles correctly... and it definitely tells you off if you're not focused and precise with your movements!"
Why do you think it has become so popular, particularly with the A-list?
"Pilates is synonymous with the long, lean dancers’ physique prized by Hollywood. The design of the Pilates Reformer helps you to achieve long, lean, strong muscles because you are in control of every movement - from the pull or push of the carriage against the spring tension and the return or close of the springs, you will work through the maximum length of a muscle to build strength and power without bulking up."
Alessandra Ambrosio doing Pilates on a Universal Reformer
What part of the body is it great for toning up that other forms of exercise reach?
"A well-planned Pilates Reformer workout should address virtually every part of the body. Along with the more popular known benefits of improved posture and core stability, most of our clients notice improved definition in their arms, legs and calves and abdominals."
How many times a week do you recommend doing it?
"Unlike weight training, for example, with its the culture of "more is more" (though I'm not knocking it - I also like to weight train!) it is common to take rest days. In Pilates, the focus is very much on quality of movement over quantity of repetitions so you leave the class energised rather than exhausted!"
If these are the results then we're in... Alessandra Ambrosio on the beach
How long before I start to see results?
"Joseph Pilates said that with his method of exercise 'in 10 sessions you will feel the difference, in 20 sessions you’ll see the difference and in 30 sessions you’ll have a whole new body.' Our clients report back within a few weeks that they are noticing a difference in the way they hold themselves and how their clothes fit."
What are the long term health benefits?
"A regular Pilates practice will improve your overall strength and flexibility and help you move more efficiently in daily life. Pilates also helps you to improve your posture and to strengthen those muscles that help stabilize the spine and pelvis, helping to minimize back pain due to muscular imbalances. In today's get-fit-quick culture, it's important to remember that like any activity, the more you do it the better you become. As you advance in your Pilates practice, the benefits just keep building and the results are lasting."
Rosie Huntington-Whiteley, who is also a fan of Reformer Pilates
What sort of kit do you recommend wearing for it?
"We ask our clients to dress comfortably. Your clothes should be loose enough to allow you to stretch and move freely but be tight enough so that your bits and pieces stay private! Refrain from wearing anything with zips, large buttons or anything else that could tear the upholstery of the carriages or feel uncomfortable."
Dawne Likhodedova is the founder and director of bePilates