The Amazing Pilates Reformer: Anatomy

From Madonna to Michelle Obama, the list of Pilates-loving celebrities nowadays is almost never-ending.

However, when it comes to Pilates equipment, there is nothing more popular than the Pilates reformer. And with good reason.

The Pilates reformer often provides a dramatic first impression the first time you see it. However, that is nothing to the phenomenal change your body goes through once you use it.

With all the benefits it offers, it’s no surprise you can see reformers lined up in almost all the Pilates studios the world over. In addition, reformer classes are often the top choice of many at most Pilates studios.

Feel more at ease at your first reformer class by exploring the reformer and getting a sense of how it works. Below are some of the basic parts of a Pilates reformer.

Shoulder Blocks and Headrest

Many Pilates reformer exercises are carried out lying done with the user’s head on the headrest. The headrest can either be up or down, depending on your preference. You would have to decide based on what you feel is most comfortable for your neck.

However, if you are going to do an exercise that will entail bringing your legs over your head, the headrest should be down.

The shoulder blocks are there to keep the user stable while pushing or pulling using the carriage. In most cases, the shoulders are situated against the blocks but there are exercises that also use the shoulder blocks as props for the hands, knees, and feet.

Footbar, Springs, and Gear System

The footbar’s height is adjustable. There are two to four notches that will allow you to easily adjust the height. Your instructor can help you determine the height which will work best for you.

The springs are used to provide resistance from the machine. The rest of the resistance comes from your own body weight. The springs are hooked on the spring bar. You can unhook different springs in order to decrease or increase resistance.

The Pilates reformer also comes with a gear system that will allow the user to change the distance of the spring bar from the carriage’s end. Oftentimes however, the instructor will suggest gear changes if needed.

Springs are color-coded—depending on the amount of resistance they provide. The spring that provides the least resistance is usually colored green, while the one providing the most resistance is colored red. In most cases, the two other colors are yellow and blue. There are variations in the color coding however but it will be easy for you to figure them out once you get more oriented with the machine.

Ropes or straps

The straps are connected to the pulleys found at the reformer’s top end. The straps also come equipped with handles you can grasp to push or pull the carriage.

Again, the basic principle is you will push and pull yourself on the carriage against resistance provided by both the springs and your own body.


The carriage is the part where you put your body on. It can be moved by pushing against the foot bar or through pulling the ropes or straps found at the reformer’s other end. The carriage will glide back and forth, responding to the amount of resistance set up as well as the effort you exert. Reformer Pilates exercises can be done kneeling, sitting, lying down, or standing on the carriage.

Apart from its versatility, all exercises performed on the reformer helps promote strength, balance, flexibility, and length. Now that you are familiar with some of its parts and how they are used, you are a step closer to achieving that lean and toned body you have always wanted.