I’m a Pilates newbie. I’ve never tried Reformer Pilates (or even mat Pilates for that matter). I have attempted Yoga a few times, and, well, Pilates has to similar to that, right?
That’s what I was thinking when I signed up for my Reformer Pilates consultation class. I had a very basic understanding of Pilates – it works to strengthen core muscles, it increases flexibility and improves posture, it’s great for cross-training and for runners – but I didn’t know much more than that. Most importantly, I didn’t know if it was the right exercise for someone like me – a reasonably regular gym-goer who spends most of her gym time on the treadmill and the elliptical and who sometimes tries out the free weights and the weight machines.
So, I was a little anxious about my first session. Would I like it? Would I feel ridiculous? Could I do it? But as soon as I started talking to my instructor, Kristin, her excitement and passion for Pilates quickly transferred to me, and I became eager to try out everything out.
As we took a quick tour of the room, Kristin gave me a brief background about Pilates and its creator.

Joseph Pilates grew up as a sick child in the late 1800s. His illnesses drove his interests in the human body, and he began to develop his own body through various sports such as gymnastics and skiing. By his teenage years, he was even modeling for anatomical drawings.

Joseph developed the Pilates Method throughout the early 20th century.  Originally, he used it to train fellow boxers, and then, later, he used it to work with detainees in England when he was placed in an civilian internment camp during World War I. Joseph focused on detainees who were injured or sick and confined to hospital beds.  To make up for their lack of mobility, Joseph began to use the items that were available to him to create equipment that could be attached to or used from their hospital beds (this was the origin of the Reformer machine). When an influenza outbreak hit the camp, none of Joseph’s trainees died from the outbreak.

Joseph moved to New York City in 1926 and continued teaching the Pilates Method until his death in 1967. An exercise originally used among boxers and soldiers began to gain followers among dancers, businessmen and more, and it is now considered an exercise for everyone.

Kristin then went over the different Pilates equipment we would be using. At the J, the Reformer Pilates studio is home to the Cadillac, the Reformer and the Tower – we would be using all three of these during my session.

Cadillac: We started by working out my core on the Cadillac machine – something that looks like a cross between a hospital bed and a jungle gym. Once up on the elevated platform, what seemed like simple movements quickly got my core working. The exercises are designed so that you control specific muscle groups during each movement. And as I went along, I could definitely feel the muscles we were using. In addition to core work, we also worked on the leg and upper body muscle groups.

Tower: After the Cadillac, we moved our workout over to the Tower. We used the attachments to the Pilates Tower to add resistance and control to standing lunges and bicep curls. As someone who feels balance deficient, this part of the session proved the most difficult to me (but felt like it would be the most helpful).

Reformer: The final piece of equipment that we used was the Reformer.  The Reformer looks somewhat like a sled, and you can use it in a variety of positions. We started lying on our backs and used hand-held springs to control our body movements as the sled moved up and down on a track. Then, after placing a box on the Reformer, we lay on our stomachs and worked our arms, chest and back by pulling ourselves up the track. Our last configuration to the Reformer led to the addition of a “trampoline” – the Rebounder. This attachment added a cardio component to the workout. By bouncing off the rebounder and controlling the movements of the Reformer with your body, you not only get your heart rate up, but you also continue to feel your muscles being worked.

My experience in my Reformer Pilates consultation took me from someone apprehensive about my first session to someone who can’t wait to go back for another. What I liked most about my first taste of Reformer Pilates was that I felt in control of my body during each of the exercises. You become very aware of the parts of your body you are using and controlling to complete each movement.
As someone who spends her day sitting in front of a computer, it felt great to be doing exercises that felt like they were reversing the slumped posture I let myself fall into in my desk chair. That is what felt the most eye-opening about Pilates – the exercises made me feel how my body should be as it was pulled out of the postures and positions that I normally let it rest into throughout the day.
Oh, and to answer my earlier assumption, while Pilates and Yoga are similar, they are also very different. Pilates is much more focused on aligning the body, specifically the spine, and strengthening the core. Pilates also focuses on resolving muscle imbalances, something that can happen to athletes who focus their workouts on specific muscles and neglect others. This is why athletes from dancers to professional skiers, male and female, use Pilates to recoup from injuries.
If you’re interested in trying out Pilates for yourself, contact either Brooke McGee (SFC), 314-442-3210, or Stacey Gerst (Fox), 314-442-3453. All J Members receive one free Reformer Pilates Intro Class during the lifetime of their membership, so make sure that you take advantage of yours!