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Weights vs Reformer Pilates

Is reformer pilates better than weight training?

If you have been thinking of starting reformer pilates because you are allergic to the gym environment or you are a gym-goer and wander if you are missing out by not practicing reformer, my suggestion is: ‘Go for it.’ While there is no need to compare reformer pilates vs weight training, as one is not a substitute for the other, in this article I will aim to do exactly that.


What does a reformer offer that gym doesn’t?

1 Unstable base: useful for core strength and coordination

No matter how many equipment a gym may have the moving carriage of the reformer is not one. This provides a unique challenge for the body, as all the postural muscles have to compensate for the instability by firing continuously in a coordinated way.

Long Spine long sequence Reformer Pilates


2 Incremental adjustments of resistance: necessary for rehabilitation

The resistance reformer machines provide is small, in comparison to that of the machines in a gym. At the same time they can be adjusted incrementally which helps a progressive load of the relevant muscle groups.

plank sideplank sequence pilates reformer


3 Versatility in exercises targeting small muscle groups: perfect for joint health & injury prevention

It is no secrete that Pilates offers some phenomenal exercises to improve strength in stabilisation muscles. The combination of straps, moving carriage and the adjustable resistance allows us to challenge these muscles in ways not possible on the mat or the gym.

pull the sword reformer pilates


What does a gym offer, that the reformer doesn’t?

1 Cardio workout

If you want to challenge your cardiovascular system it would make no sense to do that on an unstable surface. Gyms offer numerous options for cardio and while unfit individuals may get their heart rate elevated on the reformer the potential for a cardio workout is limited there.

2 feet hops reformer pilates


2 Strengthen the big muscle groups

If hypertrophy or strength is your goal, over time you need to increase the resistance against which your muscle work. Both free weights and machines in gyms can help you achieve that. If you are not keen on visiting a gym, you can use small dumbbells to compliment your reformer workouts.


The verdict

One thing that cannot be overlooked when it comes to training is you enjoying the workout. The vibe in the gym and a reformer studio are different but this doesn’t make one better than the other. Instead the 2, compliment each other nicely.


Lower Back Pain Mistakes

5 Lower Back Pain Mistakes

Lower Back Pain management can be tricky due to contradicting information, the plethora of approaches available and the volatile nature of the symptoms and triggers. Whether in chronic pain or having acute symptoms here are the 5 lower back pain mistakes, you need to avoid.


Lower Back Pain Testimonial


1. Refrain from training

It is understandable that when the pain is acute movement options are limited. However refraining from all forms of exercise can be as debilitating on the long run as reinsuring yourself. Even if walking is the only thing you can do – turn walking into a workout. This may still mean no more than 20 mins of walks at a time. Do that daily.

2. Avoid exercises that involve the lower back

It may seem like an oxymoron but unless you exercise the muscles of your lower back they will not function properly again. A progressive approach is often necessary while it will help to understand the role of breathing and abdominal recruitment in the process.


3. Stretch your way out of pain

A lot of people when dealing with pain enjoy stretching as it provides some relief. Stretching, similar with massage, can be useful in LBP management but will not be sufficient to heal the injury. Use stretching as palliative medicine but not treatment.

plank to downward dog reformer pilates

4. Ignore the neurological aspect of pain

Whether the pain is experienced in the muscles, spine or in the fascia there will be a neurological component in your lower back pain. As a consequence there is a bilateral relationship between lower back pain and breathing which is why breathing exercises can be very useful.

Lower Back Pain Breathing
source: Kolář P et al. 2012

The lower back has a high concentration of sympathetic nerves [ref], which could potentially explain why some patients with lower back pain report increased intensity of pain under psychological stress [ref].


5. Practice the same rehabilitation program for ever

Whatever rehabilitation program you have been given they be updated after 4-10 weeks. Not doing so means you are wasting your time at best or risking the deterioration of the condition.



Whatever protocol you follow, if you don’t want to stay married to lower back pain for life, make sure you start exercising as soon as possible incorporating exercises that strengthen the lower back, address the neurological aspect of the pain and progressively make the protocol more challenging.




Chou, R., & Shekelle, P. (2010). Will this patient develop persistent disabling low back pain?. Jama, 303(13), 1295-1302.

Hirsch, C., Ingelmark, B. E., & Miller, M. (1963). The anatomical basis for low back pain: studies on the presence of sensory nerve endings in ligamentous, capsular and intervertebral disc structures in the human lumbar spine. Acta orthopaedica scandinavica33(1-4), 1-17.

Kolář, P., Šulc, J., Kynčl, M., Šanda, J., Čakrt, O., Andel, R., … & Kobesová, A. (2012). Postural function of the diaphragm in persons with and without chronic low back pain. journal of orthopaedic & sports physical therapy42(4), 352-362.

reformer pilates for lower back pain

Is Reformer Pilates good for lower back pain?

Epidemic as Lower Back Pain might be, it is in 90% treatable even it if the symptoms have lasted for years. Those using Reformer Pilates for Lower Back Pain not only recover faster but reduce their chances for a relapse.

In this article I am providing a reformer pilates roadmap for those suffering with Lower Back Pain (LBP), depending on the severity of the symptoms. Avoiding common mistakes in lower back pain rehab is equally important of course.


Severe Lower Back Pain

Those dealing with severe LBP are often restricted in performing many moves and experience intense pain, for prolonged periods of time, triggered by a variety of events (including long walks, lying down in the same position for more than 2 hours). The pain may wake them up in the middle of the night and pain killers often become part of their ‘diet’ so to speak.

There are 2 categories of severe LBP: sudden / acute and dull / chronic.

a. Acute LBP

Those experiencing acute LBP need to waste no time and consult a physician. A word of caution:

Be prepared to hear: ‘There is nothing wrong with you.’ Or ‘It’s in your head. Just get some rest and you will be fine.’ Which translate to: ‘With the means I have available and my current knowledge I cannot help you. Consult someone else.’

Please read the text above x2. What should you do if there is no explanation to your symptoms?

1 Continue to monitor the symptoms as this will help future physicians and therapists to advise you accordingly.

2 Proceed with the plan provided below.

b. Chronic LBP

Chronic intense lower back pain is common especially among the elder population and in particular women. It is not uncommon, when following the right protocol, for symptoms to reside substantially, lower:

If you have been living with the pain for years, you shouldn’t expect the recovery to be overnight. A recovery period of approximately 1-2 months, for every year you have lived with the symptoms is a reasonable expectation.

During this phase the goals ⚽️ are to:

1 Recover and perform regularly all physical movements that do not trigger the lower back

2 Improve strength in all muscles that work synergistically with the lower back and abdomen

3 Start challenge the mid-section progressively and only when appropriate. This often involves exercises that are not typically classified as core exercises (ie. Carries).

calf stretches reformer pilates

Hamstring & ankle stretches gentle

easy cat cow reformer pilates

Articulate upper back

leg scissoring

Dissociate hips & abdominals

100s reformer pilates

Rectus abdominis


Moderate LBP

Pain will be triggered in individuals suffering from moderate LBP, when performing specific activities. In men these activities are: seating for long periods of time (ie. when driving or during flights), after doing manual work of moderate intensity. Women’s lower back might be triggered before their period, when standing for long periods (ie. when cooking or visiting galleries).

Both men and women in this category are less likely to experience LBP while walking.

During this phase the goals ⚽️ are to:

1 Strengthen the muscles that work synergistically with the lower back.

2 Improve spine stability with abdominal inner unit work

3 Perform low intensity plyometric training (both bilateral and unilateral)

hip extensions reformer pilates

Strengthen glutes

Strengthen the inner unit

superman planks reformer pilates

Intermediate rectus abdominal exercises

intro oblique reformer pilates

Introductory oblique

floor splits reformer pilates
Hamstring work


Occasional LBP

Occasional discomfort in the lower back is unfortunately not rare. It is often attributed to age, over or under training, the weather, the planets, … but whatever the reason lower back sensitivity is an amber flag and if ignored it can escalate or cause issues in the knees or ankles. Lower back sensitivity is likely to cause involuntary adaptations in how many movements are performed, including squatting, walking, running and a few lifts.

During this phase the goals ⚽️ are to perform:

1 Compound movements

2 Supersets of lower back and ab exercises

3 Plyometric training


Compound movements:

high splits reformer pilates

  • Leg flexibility & core

intro to camel reformer pilates

  • Shoulders & core (Not just muscle isolation)

plank sideplank sequence pilates reformer

Intermediate oblique

Long Spine long sequence Reformer Pilates

Supersets of abdominal work including isometric holds, spine flexion

pull the sword reformer pilates

Upper back stability work



How do you stretch your lower back with Pilates Reformer?

You can stretch your lower back by bringing your spine into flexion. These exercises can provide temporarily relief from lower back pain but should be treated as palliative work and not treatment.

plank to downward dog reformer pilates


Is Reformer Pilates good for herniated disc?

The reformer pilates is a low impact form of resistance training and thus can help those suffering from herniated disc to maintain muscle tone without loading their joints to the point of discomfort.

Herniated disc can cause different degrees of pain, from severe to just an occasional discomfort. The protocols above can be used but the exercise selection has to be personalised to the individual’s limitations.


What causes lower back pain in females?

Women with low levels of oestrogen [ref], progesterone or testosterone [ref] are more prone to experience pain. In one study the peak of progesterone during the 2nd phase of the menstrual cycle was associated with a 25.6% reduction in pain severity [ref].

Those suspecting hormonal imbalances can perform a hormonal test such as the Dutch one, to confirm if the problem exists.


Which exercises to avoid with lower back pain?

As a rule of thumb you should refrain from the exercises that intensify the pain you experienced prior, as well as those that you feel you have no control in their execution.

Depending on the level of severity and the nature of the pain (ie. neurological, muscular, fascial) two individuals with lower back pain may have to avoid different exercises.



For those that have access to a reformer machine and suffer from lower back pain, practicing on the reformer x2-5 times per week is a non-brainer. Make sure the challenge of the class matches your current needs and over time you increase the difficulty as you progressively get stronger.




Chen, Q., Zhang, W., Sadana, N., & Chen, X. (2021). Estrogen receptors in pain modulation: cellular signaling. Biology of sex Differences12, 1-10.

Schertzinger, M., Wesson-Sides, K., Parkitny, L., & Younger, J. (2018). Daily fluctuations of progesterone and testosterone are associated with fibromyalgia pain severity. The journal of pain19(4), 410-417.

Vincent, K., & Tracey, I. (2008). Hormones and their interaction with the pain experience. Reviews in pain2(2), 20-24.

Reformer for Core

Is Reformer Pilates good for core?

A common reason many start mat Pilates is to improve their core strength. Reformer Pilates takes this to the next level, through the use of the springs, straps and a moving carriage.

While there is no room for doubt in regards to whether reformer pilates can do wanders for core strength in this article I will cover how this is achieved.


Does Pilates build core?

Even if we were to narrow down core into abdominal only strength, Pilates builds core in 2 ways:

• the strengthening of the inner unit muscles and

• the outer unit ones.

Inner unit consists of the: diaphragm, rectus abdominis, multifidis and pelvic floor, while the outer unit are the muscles we see in the mirror.

Neutral spine exercises will target the inner part of the abdomen

neutral spine double leg extensions reformer pilates

while exercises performed in imprinted position, as well as those that involve spine articulation will recruit more the outer unit.

imprinted leg extensions variation reformer pilates

If you include in our definition of core, the back and glutes again Pilates offers numerous exercises, to access those muscles.

hip extensions reformer pilates


Can you get abs from Reformer Pilates?

Abs are made in the kitchen, but without training your abdominals, there are slim chances you will look toned.
The reformer, especially through the use of exercises that involved spine flexion (such as role-ups, roll-like-a-ball, chest-lift with rotation) can help your abs look strong and defined. For this to be achieved, repetitions should be in the range of 14-20 and minimal rest should be kept between sets. As a pre-requisite for this type of workout one needs to have a strong lower back.
long spine reformer pilates

How do you engage core in Reformer Pilates?

In Reformer Pilates we can engage the core through the breath or posture. Staccato breathing often suggested in the 100s and spine twists, will increase abdominal engagement. Bracing and the Abdominal Drawing-In Manoeuvre (ADIM) will also increase the recruitment of the rectus and transversus abdominis respectively.

100s reformer pilates


Does Pilates Reformer change your body?

By practicing the Abdominal Drawing-In Manoeuvre throughout the core exercises, targeting the gluteus minimus, medius and maximus, as well as the inner thighs; women can get the hourglass body.
cross-legged superman plank reformer pilates

Does Pilates Reformer burn fat?

A fast paced, challenging reformer workout will contribute to calorie expenditure and thus contribute to fat burn. Pilates Reformer on each own however, might be be sufficient for fat burn and thus a more comprehensive approach might be appropriate depending also on the individual’s starting point.
2 feet hops reformer pilates

Does Reformer Pilates burn more calories than mat Pilates?

The use of resistance (from the springs), the multidirectional use of the straps and the additional challenge the unstable surface of the carriage offers, will contribute to more calories being spent in a reformer class compared to a mat one.
High lunge reformer pilates
The Pros & Cons of Reformer Pilates

The Pros & Cons of Reformer Pilates

The raising popularity of Reformer Pilates is no coincidence. The benefits of Reformer Pilates range from toning, better posture and injury rehabilitation. That’s not to say though that there are no limitations.

In this article I will cover the biggest pros and cons of reformer pilates to help you decide if it is the right form of exercise for you.


5 Reasons to start Reformer

Addresses strength and flexibility at the same time

Strength and flexibility are often perceived as a zero-sum game. The reformer machine allows us to stretch our muscles through a big range of movement, while contracting the opposing muscles when the resistance of the springs resist the movement (eccentric phase). In this instance the body is getting stronger and more flexible at the same time.

Sliding Lunges reformer pilates

When the resistance assists the movement we are able to achieve a deeper stretch than otherwise.

reverse sliding lunges reformer pilates


Accommodates 90% of all rehabilitation programs

While other forms of body weight exercise are limited in accommodating a rehabilitation program, in a reformer we can perform most exercises suggested by physiotherapists and osteopaths. Of course an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure, so anyone with sensitivity in joints will benefit immensely by practicing reformer prior to the injury becoming acute or chronic.

rotator cuff reformer pilates


Strengthens the big muscles

It is no secrete that yoga and mat pilates are limited in regards to how strong they can make one’s body. This is particularly true for the lower body and back muscles, or let’s say in general the big muscles (including the glutes). So if you are allergic to lifting weights or the gym environment, the reformer machine can help you get strong.

side leg presses reformer pilates


Isolate supportive muscles

Gluteus minimus and rotator cuff are 2 groups of muscles that help us stabilise hips and shoulder joints respectively. The reformer allows us to target these muscles and reduce the chance of an injury.

Oysters reformer pilates


Dissociate body parts

When performing compound movements (ie. running, weightlifting, yoga) our body will utilise the muscles it’s most comfortable recruiting. While for the most part this is normal and safe when someone has signifiant imbalances this can cause the imbalances to get more pronounced and potentially cause injury. Two areas of the body which can dissociate and coordinate when practicing reformer are: our Core + Legs: when performing flexibility exercises for our lower body

leg scissoring reformer pilates

and the Core + Arms: when strengthening our upper limbs.

superman planks reformer pilates


3 Drawbacks of Reformer Pilates

A poor form of cardiovascular training

Although the speed of a reformer class can vary, it is unlikely that it will keep HR elevated for prolonged periods. To the extent that you don’t treat reformer as cardio that’s fine.

2 feet hops reformer pilates


Proper execution requires concentration

While this holds true for all forms of exercise it is particularly relevant in Reformer Pilates as, the postural alignment needed in combination with the use of the springs, straps and carriage can be a lot for those starting out.

opposite knee to elbow reformer pilates


More exclusive than other forms of training

Reformer machines are not cheap and due to the specific training instructors have to undergo, there are not many available. Both factors make Reformer Pilates classes exclusive.

Smile Reformer Pilates