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How the Pilates Reformer Works: Anatomy of a Pilates Reformer

How the Pilates Reformer Works: Anatomy of a Pilates Reformer

The Pilates reformer is a big and bold machine that converts an empty room into a full-blown workout studio.

However, with this level of sophistication also comes a level of technical expertise, especially when it comes to assembling and using this machine.

By understanding the different parts of the Pilates reformer, you increase the range and resistance of your workouts on a single machine.

Additionally, you’ll know which Pilates reformer parts are most important when shopping for a new Pilates reformer.

To help you understand all of the different parts of your Pilates reformer, we’ve listed each part individually below and explained how they work to aid your Pilates workouts. 

How the Pilates Reformer Machine Works

A Pilates reformer features a moving carriage with a set of accessories, including a footbar, shoulder rests, and ropes, designed to provide users with a full range of Pilates exercises. Each machine also comes with a set of springs designed to add resistance to Pilates workouts.

Essentially, the Pilates reformer is designed to engage all of your muscle groups by providing a multi-faceted platform to perform traditional Pilates exercises.

Additionally, the Pilates reformer allows users to add variations to traditional Pilates workouts, whether sitting, standing, sliding, or hanging on your machine.

Unlike a mat, which relies on body weight and gravity, the Pilates reformer enables users to fine-tune each exercise to achieve the deepest level of impact and burn for better toned abdominal muscles.

Due to its level of sophistication, a Pilates reformer is perfect for building muscle or rehabbing sports injuries.

For these reasons, a Pilates reformer is typically constructed out of super durable materials with a higher price tag, including solid wood or aluminum frame, metal bars, nylon straps, etc.

However, to help you understand this machine, let’s discuss each part of the Pilates reformer machine. 

Different Parts of a Pilates Reformer

The Carriage

The most important and familiar part of the reformer is the carriage.

A Pilates reformer carriage is the padded or upholstered surface you’ll sit, stand, or kneel on while performing workouts. The carriage is designed to move along gliding bars and is controlled by a set of springs and gears that add resistance to carriage movement.

Similar to a mat, the carriage allows for static stretching and exercises. However, the carriage also engages deeper muscles using the moving platform, such as knee pull-ins that utilize the resistance of the springs and movement of the carriage to reach smaller muscles. 

Reformer Springs

The springs, which we’ve discussed a lot already, are metal gear systems designed to add resistance to exercises. Most standard reformers come with four color-coded springs, though some machines may feature as many as eight, with some springs belonging to different parts of the machine aside from the carriage.

Each color spring represents a different gear resistance level, with a typical reformer looking something like this:

  • Yellow: Lightest resistance
  • Blue: Medium-light resistance
  • Red: Medium resistance
  • Green: Heaviest resistance

Heavier springs may add more resistance to exercises depending on the exercise, though they could make certain exercises easier. For example, planks that require users to hold their body weight may benefit from heavier springs, making it easier to maintain a steady carriage. 

Straps and Ropes

Most reformers come with a pair of straps or ropes tied to one end of the platform and attached to the carriage and pulleys. These ropes allow users to move the carriage using their legs or arms during various exercises.

For example, straps can be used to perform leg circles while moving back and forth on the carriage in a supine position. These straps and ropes can also be adjusted to work your leg and arm muscles at different resistances. 


On the other side of the reformer lies a metal footbar, which is typically upholstered with a comfortable material, such as leather or foam. The footbar offers a platform to place one's feet or hands during exercises to gain leverage. The footbar also helps users gain their footing if they're doing explosive exercises that force them to push off the footbar to work their legs or core. 

Shoulder Rests 

At one end of the carriage and opposite the footbar lies a set of foam shoulder rests designed to provide users with a platform to rest their shoulders and head while lying down supine. Ultimately, shoulder rests are designed to help users move the carriage during lying exercises.

In addition, the shoulder rests can also be used to place one's knees during workouts to drive the carriage forward using their knees as leverage. For example, while kneeling, users can place their knees on the shoulder rests and perform chest flies while using the straps to move the carriage slowly back and forth. 

The Frame

Finally, the last part of the Pilates reformer we need to discuss is the frame. The Pilates reformer frame typically consists of a solid metal or wooden frame designed to support a user's body weight and all of the gadgets found on a reformer.

When shopping for reformers, be sure to check the frame's material, height, and stability before purchasing. These factors will determine which exercises you can perform most comfortably on one of these machines. 

Optional Parts and Accessories


Lots of reformer machines offer customization options, such as a jumpboard as a substitute for a standard footbar. The jumpboard is designed to provide some cardio to workouts, by providing a padded platform for users to gain their footing and launch from to move the carriage. 

Pilates Tower

On the other side is an optional tower for select reformer models. Lots of reformers, such as the Pilates Cadillac reformer get their name because they offer a full trapeze tower that allows for hanging and gravity-based exercises.

Towers typically consist of a metal or wooden frame with additional straps and cross-sectional bars.

The Pilates reformer with tower offers an additional twist on traditional Pilates exercises, opening up the possibility for new workouts, such as suspended push ups, tricep dips, glute bridges, and reverse crunches. 

Sitting Box

Finally, the Pilates sitting box is exactly what the name implies: it’s a literal sitting box. However, this upholstered box can be used with a mat or reformer to offer greater height and leverage to exercises.

For example, lots of sitting boxes are designed to fit on a standard carriage to give users the perfect height for comfortable side stretching or deeply intense prone exercises.


When selecting the right reformer, it’s important to explore the various features and parts that come with a Pilates reformer. By understanding the different parts of a reformer, you can find the best one for you and explore a wider range of workouts utilizing each part of this intricate machine.

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Need Help Choosing The Right Pilates Machine?

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