“That you need to be ‘in shape’ to do reformer Pilates is not true.” At least according to James Shaw, head of Pilates at Equinox St James and former reformer expert at Frame, the manufacturer of the first at-home, digitally-connected pilates reformer.
It’s a relief to me, 10 weeks postpartum and nine months and 10 weeks post what was my exercise routine. As a former HIIT fanatic, while anything low(er)-intensity, low(er)-impact is appealing, it’s also completely foreign.
I know there are options, I just don’t know enough about what they are — and between big-box gyms and specialty studios and virtual platforms from Alo Moves to Obe, it’s hard to know what’s best and where to begin.
In the same boat as me? Below, I break down the differences between Pilates reformer classes and Megaformer classes and share advice for how to choose the right reformer workout for you.
What is Pilates reformer?
Universally, Pilates is a form of low-impact exercise that aims to strengthen muscles while improving postural alignment and flexibility. You can do Pilates with or without equipment on a mat, for a bodyweight workout, or using a Pilates reformer to provide more targeted, intense training with varying levels of resistance.
Traditional Pilates reformers are the same, mostly, with a carriage, foot bar, shoulder blocks, and springs — but more studios are putting their own spin on the classic, making Pilates more of a studio-specific workout that is entirely its own.
At The Reformery in Rochester, New York, founder/owner and instructor Hannah McMullen and her co-founders/owners were inspired by studios they’ve worked in and worked out at before. They collaborated with a manufacturer to craft machines with both traditional elements and enhancements: a larger, cushioned front platform, a back platform, and heavier spring setups.
The aim, McMullen says, was to “make functional strength training more comfortable and accessible. These customizations make the reformers more accessible to people regardless of their size, experience level, or injury history.”
What is a Megaformer?
Lagree Fitness, with 500+ studios worldwide, has distinguished itself from Pilates since its inception, with the invention and trademark of its own machine.
The Megaformer was invented by creator/founder Sabastien Lagree between 2010 and 2011 and touts performance and effectiveness “far superior to the Pilates reformer,” according to the brand.
The Megaformer is a much larger apparatus, with two large platforms (one on the front and one on the rear of the machine) and two separate sets of cables that attach to the carriage. The Megaformer allows you to perform many exercises you can’t do on a classic Pilates reformer.
Choosing the right reformer fitness method for you
Both studios incorporate props (with more options at The Reformery than Lagree) and classes at each are full-body focused and combine core, endurance, balance, cardio, strength, and flexibility.
Besides the reformer and the Megaformer, class-goers may find a specific studio’s energy and atmosphere appealing enough that it brings them back. It’s something at The Reformery that was given as much attention as the machines.
The space was designed “to welcome and inspire,” says McMullen. “Big, bright windows for natural light, a lounge to relax before/after class, complementary coffee, and post-class refreshments like dry shampoo, cleansing facial wipes, and lotion. We know that not everyone enjoys working out, so we want to offer a space and amenities that help make working out more enjoyable.”
At Lagree, too, instructor and aSweatLife ambassador Erica Sukay says “the machines are the focus. There’s 11 to 16 per studio, and classes are performed under full lights with fans optional for when the class starts to build the heat!”
While Pilates and Lagree, respectively, are McMullen and Sukay’s workouts of choice, each enjoys exercise that’s complementary to the practice.
“I love barbell strength training,” says McMullen. “My husband got me into it and it feels so different from Pilates, yet I notice how much my Pilates training helps me to lift heavy and do it safely and confidently.”
For Sukay, “Lagree and HIIT classes are wonderful complements. For days when I need to release energy and want heavier cardio, HIIT always delivers. When I want to pair those days with flexibility and strength training but still achieve the high intensity I’m looking for, Lagree is my first workout of choice!”
The bottom line on reformer fitness
Whatever your physique and fitness level, Shaw tells Harper’s Bazaar the practice of Pilates is for all: “Exercises can be progressed and regressed to the individual being taught. This will enable you to be challenged, thus strengthening you in multiple ways and setting you up to achieve your fitness goals.”