The Universal Reformer: The Spring Remains the Same

The Universal Reformer: The Spring Remains the Same

I was fortunate to be in the inaugural class of The Work, a wonderful, thorough and humbling program of study under the direction of Jay Grimes offered by Vintage Pilates in Los Angeles.

Jay, Karen Frischmann and Sandy Shimoda helped me to understand and utilize all that the Reformer and the other springed apparatus have to offer as you make your way along your Pilates path.

The support, muscular action and connection you'll discover with the apparatus will be your best friend enabling you to take your workout to the Mat, bereft of springs, straps, handles, sans everything but you and your Mat.


The Premise of the Pilates Method

What can take years to correct on the Mat alone, you can address more directly and successfully through the use of the entire Pilates system.

OMG this just in from Benjamin Degenhardt:

In an interview from 1946 Joe Pilates discloses the purpose of the apparatus. He explains: “Of course you can exercise without machines. But it’s not as efficient – would take longer. With them, three or four hours work a week is enough.”

In the same interview, he further implies that one of the many purposes of his apparatus was to provide tactile feedback, much like a teacher’s hand:

“I invented all these machines. I thought, why use my strength? So I made a machine to do it for me. Look, you see it resists your movement in just the right way so those long inner muscles really have to work against it. That is why you can concentrate on movement.” (Read the full article here.)

Use it or Lose it

Recently I sat down with Karen Frischmann. Karen teaches an amazing workshop with the above title. Sadly I cannot claim that one…

The purpose of the apparatus is to offer support and resistance so that you can get deeper into the body.

You can find the connections more readily if you are reaching into something that offers you support or resistance: the spring and the straps and the handles.

The classical Reformer has a very solid wooden handle to offer you secure and supportive connection to the apparatus.

The Universal Reformer: The Spring Remains the Same

The footbar is a solid and unforgiving piece of metal. Sometimes it is covered with a pad. But I believe a firmer connection is gained when you ride bareback.

The Universal Reformer: The Spring Remains the Same

Everything about the Reformer, despite its moving platform, is stable, solid, giving you assistance and resistance.

You are being reformed!

The Reformer allows you to get deeper into the body with that kind of support so that when you do go to the Mat and we take that support away, you can still access the depth that you are getting on the apparatus.


The Reformer is there to offer you both assistance and resistance and if you are not fully using it, then why bother, just do the Mat.

We also discussed the value of Reformer work and how its effects can be found all around the studio, notably on the Mat.

The apparatus offers you opportunity for correct placement of the hands and the feet.

There's a lot of information that you can receive from how you hold the handles, how the feet are placed on the bar, how the foot gets placed on the carriage.

Whereas on the Mat there could be variances in the way the arms work, the Reformer helps to correct imbalances just by the nature in which you use the apparatus.

The Reformer can give you great information about your position in the exercise. Generally if a strap or handle is in your way (Frog and Circles) or you have slammed into the little wooden block at the back end of the Reformer, the Reformer is sending you a message:

Hey. Don't do that.

Karen Frischmann maintains that “you can learn from the Reformer, but it's not a replacement for a teacher. You need the eyes of the teacher and you need the understanding of how to correctly use the apparatus in order to allow it to teach you. It will inform the body, it will not teach you.”

The brilliance of the Reformer

The Universal Reformer: The Spring Remains the Same

What goes into the design and construction of this amazing apparatus?

Gratz Industries continues to make all the Pilates apparatus according to Joe Pilates' specific designs.

Comparable equipment is currently being manufactured by Pilates Designs by Basil, Tirado apparatus and Pilates Scandinavia.

I spoke recently with Fredrik and Elisabet Prag of Pilates Scandinavia. Fredrik and Elisabet, both Pilates teachers and beautiful practitioners, have operated their Stockholm studio for the past 40 years.

Pilates Scandinavia initially endeavored to create their own classical apparatus to offset the extreme cost of importing equipment from the US.

Fredrik Prag: 

We are Scandinavians and artists. I did 4 years in art school and became a graphic designer and artist. For some years I made my living as a painting artist. So this is of course a big influence in the process.

Elisabet is all about movement as a former dancer and has 3 decades of experience in Pilates and movement. All these experiences manifest in our line of equipment and of course we are also deeply inspired by the simplicity of the complex and powerful work of Joseph Pilates.

As a Pilates purist, it's hard for me to wrap my brain around the process of constructing a Reformer: to find the right mix of craftsmanship and humility to replicate this brilliant apparatus. 


The Reformer was the first apparatus we started on. We also did Mats, Wall units and the Wunda Chair. It was very, very difficult to put the reformer together! It felt like building a cello or something, it took years.

If you change 2 mm in one place it could completely change something else in a totally different place and/or exercise. Joe truly created a masterpiece in the Reformer. It is very complex and again extremely difficult to create one.

I believe from the experience of trying many different Reformers that the thought behind the Reformer is crucial. From all the information we gathered, in our opinion a Reformer that truly reflects the method does not exist today. Now it does.

Our Reformer, as we see it, is the only ‘old new' one on the market and absolutely one of a kind.  It took us around 10 years from the first idea to actually get it materialized.

I was excited to speak with Fredrik about the springs: how he selected them, where one finds them, etc… They are a crucial aspect of the Reformer's perfection.

And it's fun to nerd out and talk about springs, yes?


The springs we have made in Sweden and throughout the years we gained considerable experience. I remember a Reformer Elisabet got from England, a homemade one and the springs where so tough you did 10 repetitions of the first Footwork and your legs were burning.  

Today we are working more with the intention of the spring and what does it do? Today I know that due to the design of the spring I can bring life into the Reformer. The spring does not just pull the carriage back hard or soft. The spring gives space and time to the body and mind.

Yeah, that's what I'm talking about.

The spring gives the mind time to reflect upon what is happening. It's a very subtle but true sensation. So we have made the springs in this way to invite the body to move. 

But the spring all alone can’t do anything. This kind of spring needs the support of the wheels and the carriage. There is a fine-tuning aspect of all the aspects of the Reformer carriage that makes the spring ” sing” and the body can ”follow” into a new experience of resistance and support. 

In my opinion and experience the apparatus exists to bring a higher sense of presence into the body.

It enhances the vectors and directions and can bring more power into the body and break up the weakness of the body. One of our customers said after buying our Reformer “Its great! Now I don't need to explain everything they have to do, this Reformer teaches it to them and I can save my voice.”

For more information, visit

A big thank you to Karen Frischmann and Fredrik Prag for their contributions to this post.

Reformer word cloud created at

Read Alycea Ungaro's 3 Pilates Blogs to Follow.

Guess who made the list?

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  1. Andrea, this is so well written and fabulous. People underestimate the power of the Pilates apparatus and springs. Thanks!

    • Linda,

      Thank you so much for reading and sharing and expressing your kind words for this post. I agree, it’s amazing what the apparatus can do for us!

  2. Wonderful! So well said! I was JUST chatting with a client about this very thing. We just recently began working on flowing through her mat, and she loves it! (PS. she does a lot of your online 10 or 15 min videos as home practice 🙂 She has expressed that she connects to the mat so much more and really wants to focus mostly on mat! I told her that was wonderful, but that she must pay her respects dutifully to all of the apparatus that she has been working on for 2 years which got her to feel the true bliss of the mat work. (I sent her the article) See you tonight!

    • Lovely Barbara! Thank you so much for reading, sharing, and for just plain being AWESOME! I have gotten such great feedback on this post especially with regard to teachers sharing it with their clients/students to help them understand and appreciate the Reformer apparatus even more fully. A little along the vein of “Oh Reformer, what have you done for me lately” Actually rather a lot 🙂

      Yes, looking forward to seeing you in class! Yay! OMG, Mat or Reformer? So hard to choose just one…

  3. Laetecia Kahn says

    thanks so very much for all the new and learning info that you send out. Thanks for shearing and not keeping these wonderful messages to yourself. Love everything I get from you and also love to put these into my everyday classes.

    • Laetecia,

      Thank you so much for your thoughtful comment – and thank you so much for reading, watching and for just being your awesome Pilates self and wanting to be the best for your classes. I appreciate you and it’s comments like yours that are so inspiring and motivational to me to continue sharing this amazing method of exercise. Cheers to you!

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