What is the Pilates Reformer?

Updated: May 21, 2021

“It’s not a machine, it’s an apparatus!

A machine works you... an apparatus, you have to work it.”

- Romana Kryzanowska

The Pilates reformer is perhaps the most recognizable and most used piece of Pilates apparatus. But with long straps, a moving platform, and the name “reformer”, there’s a common joke that it is more medieval torture device than anything else.

As a German citizen, Joseph Pilates spent time on the Isle of Man in internment camp from 1914-1919 during WWI. The general story is that Joseph Pilates was asked to assist those confined to their beds with some form of exercise, so he took the springs from the beds and attached them in various ways to provide resistance in their training. Looking at the reformer (as well as other pieces of Pilates apparatus), you can certainly see how they might have originated from a basic bed with springs.

Joe moved to New York in 1925 and began work on creating his apparatus. Joe and his brother (a wood craftsman) were building Joe’s equipment. One day Joe contacted Mr. Frank Gratz, who owned a local metal design and fabrication facility, to see if he could help build something in Joe’s studio.

In the late 60’s when Joe passed away, Joe’s wife, Clara, contacted Frank Gratz to see if he would collaborate in an attempt to replicate and manufacture more of Joe’s apparatus. After much research and development, Gratz was able to replicate Joe's reformer with the same dimensions, weights, resistance and feel, which Gratz™ still manufactures today.

The classical Pilates reformer is 80-86 inches long and about 15 inches off the ground. It has a sliding carriage that rests on two tracts. The underside of the carriage is connected to four springs of equal tension. These four springs act as resistance and the number of springs used vary from exercise to exercise. The straps are made of leather and are bound to the underside of the carriage. The handles are sturdy, made of wood, and rotate with ease.

Some contemporary manufacturers have made significant changes to Joe’s reformer, changing everything from frame size and strap length, to footbar width and spring tension. The vital dimensions and resistance changes that were made to the contemporary reformers dramatically altered the intensity and integrity of each exercise to be done on them.

The unique features on the Gratz reformer are an integral part of the workout on the reformer. The difference in frame size, wheels, heavier carriage, sanded rails, and leather straps, are meant to contribute to the workout by adding resistance. This is an important part of the reformer design and is something that can only be felt on a Gratz™ reformer.

It is designed to challenge you. The more resistance you have, the more it challenges your body. You are forced to work harder and deeper. Every exercise, including the basics, are much more difficult to accomplish and that’s why the Gratz™ reformer changes your body so dramatically and quickly.

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