What is reformer pilates and why are they crazy about it on TikTok?

Harry Styles is the prime mover behind the latest social trend set to revolutionise your workout. Here's everything you need to know.

Sometimes we feel like we do everything at the behest of one Harold Edward Styles. You love nail polish and you like pearl necklaces? OK, that's fine. Do you enjoy being caught up in the huge celebrity melodrama based on the thrill of knowing who he was kissing in his latest film? No problem. Styles' latest trend, however, may be good for your physical well-being. Because it's true, the rumours are certified. Harry, the man with the incredibly toned abs, has taken up reformer pilates. Since this is an activity from Harry's world and we live in it, it's time to take a deep dive into reformer pilates to find out if you too can follow the star's example at a gym near you. Helping us on our journey were PT expert Ben Dillon, founder of Myo Room and Exercise With Style specialist, and Ellie Maud, founder of Brighton Pilates, who helped us understand how it works.

What is reformer pilates? How does it differ from pilates?

"Formerly known as 'Contrology', reformer pilates is simply the art of control," explains Ellie Maud. "Reformer pilates is a variant of pilates that uses a machine called a reformer," says Dillon, explaining that the purpose of the reformer, a contraption composed of ropes and sliding wooden parts, is to decrease the load exerted on the joints. As a whole, the contraption resembles more a medieval torture chamber than a gymnastic instrument. Let's not be fooled by appearances. "The reformer is a wooden structure consisting of a bed on wheels with shoulder blocks, four springs, gears, leather straps and handles," Maud illustrates. "It might be intimidating at first, but in reality the purpose of the reformer is to provide support and feedback to the body."

"Reformer pilates is of course a different experience to mat pilates, the key difference being the springs and the amount of resistance elements you add," Maud specifies. "Don't be fooled, though, because the presence of the springs does not mean you have to undergo a harder workout, quite the contrary." In other words, reformer pilates requires you to have more equipment, but it can also be gentler on your joints, giving you an equally challenging but less strenuous workout if you want. Of course you will have to sign up for a class, unless you have an infinite amount of space at home to accommodate the reformer kit. 

Why is it good for you? 

Apart from sharing content on social media to let everyone know we're working out like the beloved Hazza, why is reformer pilates (RP) good for us? "The commonplace is that pilates consists only of breathing and stretching and is a bit boring, if not too easy and useless," says Maud. "This is not the case at all. If taught correctly, it is a complete workout for the whole body with endless possibilities for improvement." Maud explains that his clients quickly realise how RP is a fun and engaging way to train, challenging them in a way that is different from the usual gym session. There is also science to back up its benefits. Maud cites one study that found regular Pilates practice can improve happiness levels and another that found improved functional abilities in a group that previously did not routinely exercise. "Research indicates that reformer pilates can have a considerable effect on reducing joint pressure, weight and improving balance, harmony and body stability," explains Dillon. "Further research on reformer pilates shows an improvement in spinal and shoulder stability," adds Dillon. "This explains why many people recovering from injury turn to private practitioners for rehabilitation." In addition, the reformer has been described as a safe method to reduce fatigue in the training of older adults.

Why is she having a special moment? 

Harry aside, Ellie Maud believes that many people are turning to RP because it is a system that allows them to progress. Unlike weight training, even a beginner can try all the movements safely. With regular practice, Maud believes it can help 'unblock' the body by improving movement and quality of life. Although RP is currently enjoying a moment of glory, Maud and Dillon are keen to emphasise that it is not a fad: it has been a popular and effective training method for over a century that continually challenges its followers.

What do I need to know before I go? 

Unlike weight training, you don't need to be in a particular state of fitness when doing RP. "Due to its ability to scale the load, one of the biggest advantages of RP is its accessibility," says Dillon. "Research suggests that training two sessions per week shows significant results for muscular endurance and abdominal function." "In an ideal universe everyone would train in the studio and then do the exercises on the mat as work at home, doing Pilates on the mat or in the studio three or four times a week," Maud adds. Which sounds like a good goal to achieve, perhaps in place of or in addition to yoga practice. "If you're thinking of trying reformer pilates for the first time, consider booking a private or beginner group session with a certified RP instructor. He will explain the principles, the movements and show you the correct technique," advises Dillon.

How can I train at home?

"The advantage of Pilates is that it is a complete workout," says Maud. "You arrive at the studio and we take care of you from start to finish. There is no need to prepare: the method takes care of it for you. However, if you want to train at home, these are the best I have chosen." Do three sets of exercises in a row, aiming for 40 seconds of work and 20 seconds of rest for each movement.

Hundred exercise

Lying on your back, lift your legs up, keeping them bent at 90 degrees at the knees. Lift your head and upper back off the floor, engaging your abdominals. Take five controlled breaths, inhaling and exhaling, and while doing so, touch the ground with your palms. Aim for 100 breaths.

Roll up

This is a sort of slowed down CrossFit-style sit-up. Bring your arms up, above your knees. From there, stretch forward so that your upper body rests on your knees. Slowly reverse the position to repeat the exercise. 

Criss cross

These exercises are also known as bicycle crunches. Lying on your back, bring one knee up and cross your body with the opposite elbow. Extend the leg in front while bringing the other one up, alternating elbows.