"After a month of trying Reformer Pilates, I was *very* surprised at how much my body changed"

If it's good enough for Harry Styles…

Reformer Pilates before and after: Health Editor Ally Head trying Pilates
(Image credit: Ally Head)

I'm a runner, so twirling my legs around in straps on a Reformer machine is about as alien to me as gaming (no offence, gamers). That said, I'd seen an increasing number of gym-goers raving about their own Reformer Pilates before and after, so decided to give it a go for myself.

A bit of background: I'm a Health Editor and 8x marathon runner. I have a Boston qualifying personal best and deadlift regularly to injury-proof my body but often skip other workouts in order to fit everything in.

That said, I'd seen Pilates exercises slowly creep into the mainstream as a go-to workout over the past few years. Pilates for beginners was growing in popularity, while the likes of Kourtney Kardashian, Hayley Bieber, and Kendall Jenner are all reportedly repeating the benefits of Pilates (read: boosted energy, strength, muscle tone and so on).

The science also backs Reformer Pilates as a brilliant way to move; for instance, a 2020 paper found that it has positive effects on flexibility as well as heart rate and glucose measurements - surprising, given the fact that it's a low-impact workout that doesn't involve traditional cardio. 

And, once you've wrapped your head around the difference between Pilates vs yoga, you'll know that Pilates can be a real all-rounder when it comes to core strength and general wellbeing, too. Studies have found it not only improves flexibility, but can build your abdominal, back, hip, and glute muscles, too. Not bad.

I've long been intrigued by how effortlessly strong most regular Pilates-goers looked, emerging post-session sans red face or sweat patches (quite the opposite of my marathon training, I hasten to add). So I took it upon myself to give the low-impact workout a go.

Thanks to the team at Frame - who teach Reformer Pilates classes in Victoria, King's Cross, Shoreditch, and Angel - I was set. Now, the difficult part - to actually give it a go…

Reformer Pilates before and after: how it totally changed my body

For those new to Reformer Pilates (me), I learnt that it's a dynamic workout that involves you using a (yep, you guessed it) Reformer machine - see Harry Styles on one below.

Invented in the 1920's by physical trainer Joseph Pilates, just like there are loads of types of yoga, there are multiple types of Pilates workouts, too - both bodyweight and Reformer. I opted for Reformer as I was intrigued by the machinery and keen to learn a new skill, plus wanted to see if it was as effective as I'd heard on the grapevine.

Reformers are designed to make your Pilates workout more intense. How? By adding varying levels of resistance via springs. Using slow and controlled movements, you can strengthen and tone muscles all over your body without coming out of the studio a sweaty mess. I was sold.

Week one

While there is a mindful element to Pilates (it's certainly calmer than high intensity interval training), it's not just mindful movement. Far from it: it's actually a really spicy workout, when you get going.

My first class was a little intimidating but exciting, too. If you're anxious you won't be able to keep up or will get that gut-wrenching kid-bad-at-PE feeling, don't be. My instructor Hannah calmly talked the class through which spring to use, where to position your body on the machine, and how to do any moves I looked totally flabbergasted by. The pace was slow, and so too was the burn, making it an ideal low intensity sweat session.

I get delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMs) from the first session or two, but by leaving a few more days between my classes and getting adequate workout recovery, these ease off quite quickly.

Ally Head, Healt Editor, sharing her Reformer Pilates results

(Image credit: Ally Head)

Week two

By week two, I'm actually looking forward to my 7am alarm clocks. The classes were totally unlike anything I've tried before and challenging in new ways.

To an upbeat soundtrack of Dua Lipa and Olivia Rodriguez, we pushed in and out on different tension springs, moving our legs in circular motions in straps and generally easing hip, neck, and back tension. I begin to look forward to stretching out my tired muscles from days sat at a desk not designed for WFH and anticipate the subtle endorphins post-workout, too.

Every session is totally different because, fun fact, Pilates actually involves over 500 variations of exercises which your instructor will piece together in their own unique way. This made it exciting and easy to look forward too, as I never knew what was in store that session.

Week three

Week three swings around in no time at all and I try my favourite class yet - dynamic Reformer Pilates, Frame's most challenging offering. We're guided through the session by trainer Poppy in the Victoria studio, and while it's a real burner, I come out of the class with that happy-fatigue-endorphin boost of a session well done.

Focusing on strength, power and precision in this new way has given me a new found confidence - I feel taller, tighter, and am genuinely looking forward to each session.

Ally Head, Healt Editor, sharing her Reformer Pilates results

(Image credit: Ally Head)

Week four

By week four, I don't want my challenge to end. Jumping in at the deep end and actually giving Pilates a go (no, I never thought I'd be a Pilates person either) has proven that you're never too old to try something new and fall in love with it.

The rumours are true, too - I've definitely tightened up my arms, abs, and glutes, which was never my main priority, but feels great nonetheless.

I loved my weekly Pilates sessions for a number of reasons. They were clearly challenging my body in newfound ways, utilising muscles I'd never used before and adapting to a new way of training. I loved the relaxed feel of the classes - this wasn't a HIIT session, and you wouldn't leave drenched in sweat, but you would leave knowing you'd done a great workout. And finally, I adored how Pilates made me feel - I was more relaxed, sleeping better, and felt stronger all around.

Reformer Pilates before and after: my thoughts after a month of trying the workout?

So, what did I think of Reformer, and will I be continuing to practice the workout now my month trial is over? 

Bottom line: I loved it. It was challenging and all of the rumours about it changing your body - and fast - rang true.

How did it make me feel mentally? I really loved the more laid-back approach. This didn't mean a less effective workout, mind, just a less mentally-draining session. Pilates is all about mind and body connection, and I really felt that - it's not about rushing through 101 reps and pouring with sweat from all parts of your body, but utilising a slow and steady burn to make both your mind and body feel good.

A convert? You could say so. Will I be back? After the next marathon..

Reformer essentials to buy now

Reformer Pilates example workouts

Try some of the below at home or, if you'd rather try one of my favourite Reformers Pilates classes in London, head to Frame, Heartcore, or 1Rebel, who have just launched a new reformer offering. 

1. Move with Nicola 20 minute Pilates workout

2. Lottie Murphy 10 minute Pilates workout

3. Sanne Vloet 30 minute Pilates workout

This article was originally written in November 2021.

Ally Head
Senior Health, Sustainability and Relationships Editor

Ally Head is Marie Claire UK's Senior Health, Sustainability, and Relationships Editor, nine-time marathoner, and Boston Qualifying runner. Day-to-day, she works across site strategy, features, and e-commerce, reporting on the latest health updates, writing the must-read health and wellness content, and rounding up the genuinely sustainable and squat-proof gym leggings worth *adding to basket*. She's won a BSME for her sustainability work, regularly hosts panels and presents for events like the Sustainability Awards, and is a stickler for a strong stat, too, seeing over nine million total impressions on the January 2023 Wellness Issue she oversaw. Follow Ally on Instagram for more or get in touch.