Thursday, July 24, 2014

Reform School: My First Workout with a Pilates Megaformer

I like Groupon. I don't know if I've mentioned it before, but I've found some sweet deals on Groupon, and we all know how much I love a deal. Recently I scored one on a series of classes at a local pilates megaformer studio.

I know, that totally sounds like a superhero, doesn't it?! Megaformer! The badass cousin of Optimus Prime. But no, a megaformer is just the most recent model of the pilates reformer--a machine on which you do various exercises. It's quite a behemoth... not something I could ever (or would ever want to) have in my house, but you can buy fold-up varieties for use at home.

A Little Schooling on the Reformer

The machine was invented by founder Joseph Pilates himself. A reformer is a bed-like contraption with a center portion that moves back and forth on wheels. There are handles and pulleys on either end, and resistance is provided by a set of springs underneath. You can adjust the resistance on the carriage by tinkering with the different knobs attached to the springs.
The photo... look Ma, no people!

I've always been a little intrigued/intimidated by reformers. The look like something you might have found in the bowels of the Tower of London... kind of like the infamous rack. But I've read they're very effective and even a little bit fun? So when the Groupon deal was posted and the pot was sweetened by an additional 15% off, I took the plunge.

The Class

I made a concerted effort to get there 15 minutes early so I could get a tutorial and practice on the machine a little. But when I got to the studio... no one was there. So I waited.

And waited.

And waited.

Finally, five minutes before class time, the instructor arrives and lets me in. So no practice time. She was nice, but didn't introduce herself or ask my name, whether or not I had any injuries, etc. She knew I was a first-timer, though, because she gave me a new client form to fill out.

Then she offered to show me how the machine worked. I said I wanted to take a picture for Darling Son #1. Little engineer-in-training was fascinated when I said I was going to workout on a machine! If he had been there, he'd have been under the machine figuring out how it all worked. Instructor says, 'I don't want to be in the picture.' Ok, that's fine. I didn't intend to take a picture of you, but whatever. I tell her I can take it after she shows me the machine.

I'm holding my phone at my side, and mid-machine-presentation, she says, 'You aren't recording this, are you?' Um, NO! She didn't say it in a bitchy way, but it was..weird. So I assured her I wasn't, and she said, 'ok, I'm just really sensitive about that kind of thing.'

Obviously! Made me wonder... is she in the Federal Witness Protection Program?! Did she testify against Whitey Bulger or something?! So then I start spinning quite a yarn in my head about what she might have seen... was she involved with the mob?! Wow! What a story I'm making up out of nowhere!

I struggle to refocus, figure I can handle all the levers and pulleys. I think I'm OK. She tells me class is very intense, but to do my best. 

So we get underway and, quite frankly, class wasn't that intense. I would say it was actually pretty easy. I found the megaformer kind of awkward on some exercises--not because it was unstable, which is the point, I suppose--but the pulley cord got in the way at times and by the time I figured out how to do some exercises, the set was almost over.

And this brings me to my biggest beef: I struggled with set up because while she cued well, she didn't use a mic so it was hard to hear her at times. She was nice and had a good class rapport, but for some reason, she didn't have us do the normal reps. A couple of times she mentioned exercises would normally be done for two minutes, but she only had us do them for one minute. Again, Why?? Was she dumbing down the class for me because it was my first time? I don't know... there were only two other women in the class and I was the only novice. Still, I was doing fine, definitely holding my own.

Anyway, at the end, I told her I didn't find it that intense and was I doing something wrong? She said, 'maybe you need to push yourself more.' That's possible. I was a little tentative on the machine at first, which is why I wish I had been given the opportunity to practice on it beforehand.

She told me to expect to 'feel it' tomorrow. Somehow, I doubt it... especially after what Megan did to me at Pure Barre two days ago, but we'll see. I have two more classes left on my Groupon, so I'll try again with a different instructor and we'll see how it goes.

The Verdict

It was definitely different, which can be fun. I certainly don't feel like I got a better workout than I do just using bodyweight in barre or pilates mat classes. If I didn't have a Groupon, I would likely not go back. But I do suspect there's something of a learning curve on the megaformer. I'm going back next week with a different instructor, and I might try another local studio that's gotten rave reviews. 

The downside of reformer classes is cost--they're pricey. They make barre classes look cheap, and most in my area have very strict cancellation policies. I'm sympatheic--I'm sure megaformers don't come cheap, require maintenance, and your class number is obviously limited by the number of machines available. 

I'm certainly willing to admit my awkward moments with my Johnny-come-lately instructor might have colored my viewpoint, but I'll try it again. Anyone out there have thoughts on the subject? I'm willing to be reformed...


  1. I have a Stott Pro Reformer in my house and I've been to a "normal" Pilates studio for reformer classes. They aren't hard to use, resistance is simple to change, and there's not much of a learning curve. Why would they ever say Joe Pilates had anything to do with that? Maybe next time you could visit a "real" Pilates studio to compare.

    1. The studio didn't say Joe Pilates developed it... that's what I read when I researched it. I did go back to the studio and took another class... it was better the second time around. The instructor ran longer sets so it was much more challenging. A local barre studio I visit sometimes also has pilates equipment classes, too, so maybe I'll try those out someday.