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January 25, 2012 / ShapedforFitness

Pilates Reformer & Desa Prana

I’ve discovered another great workout that feels ahhh-mazing! The Pilates reformer class. Pilates reformer classes strengthen and tone your muscles without putting pressure on the joints with the use of a reformer. After taking a reformer class, my muscles feel fatigued but I feel more flexible, more energized and more powerful.

What is a Pilates reformer? The reformer is the most commonly used Pilates equipment created by Joseph Pilates, which is used to assist and resist the students through the range of motion of a Pilates exercise. Here’s a great breakdown of a standard reformer:


The Pilates Reformer has a sliding platform attached with springs at one end and it can be moved by pulling on ropes or pushing off from a stationary foot bar. The nickel-plated steel springs glide smoothly or move back and forth on the rollers. The springs are used for resistance instead of weights. These springs provide variable or measured resistance — from light to heavy — to the muscles while exercising. The springs offer more resistance at the strongest point of muscle contraction and less resistance at the starting and finishing point. This type of resistance reduces stress on the tendons and ligaments in the body.

Generally, Pilates reformer classes are very expensive, ranging from $25-$50 per class and upwards of $100 for a semi-private session. Certified Pilates reformer instructors have gone through rigorous training on movement and anatomy (300+ hours), and class sizes are typically small (5-10 people), which is why it costs so much.

Since Pilates is one of the fitness disciplines I’m interested in teaching, I wanted to get experience on the reformers. Thankfully, I got a great Plum District deal to a new studio, Desa Prana, in Dana Point, CA for 5 classes for $39. Awesome, right?! Even though Dana Point is a 25-30 min drive for me, I jumped at the opportunity to try a reformer class.

Desa Prana is located on the Pacific Coast Highway (PCH) in Capistrano Beach and looks straight out to the beach and crashing waves. Talk about beautiful views to gaze at as you workout!

View from balcony in the Desa Prana studio

Desa Prana offers Pilates reformer, yoga, barre and Zumba classes, Mon – Sat. (schedule) It’s a boutique studio with room for 6 reformers so you’re always guaranteed a small class with individual attention.

Empty Desa Prana studio

Desa Prana studio - small classes with max 6 students for reformer classes. (5 reformers set up in photo)

Jeannie McCormack - Desa Prana

The studio owner and instructor, Jeannie McCormack, has been teaching movement (yoga, Pilates, barre) for over 30 years and has a tremendous amount of knowledge and creativity in her classes. She’s definitely a free spirit and has her own twist to the standard Pilates reformer class. Her classes are more like a graceful dance than a patterned workout. Jeannie treats every one of her clients like best friends and has a genuine interest in their lives. Since the studio is privately owned and operated, you get the personal attention with a personalized workout, but you don’t get the benefits of a large, multifaceted gym like 24 Fitness. There’s no receptionist taking your phone calls or answering emails, so you may not get a hold of Jeannie immediately, but she cares about you and will respond to you in between classes.

Breakdown of Pilates Reformer Workout:


Laying flat on the platform with your feet on the bar and shoulders pressed against the shoulder rests, you glide back & forth warming up the muscles and connecting your breath to the movement.


There are many different leg exercises on the reformer, but generally you do leg presses against the bar in different positions like feet narrow, feet wide, on your toes, on your heels, one leg, leg raises, etc. Another way to workout your legs is to put your feet in the straps, which are attached to cables above your head:

Straight leg raises with feet in straps

You can do many different moves that isolate different leg muscles. The tough part about having your feet in the straps, is that the movement is “free”, not attached throughout the range of motion, and you have to control the movement by engaging your core and other surrounding muscles. Otherwise, your legs will go flying in every direction. Here are some of my favorite, graceful leg exercises:

Side to side leg extensions and flexion

Controlled inner thigh adduction (moving together)

Heel presses “Frog Legs"

Other leg exercises can also be done using an accessory called a jump board (my favorite):

Pilates reformer jump board

Lying flat on your back you put your feet against the board and explosively press away from it. You actually “jump” off the board, sending yourself and the platform to the other end, but then the springs pull you back to the board where you land and jump again. I felt like I was on a trampoline but horizontal to the ground. It was so fun! And, it’s an awesome cardio workout, I’m drenched afterwards!


Throughout the entire workout, you engage your core so your abs are completely exhausted by the end (if you’re doing it right). But, there are also many core focussed movements like the shoulder stand. With your feet in the straps, you lift your straight legs to 90 degrees to the ceiling and slowly lift your hips and booty off the platform. What’s challenging is that the cables are pulling you backwards so if you don’t control the movement you’ll flip over in a backwards somersault. After holding the shoulder stand for a couple of seconds, you slowly lower back to the platform one vertebrae at a time and then lower your legs to 45 degrees.

Shoulder Stand - Very hard, but I love it!

Lower legs to 45 degrees after shoulder stand (


Like the leg exercises, there are many movements you can do to isolate the different arm muscles. Many times we put a box on top of the platform and sit on it while we use the straps/cables for resistance. Again, the free movement of the cables requires all muscles to fire and your core to stabilize your body. Here are some of my favorite arm exercises:

Overhead Press or tricep extensions (

“Superman Fly” staring point (I forgot the real name)

Sweep your arms around to the front, engaging back muscles, abs and arms.

Cool Down & Stretch: After a challenging Pilates reformer class your muscles are exhausted and it feels so good to stretch everything out on the reformer. The reformer also assists you in different stretches and helps you move smoothly through dynamic stretches. At Desa Prana you also get a nice warm cup of tea at the end of your session. 🙂

Every time I take a Pilates reformer class I walk away feeling longer, leaner, and stronger. And the best part is no joint pain!! The reformer allows you to workout all the muscles, without the resistance of gravity. Plus, all the exercises teach you to engage your core to stabilize your body, which carries over to any movement you do during the day.

Thanks Jeannie for all the great workouts at Desa Prana!



Leave a Comment
  1. sweetopiagirl / Jan 25 2012 9:31 am

    Reblogged this on Inspiredweightloss.


  1. Precision Pilates « SHAPEd for Fitness

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