Any type of exercise with the word ‘reformer’ in, automatically sounds like it’s going to involve pain. I’d heard and done a couple of Pilates Reformer classes before (where you lie on something resembling a medieval rack and pull and push a bar and pulleys) but I couldn’t even imagine what a Chair Reformer would be like. But if Michelle Obama apparently swears by it, then I’d give it a go. And that’s how I found myself in Parsons Green at Transition Zone.
Transition Zone isn’t in my usual stomping zone but I’d wanted to visit for a long time, especially after Hannah’s experience with the TRX. Set up by Claire Finlay, an ex-advertising director, she swapped London for South India to follow her heart and complete her yoga teaching qualification. Returning to her childhood passion for sports and fitness and drawing upon her experience studying Sport at Brunel University, it was a natural path to launch a health and fitness consultancy. In 2014, driven by the desire to help her clients and others feel mentally and physically strong and empowered, she launched Transition Zone.
Transition Zone is a spacious airy gym with simple yet effective equipment. From power plates, TRX, weights and these reformer chairs, the range of 30 – 45 minute classes are specially designed for maximum benefits and results without cutting too much into our busy lives.
Whilst there aren’t many chair reformer classes available in London, there’s nothing faddy about these sessions. Unlike dog yoga, or beer yoga, or goodness knows what other type of yoga people can cash in on, Transition Zone prides itself on tried and tested methods.
Claire taught the Chair Reformer class and numbers are kept deliberately small, which is a necessity with this piece of equipment. There’s a lot to think about and technique is key! The chair reformer looks a little like a rectangular stool with a spring-weighted bar on one of the wider sides. After a short dynamic stretch, I got my first try on the reformer. And it was a bit of a shock just how hard I found the first exercise! Simply put, we were pushing the bar down with one leg, a little like a squat machine. But unlike the squat machine where you sit comfortably, with a back rest to push against, here you have to solely use your core, back and leg muscles, at the same time concentrating on balance. And this was just the first exercise… As I looked round at everyone else seemingly managing to get through the exercise with little effort, I did wonder whether I’d be able to do this…
The 45 minutes is a non-stop whole body workout. What was most noticeable is that despite my initial fear, the exercises are do-able, and are cunningly timed to build the burn just enough that you think you’re going to have to give up before it switches to another muscle group.
The genius characteristic of the reformer chairs is that as well as adding resistance and making exercises more challenging, they can also help with exercises which you’d normally find hard. Take tricep dips – by keeping your feet on the bar (which is designed to spring upwards) it helps support your weight allowing you to work on technique and reps. Similarly, one-handed press-ups can be supported by having more tension on the moving bar (although this isn’t the case if you do what I did and put too little tension on it – I couldn’t understand why everyone else was so much less grunty than I was!)
I especially loved the pikes on the chair reformer – they are the perfect handstand training and work all those tiny little muscles around your shoulders and chest which you never use.
At the end of the session, my shoulders especially felt like they would enjoy post-workout DOMs. Physically and mentally, I felt great – it was challenging but lots of fun and I didn’t feel exhausted. The juice from the Recovery Café also helped put a spring back into my step – get the Skin one, it’s incredible!
If you’re the kind of person who gets bored with your usual workout but wants something to tone and strengthen then you’ll love the Chair Reformer. Easy to get to grips with once you know how it works, I really enjoyed the challenge of having to work on my balance and technique. I’m a stickler for technique and it was fantastic to see how closely Claire watched over us, sharing reminders for how we held ourselves and adjusting positioning. It works well as a workout on its own but would also be especially complimentary for those with very different fitness routines, from running to Crossfit, to yoga.
Who’s it for: Pilates junkies will love the challenge of the chair!
Where: 17 Heathman’s Road, Parsons Green, London SW6 4TJ
When: There’s several Reformer Chair Pilates classes throughout the week. Check the timetable for sessions.
How much: New clients are eligible for 2 for one classes at £25 (usual drop-in is £28), or 10 consecutive days for £50. There are also a range of Class Pack bundles.