The correct machine settings maximize comfort and benefits

Machine Settings

To get the best out of your Pilates reformer your machine settings should be set correctly. Anything that moves, you can usually adjust on the reformer.

Parts which you can move, set and should check

Reformer with tagged Pilates machine settings.

You want to make sure that you check these Pilates machine settings, so they are both aligned to your body and the level of your practice. They can be personalized to you.

This is one of the great things about having your very own Pilates reformer at home, you get to set all of these and they aren’t changed, until you choose to change them!

You also know that all these items are clean, especially the foot and hand straps and the foot bar.

Spring Resistance

The carriage resistance is set by normally 5 springs.  There will be at least 1 light, 1 medium spring, and usually accompanied by a heavy spring.  When doing leg work in supine, the heavier springs will make it more challenging.  The springs are kept in place under the reformer by the spring anchor bar and spring sheaths, which keep the individual springs apart and stops them from clanging together.

However, a lighter spring can make some abdominal exercises harder than a heavier spring!

The lighter spring settings are usually used for arm work. However, as you build strength you may want to add another spring, to build muscle. You do need to be careful that a heavier spring doesn’t pull you out of performing the movement correctly.

Some reformers may have a top row for the springs and this adds another half spring of resistance. You will find this on the spring set for the Allegro II, where there you can use this top spring set for arm work. You may want another half spring more than just the yellow spring, the lightest on the Allegro II, and by stretching this spring to the top row, you will achieve this.

Joseph Pilates was very particular about performing moves firstly correctly.

Spring gear bar

Some reformers will allow you to move the spring gear bar/ spring rack, like the Stott Pilates Merrithew at Home SPX  or the Peak Pilates reformer. This allows you to set the amount of initial tension on the springs. The further back you have the gear bar to the foot bar the more spring tension.

Some reformers do not have a spring bar set like the Body Balance Allegro 2 reformer.

Pilates reformer showing the spring gear box with different spring settings and foot bar in down position

Carriage stopper

Some reformers will allow you to move the carriage stopper. The stopper determines how close the carriage comes to the front end of the reformer frame. Have a look at the inside railing to see if you can move the stopper forward or back. Ideally, you’ll have this option too. Again if you are taller, then you’ll probably want to have the stopper set back.  There will also be a carriage stopper at the end of the carriage rail, this stops the carriage from hitting the end of the reformer!

Foot straps

Most reformers will have short loop and long loop straps.  The short loops are for putting your hands in and the long loops are for your feet. Depending on your reformer you may need to set the foot straps. This can be done by lying on your back on the reformer and putting your legs in the air, so you are in an ‘L’ shape. The straps should comfortably go over your feet. You may need to let the rope through the clamps (or cleat system)  on the reformer to complete this.

Foot bar height

You should have 3-4 Pilates machine settings for the foot bar height.  In most practices you’ll tend to use the foot bar (1) completely low position, all the way down or (2) completely high position, all the way up. However, there are exercises where it may feel more comfortable to have the foot bar in a mid-way position, so it’s a nice to have.  Some exercises where you can have the foot bar in a low height position, is the snake, which is an advanced reformer move.  It is important that when you adjust the foot bar height, that you ensure that it clicks and locks soundly into place.

A reformer like the Allegro 2 also has a moving foot bar which can travel up and down the reformer, which you can lock into different positions. This adds to the variety of exercises that you can do, such as reverse knee tuck with an underhand grip of the foot bar.

Pulley Post And Riser at the back of the reformer.

Pulley posts/ risers

The pulley risers can be found at the back of the reformer. They determine the height the rope runs through the end pulleys.  Some companies recommend that you start with the pulley height at the same height as the top of the shoulder rests. However, this will depend on your own body shape and comfort.


The headrest usually can be adjusted to 3 settings, flat, half raised, and fully raised.

Pilates Reformer close up of headrest & shoulder rest, with adjustable head rest and clam cleats for the rope.

You should always have the headrest fully down when you are in supine, the headrest can be adjusted upwards when you are practicing sideline moves, such as footwork on the bar on your left and right sides.

However, we are big fans of using a soft small ball in place of the headrest in an elevated position. Alternatively, in some classes you may  use a weighted ball as a substitute to the headrest.

As you have these substitutes for the headrest we don’t feel like it’s that big of an issue or selling point if there aren’t multiple heights for the headrest.

Shoulder Rest and Head Rest on the Reformer.

Shoulder Rests

Some reformers will have removable shoulder rests like the Balanced Body Allegro 2 reformer, which can be helpful for some exercises or if you need to stack the reformer.  The padded sides of the headrests always face the front of the reformer.

There are a lot of moving parts in a reformer, which allow you to customize the reformer.  You should take some time to make sure that you have the reformer setup correctly, with the right Pilates machine settings for your own body and at your practice level, so you can maximize the benefits of a Pilates session. If the reformer is not correctly set up before you start, then you may not reap the full benefits of an exercise or you may feel uncomfortable or cramped.