What Is a Megaformer? What You Need to Know About the Pilates Machine

The Megaformer might look intimidating, but it's the key to a strong core and muscular endurance.

What Is A Megareformer?
Courtesy of Coastal Core Fitness.

Trying a new workout at a fitness studio can be seriously intimidating, especially if there's a new-to-you exercise machine involved. How do you use it, and will you make a fool of yourself in front of the instructor and other students?

One such unfamiliar machine you may have come across is the Megaformer, a staple piece of equipment in both Lagree-style and Pilates classes (the Lagree method, FYI, blends bodybuilding training techniques with low-impact methods for an extra intense workout). With its sliding carriage, handlebars, resistance springs, and pulleys, it might seem like a pretty complicated piece of equipment to use.

But you don't have to fear the Megaformer. In fact, you're going to want to get to know this very effective piece of exercise equipment better. Keep reading to learn more about the Megaformer (created by trainer and CEO of Lagree Fitness, Sebastien Lagree), how it differs from a classic Pilates reformer, and how to get the most out of a Megaformer workout so you can reap its many benefits.

What Is a Megaformer — and How Does It Work?

A Megaformer is a patented exercise machine that offers a high-intensity, total-body workout while being low-impact on the joints, says Lagree, who developed the machine and its accompanying fitness method (known as the Lagree Method) in the 2000s.

"A Megaformer consists of a sliding carriage that goes back and forth — and attached to it, you have a system of springs and cables," the trainer explains. "In conjunction with the carriage, springs, and cables, you have two end platforms, and you also have handlebars on both ends."

The machine uses the system of springs, cables, and your own body weight combined with slow and controlled movements to activate your slow-twitch muscle fibers, says Ashley Iwanicki, certified Megaformer trainer and founder of The Collective Studios, New Hampshire's first Lagree Fitness Megaformer studio.

When you perform slow and controlled movements on a Megaformer, your muscles are forced to engage the slow-twitch fibers you use for endurance activities (such as long-distance running) rather than the fast-twitch fibers you use for quick, explosive movements, as Shape previously reported.

Megaformer vs. Classic Reformer: What's the Difference?

Although a Megaformer and Pilates reformer might look similar at first glance, they're actually quite different. On a classic Pilates reformer, there's a sliding horizontal platform within a box-like frame and a set of light springs that's attached to the platform through a simple pulley system.

The Megaformer, on the other hand, is a modified reformer created by Lagree. It has an extra platform, extra springs, and additional modifications. It's also much larger than a Pilates reformer, notes Iwanicki.

There's also a big difference when it comes to the intention of these two machines and their accompanying workouts. Pilates, and the classic reformer, was created by Joseph Pilates in the 1920s. Traditionally, Pilates was developed as a form of physical rehabilitation, not a true workout, says Lagree. But since its creation, many Pilates instructors and studios have evolved the original workout to offer a full-body challenge that goes beyond what Joseph Pilates originally envisioned.

The goal of the Pilates reformer, therefore, is to help strengthen weak muscles and stabilize your core, says Iwanicki. "As a method, Pilates focuses on breathing, postural alignment, and precision," she explains. Because Pilates is mainly focused on rehab, on a classic reformer you'll do most of the moves while sitting or lying down, says Lagree.

The Megaformer, conversely, is designed to break down muscle fibers, increase your heart rate, and change your body composition, says Iwanicki. "As a method, it focuses on effective form, range of motion, tempo, duration, tension, sequencing, transition, and places of motion," she says.

On a Megaformer, you'll perform moves in a variety of positions, including standing (on and next to the machine), sitting, and lying down. Additionally, you'll perform a lot of exercises on the back of the machine in counter-resistance against the springs, which intensifies the movements, says Lagree — something that's not possible on a classic reformer.

Benefits of Using a Megaformer

Why would you want to use a Megaformer? To recap, here are the top three benefits of this exercise machine:

It has a low impact on your joints.

Joints can become stiffer and less flexible as you age, leading to things such as knee pain, hip pain, and in some cases even osteoarthritis. "A lot of people have joint issues, so they're looking for a workout that's not going to stress their joints," says Lagree.

The use of resistance springs, and the slow nature of the movements, ensures this workout is low-impact on your joints and connective tissues (while still being high intensity), explains Lagree. It's also low impact because your feet never leave the ground and you don't have to do any jumping, which can be hard on joints.

It works your core the entire time.

When you're using a Megaformer, you get core integration in every single move — even if you think you're just working one body part, such as your biceps or legs. That's because you have to fight to stay upright and maintain your balance on a moving platform, says Lagree.

"When you move with the weight [of the springs on the machine], you are moving back and forth," he explains. "And now you have to address every smaller intrinsic muscle to stabilize your core and to stabilize your spine." This is different from lifting dumbbells or using a leg press machine, he continues. With those, you're not moving with the weight, so there's less core stabilization involved, says Lagree. Using a Megaformer, meanwhile, your muscles have to be fully turned on in order to move the platform steadily or keep it in the same place, both of which require a serious amount of core stability and coordination.

It helps build muscular endurance.

There's a difference between muscular strength and muscular endurance, says Lagree. ICDYK, muscular endurance is the body's ability to work for an extended amount of time, as Shape previously reported. Muscular strength, meanwhile, is about how much force a muscle can produce (think: how much weight you can lift in a biceps curl, or how high you can stack those plyo boxes during box jumps).

When using the Megaformer, muscular endurance is built by doing cardio through weight, says Lagree. "When you get on the Megaformer and start to do lunges for a minute or two minutes, and feel your heart rate going up, that's muscular endurance," says Lagree.

Why is muscular endurance important? Well, you need muscular endurance to make it through a workout as well as everyday activities, such as doing chores or playing with your kids. Muscular endurance prevents you from feeling fatigued, giving you the power to make it to whatever finish line you're chasing (and using less energy to do so).

What to Expect During a Megaformer Class

During a Megaformer class, you'll move through a series of exercises on the machine with varying spring loads (aka resistances) in different planes of motion, says Iwanicki. "You'll always do a mix of planks and lunges in a Megaformer class," notes Lagree.

You may do these exercises on both the front and back platforms, on the carriage, standing to the side of the machine, in front of or behind the Megaformer, as well as standing, sitting, or lying down, adds Iwanicki.

"Exercises are sustained anywhere from one to two minutes and are grouped by body part, helping your muscles fatigue faster," she explains. "While the exercises themselves are performed at a slow pace, transitions between exercises happen quickly to sustain an elevated heart rate and to keep you in an aerobic state."

Some of the most common Megaformer exercises you'll come across are the "Wheelbarrow" (core), "Plank to Pike" (core), "French Twist" (obliques), "Escalator Lunge" (legs), and "Standing Inner Thigh" (legs), says Iwanicki. Below, Lagree explains the basics of the Megaformer machine and how to use it effectively.

And while you might think you're just working one body part at a time during these exercises, the beauty of the Megaformer is that your core (aka your abs) will actually be engaged the entire class, says Lagree.

"When you do a 50-minute workout on the Megaformer, you might not do any [isolated] abs exercises because you're working your abs the entire 50 minutes as you do every other exercise," he says. "So it's a very efficient way of combining multiple muscle groups."

Megaformer Workout Tips

Ready to get on a Megaformer? Here are a few things to keep in mind to make the most of your workout — and stay safe on the machine:

Arrive early to your first class.

New to the Megaformer? Give yourself plenty of time to get there early. "Most studios will want to spend a few minutes before class starts to give you a machine demo and tell you what you can expect from class," says Iwanicki.

Take a beginner-level class.

"If a studio offers a beginner or essentials class, definitely take advantage of it, even if you are well-versed with Pilates reformer," suggests Iwanicki. "A Pilates reformer and Megaformer class are very different, and experience on a Pilates reformer doesn't always translate to the Megaformer."

A beginner-level class operates at a slightly slower pace and focuses on more foundational exercises, creating an ideal environment for you to learn and gain confidence on the Megaformer, she adds.

Try out different studios and instructors.

Not every studio or instructor will have the same approach, so it may take a while to find someone you really like, says Lagree. That's why you should give the Megaformer workout a couple of tries and with different trainers, he suggests. (You can use the studio locator on lagreefitness.com to find studios that use the Megaformer near you.)

Wear comfortable clothing (and don't forget the grip socks!).

"When heading to a Megaformer class, you should wear comfortable activewear — leggings and a sports bra or top should do the trick," says Iwanicki. "Grip socks are also required for Megaformer classes to ensure client safety and better adherence while on the machine."

Focus on going slow.

"Remember to go slow while in the exercises," says Iwanicki. "The slower you go and faster you transition between exercises, the higher your EPOC — excess post-exercise oxygen consumption — will be and the faster you'll see results."

Aim for two to three classes a week to complement your workout routine.

To get the most out of the Megaformer, try to attend two to three classes a week, suggests Lagree — and consider the Megaformer part of your balanced weekly workout plan because it includes so many different training techniques, gives you a cardio boost, and works your core. "If this is the method you feel like you really enjoy, then as you get more proficient with it, you can start to add in an additional class or two — it's entirely up to you," says Lagree.

Megaformer workouts can also be a nice accompaniment to other workouts because they include so many training techniques and work your core in every move, he adds. Runners, for example, can benefit from the added core strength a Megaformer provides because having a strong core helps you move faster, as Shape previously reported. And HIIT enthusiasts who need a break from high-impact workouts due to injury or pain will appreciate how much of a challenge using the Megaformer is while being low impact.

Be patient.

The bottom line: "Similar to yoga, your first few Megaformer classes may feel a bit unfamiliar as you become acquainted with the terminology and machine," says Iwanicki. "Know that that is normal and you'll quickly get the hang of it the more your practice."

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