The popularity of Pilates has skyrocketed over the last ten years. For those that haven't heard much about it, Pilates is an exercise system originally created by Joseph Pilates that focuses on core strength while also emphasizing flexibility and strength through motion, stability, balance, and many other important aspects of strength training. The best thing about it: Pilates is something that anyone can do, irrespective of age, gender, or fitness level. Pilates movements range from extremely simple to surprisingly complex and difficult.
Paralleled with the rising popularity of Pilates is the increasing popularity of Pilates machines. These are application-specific exercise machines that help you perform the Pilates exercises, either by giving you an increased range of motion and support, or helping you ease into some of the more complex movements. One of the more interesting machines available on the market today is the Pilates Allegro Reformer, available at Pilates.com (http://www.pilates.com/BBAPP/V/equipment/all...). Market research indicates that this unit is most regularly purchased by women, although more and more men are becoming interested in Pilates. (Most of the exercise videos on Pilates are taught by women, although it's interesting to note that the system was invented by a man. I find the exercises to be extremely rewarding and very beneficial as a man myself.)
This device is being used in many gyms and fitness centers around the country to teach people the most common Pilates routines. I bought one of these machines and have been using it for over two years. Here's my review of my experience with it:
The Balanced Body Allegro Pilates Reformer is one of the best-constructed exercise machines I have ever had the pleasure of owning. It is truly a professional piece of equipment. There's nothing cheap about this machine. Its price isn't cheap at around $2300, but the machine is rugged and its mechanics allow you to perform a bewildering array of Pilates moves -- many more than you can perform on a mat.
This machine allows you to take your Pilates practice to a whole new level. You can use it to work your upper body, abdominal and core regions, and even your legs. There is no muscle group that you can't work on this machine, both in terms of strength training and the range of motion training.
Phenomenal design and engineering
The Balanced Body Allegro Pilates Reformer is extremely well designed. It's quick and easy to change the resistance level by disconnecting or reconnecting any one of a series of easily accessible color-coded springs. If you want to change the level of resistance of the sliding platform, you simply connect different colored springs to add up to the level of resistance you desire. But this is no weight machine: due of the mechanics of Pilates, some moves are harder to do when there is less resistance! (The resistance actually assists the move, so using less tension on the springs means using more tension in your own muscles.)
The more resistance you have on the machine, the more assistance you are getting on certain exercises, so even a person with very poor abdominal strength can choose a level of resistance on the machine that makes it easy to go through the full range of motions for leg lifts, for example, whereas they would not be able to do this on their own. Other exercises are configured in a way that makes them more difficult when you have more resistance, and these moves can be adjusted to be either easy or difficult, depending on your preference.
Be aware that the Allegro Pilates Reformer does require some assembly when purchased, and it is quite a large item to receive as a shipment. You'll need a fair amount of floor space to use it properly, so be sure you actually have the room available before you invest in the machine. Be prepared to do a little bit of assembly. If you have tall ceilings in your house, you can store it vertically and it only takes up a few square feet of floor space, but otherwise, it's quite long and can take up quite a lot of floor space. (I store it vertically on its wheels, then simply lower the machine down to the floor to use it. But be aware that doing this requires some significant physical strength. The machine isn't a lightweight.)
I found the instructions quite clear and the assembly straightforward, although it did take a couple of hours to get it all together and working correctly. Other than that, the unit comes with everything you need, including all the cables and straps. All are of a very high quality. I have yet to wear out a single piece on the unit, although the ropes are looking a bit worn at this point. Everything else on the machine seems like it will last for it decades even with repetitive use.
Learning how to use the reformer
The manual that comes with the Allegro Pilates Reformer shows you a few interesting exercises. You can purchase a video from Pilates.com that shows you more. The only problem with the videos is that the levels one, two, and three basically show you all the same exercises with only minor variations. It's not worth buying all three. Just buy level one if you're a beginner, and you can probably figure out how to make the exercises more difficult on your own. I made the mistake of buying all three and ended up with a redundant supply of instructional videos.
What's great about the whole Pilates system, including this Allegro Pilates Reformer machine, is that it's not about isolated strength or one movement. It's really about compound movements. You're training functional body strength. The Pilates machine will never make you big and bulky like a bodybuilder. You will, however, get incredibly strong and functional muscles that can support your body and can help you move through day-to-day tasks with far less pain and far more strength and fluidity. Your whole body will be strengthened as a system and taught new ways to move. It's not about building bulky muscle mass. This is about real core strength that helps you function better.
This machine is in no way comparable to the cheap $200 Pilates home unit that you might find advertised on television or in magazines. This is a $2000+ machine, and really worth every penny. The Allegro Pilates Reformer is the Mercedes of reformers, and offers the performance of a finely engineered vehicle.
Is it too much to spend on your own body?
Many people balk at the idea of spending $2300 on exercise equipment, which I've always found interesting. People will spend $40,000 on a car, $500,000 on a house, or $100,000 on an education that largely turns out to be irrelevant to their profession. They'll spend thousands of dollars on prescription drugs and tens of thousands on medical procedures, but they balk at the idea of spending a couple of thousand dollars on their health of their own body.
I think it's well justified to spend this kind of money on yourself, especially when an investment in the right kind of equipment -- combined with the willingness to put that equipment to use -- can help you avoid huge medical expenses later on in life. Being fit and engaging in regular physical exercise not only makes you feel and look better, it also has a value in preventing medical costs down the road.
One thing about the Allegro Pilates Reformer is that it will greatly improve your posture, and improved posture means easier breathing, better spinal health and more efficient use of energy. You'll look better, feel better and move easier. Isn't that worth a couple of grand?
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