In search of the perfect reformer rolling resistance ...
... or how a modern reformer becomes a perfect reformer.
Frank and I just won't let go of the subject of perfect rolling resistance. The rumor that this causes sleepless nights for us, is, of course, not true. But, we are interested in it, like I reported for example in the blog article "Beastmaster".
The reason for controlled rolling resistance is not immediately obvious to everyone, as the discussion under the Beastmaster blog article with Jörg from the Pilates Zentrum Aschaffenburg showed. I don't know whether my extensive answer - click here - really convinced Jörg back then. But in the meantime it has become clearer to me what is so wrong with the modern reformer slides on ball bearings that are running too well.
Danger of black ice
In nature, having no friction is very rare and if there is, we warn of it with large signs.
How do we move on ice?
We tighten the whole body and make small movements. Sounds like a lot of work. Shouldn't that be positive for training? Not really, because when we are strained we are stressed and cannot learn and save new movement patterns. This is especially important for Pilates to unlearn wrong movement patterns. Instead of exercising already strong and short muscles, we want to train the weak muscles and make the strong, short muscles flexible again.
A classic reformer with its rolling resistance offers a more natural feedback, which in combination with the springs is perceived as pleasant gliding. Frederik Prag, who builds classic Pilates equipment himself under the brand name Pilates Equipment Scandinavia, put it in a nutshell at the Men's Clinic with Moses Urbano in Berlin:
"Modern reformers are like a roller coaster."
Oriented towards the ideal
With the Basil Reformer we now have such an almost perfect reformer for the first time.
If we could only measure this resistance and transfer it to the other pilates-powers reformers, then we would have the perfect rolling resistance.
Initial measurements with a luggage scale have already revealed that the differences between the reformers in terms of rolling resistance without the influence of springs are in the kilogram range and not in the gram range. The difference between a reformer carriage with a user on the carriage and without a user is considerable, especially in the case of plain bearings (i. e. classically built reformers).
The measurement setup
So what to do? Frank came up with the ingenious idea that rolling resistance could be measured in a standardized way and invented this measurement setup.
A rope was attached to the reformer carriage, parallel to the ground and diverted by two deflection rollers so that a laterally opened canister could be loaded with weights.
After each reformer had been perfectly aligned, we loaded each reformer slide with four weights of 19 kg each, 76 kg in total.
We drove the carriage out to 75 cm, which corresponds approximately to the length of Knee Stretches and then measured without additional spring resistance, at which weight the reformer carriage starts moving. During the first measurement tests, we already found out that there is a big difference, especially in the case of plain bearings, depending on whether they have just been moved or not. So we drove the carriage back and forth a few times before each measurement. Then we drove it about 1 meter out and stopped it completely on the way back at 75 cm. If it then remained in the position, we loaded a little more weight into the canister and repeated the procedure until we had adjusted the weight in such a way that after stopping at 75 cm, the carriage started moving again every time. Then we took the canister off and weighed it twice. The mean value from both measurements, which hardly differed, can be found below as "starting resistance".
For some reformers, the starting resistance was also equal to the "driving resistance". In other words, if you took the Reformer carriage very slowly from 100 cm to 75 cm and then let go, the carriage drove completely home to the stopper. But there were also reformers where, to our great surprise, the driving resistance was higher than the starting resistance (Allegro with IGUS plain bearing and Peak with Gratz rollers). We suspect that this is partly due to the fact that, in some reformers, the travel path through the 76 kg loaded carriage is slightly bent downwards.
Here you can find our measurements from Saturday afternoon.
As you can see, most of our reformers have a lower driving resistance ("Fahrwiderstand") than the gold standard of the Basil Reformer. Only our Peak Reformer with Gratz roles was with 6.7 kg significantly higher. We then changed the Peak Reformer back to it's Resistance Ride Wheels - and measured them again. Therefore, there are two measured values for the Peak reformer.
When we saw the measured values for the PVC plain bearing, designed by Frank at BB Allegro, we felt a bit like in the child story of Janosch "The trip to Panama".
I honestly didn't write it down exactly, but Frank's PVC bearings have been in use at the Allegro for a year now, and in fact, just like the PVC bearings built into the Stott, they are very close to the ideal.
Frank and I now want to analyze and discuss the gained data and then make a plan for the next steps.
At this point, some of you might ask yourself in which relation the measured values stand to the force of the springs. So, here are the measured values of different springs from the same manufacturer.
Why is this important? A personal summary
Besides the Cadillac and the mat, the Reformer is one of the main Pilates training devices. From the first beginnings, when Joseph Pilates patented it as a "body exerciser" in Germany in 1926, until his death, he has constantly developed the device further.
Ball bearings had already been invented around 1850 and were widely used during Joseph Pilates' time, as is well documented in the the book by "Fichtel & Sachs" about the "History of Ball Bearings" from 1914 (!). Nevertheless, Joseph Pilates did not use ball bearings for his reformers, but plain bearings. To cut a long story short: He thought about it and deliberately considered training with plain bearings to be more sensible.
As I have described in the history of Pilates, Pilates went through a process of growth in the 1990s, during which, among other things, the training institutes that dominate the market today were founded. The demand for Pilates equipment was met by companies that had never come into contact with the original equipment of Joseph Pilates and that also rarely used the method themselves. Thus, tragically, today's most widespread reformers are only reformers in the general functional sense of Joseph Pilates. The unacquainted can make too many mistakes when setting footbars, ropes and the risers that are common today. And every little change changes how the exercise works.
Unfortunately, Pilates education spares exactly this kind of detailed knowledge and the Pilates teacher in training usually only gets to know his teacher's reformer and later buys exactly this device in full confidence. It's no wonder that educational institutions such as Stott and BASI understood that they have to equip their training studios with their Pilates equipment as far as possible.
There is no critical comparison of Pilates devices from different manufacturers, because there are no Pilates shops where you can compare Pilates devices. And the Pilates appliances are so expensive that hardly anyone can afford to buy several reformers from different manufacturers solely for reasons of comparison. And even if there were different reformers side by side, the Pilates teacher, who is "only" familiar with his method, would not know how to evaluate the differences between the machines.
Anyone who knows me, knows that I like to get to the bottom of things and with our wild mixture of reformers and my continuing education I was able to get an overview over time.
For me it is clear that reformer training only becomes sensible and efficient with a slight additional resistance in the roles. Personally, I notice this in every exercise, but if you want to reduce it to one exercise: in the elephant you notice immediately whether you bring the carriage home or whether the carriage is pulled back by the springs. The ideal reformer requires the thought and will to bring the carriage back. And that's exactly right.