Dynamic Reformer Pilates.
Catchy name, right? But what does it actually mean and does it accurately describe this relatively new kid on the block in the Pilates (and indeed fitness) world?
Also, as a method of training does it deserve its place alongside the more traditional form of the method?
The answer to the first question is, well, yes and no. The second question? That gets answered with a resounding ‘hell yes!’ (at least in my book).
Let me explain by examining the words that make up the name and applying them to the original Pilates method. It is also worth pointing out that Pilates as a practise is by no means restricted to the use of the reformer, I’ll just be examining the method as it pertains to the reformer in this case.
Classic Pilates is by definition ‘Dynamic’ in that it comprises a series of free-flowing exercises with an emphasis on precise technique, breathing and above all control. No surprise that Mr Pilates coined the term ‘Contrology’ to describe his work.
The original method has been practised in various forms for over 100 years. In fact, the very first iteration of a ‘Reformer’ (Just google Pilates Reformer and you’ll instantly get a good idea of what this contraption looks like and what it does) was a hospital bed with old bed springs attached, which Mr Pilates used to help patients on his ward recover from illness (he was at the time serving as a POW in a hospital on the Isle of Man during the great war).
In short, traditional or Classic Reformer Pilates (CRP) is awesome. It is a unique system of exercises devised by the eponymous man himself and borne out of a desire to help his fellow human. Cool.
So, given the above explanation we could be forgiven if we thought the name ‘Dynamic Reformer Pilates’ (DRP for short) does the original method a slight disservice. However, I think we are much better served by heeding some age-old wisdom and not judging this book by its cover (or name).
The real question is, why should we be open to embracing it as a method? I’d wager that many of the purists in the Pilates world would much rather we didn’t. In fact, I’ve often heard / read that DRP is just ‘not pilates’ for varying reasons. Of course, I humbly beg to differ. 1
DRP (practised correctly)2 incorporates many of the elements that make the classic method great – namely precision of movement, focus on breathing and control – and incorporates certain key exercises used in the classic repertoire.
It is also performed on a Pilates reformer machine, just like the classical method.
It is also dynamic and in addition allows for certain exercises that may more commonly be performed in a gym setting or circuit class to be incorporated into its repertoire. Think squats, lunges, planks, press ups, hip hinges and the like.
So, what’s the difference between the two? Should you do one over the other?
As one of my favourite actors put it (Keanu Reeves in The Matrix Reloaded if you must know), ‘the problem is choice.’
Broadly speaking, I see the main differences between the two currently to be in the areas of setting and aim.
Please note that one method is not better than the other, and they deliver many of the same things to varying degrees. The key thing to bear in mind is that they just have a different focus and therefore a slightly different offering. Depending on your reason for taking up Pilates in the first place you may find one of them to be more beneficial for you.
Differences in Aim:
DRP as a method has a focus skewed more towards fitness, muscular endurance + cardiovascular conditioning. CRP as a method on the other hand will typically focus on controlled strength and mobility (often for rehabilitative or corrective purposes).
But surely you can still develop your overall level of physical fitness with CRP you might ask? Absolutely, but it won’t be the main focus of your practise.
Likewise, can you begin to correct muscular imbalances with DRP? You certainly can, you’ll just have to be comfortable with pushing yourself a bit more on the cardio and muscular endurance front whilst you do.
Differences in Setting:
In a DRP class in London you will most likely find yourself in a room with several other people, sweating up a storm as you perform exercises on your reformer. The atmosphere in the room will typically be energetic, in most cases aided by an upbeat soundtrack with the volume UP.
In a CRP class, you will most likely find yourself also on a reformer, potentially also with several other people, possibly getting a little bit of a sweat on, but usually to a more serene soundtrack or perhaps none at all (save for the cues delivered by your instructor).
As you can see, both methods aren’t mutually exclusive. In fact, I see them as hugely complementary. I also believe that each one can be a gateway to the other.
For example, if you want to begin to develop your body awareness and start to correct a few imbalances but you know you won’t do so unless you’re satisfying your craving for sweating and ‘feeling the burn’ at the same time then a DRP class is probably the place to start for you.
Similarly, if you want to really drill down into the precision and nuances of each exercise to develop strength, mobility, and really get in touch with how your body operates (or should operate), then a CRP class might be a better place to start.
As I said before, the methods are in my view complementary and I would advise trying both to see which works better for you. Even if you pick one and stick with it for a while you’ll find changing things up every so often to be hugely beneficial. If you’re a seasoned DRP aficionado, you’ll find you might learn some different exercises and ways to perform the ones you already know in a CRP setting – you can then take this knowledge back to your DRP class and reap the rewards.
By the same token, if you’ve got your strength, mobility and technique honed through continued CRP practise, you’ll be in a great position to add some DRP classes to your routine and challenge yourself in a different way.
Whatever you decide, I wish you all the best.
1. In case you were wondering how I feel I’m able to give my humble opinion, here’s a brief run down of my experience with DRP and CRP. I have been instructing DRP (and CRP in some settings) in the UK for over 10 years and have delivered over 12,000 hours of classes and private sessions. I was initially trained by one of the first practitioners to bring this evolution of the classic method to the UK and have been at the forefront of its development over the past 10 years (the majority of which at arguably the largest DRP studio chain in the UK). For the classically minded bods out there, I’ve trained with APPI and Polestar Pilates and (hopefully I’ve explained this enough already) I’m a big fan of CRP as well!
2. I could go down the rabbit hole on what I feel constitutes ‘correct practise’ but I’ll save that for another time! One thing I will say is, make sure you do your research before trying out your first class (whether its DRP or CRP). In an ideal world, you want an instructor with multiple fitness / allied health qualifications and at the very least 2 years’ full time experience in class based instruction. Also, make sure you ask the company you intend to hand over your money to if they’ve put an in-house training and evaluation program in place and how long the training period is for their instructors (ask for total hours of training, not weeks as this can be misleading). The answer they give you will tell you if they’re serious about the quality of instruction their trainers provide and if they are operating with ongoing quality assurance in mind.