How To Grow Your Physical Therapy Practice With The Pilates Reformer

Dr. Ada Wells DPT, PMA-CPT, TPI Level 3 is a senior Polestar faculty member with 25+ years of working as a physical therapist and educator in rehabilitation, fitness, and health education.  She is the owner of ProBalance Physical Therapy & Pilates in the SF Bay Area since 2004 and provides services at her brick-and-mortar business and online.  In addition to her development of specialized sports rehabilitation & performance programs, Ada provides lectures on rehabilitation and healthy lifestyle exercise. Learn more about how to become a reformer instructor this April 2023 here: Online Reformer Teacher Training.


BA: How did you go from what you saw as the reformer in the rehabilitation studio, to what you built today? You have a whole studio of group reformers and I know you also use the Konnectors and all of your machines have been adapted.  You use the Oov a lot in conjunction with your reformer classes – can you speak to that evolution?  How did you go from just the reformer in a physical therapy clinic to what you have developed today?

AW: The very first place I worked as a Physical Therapist in a larger facility was in a gym but we still only had one reformer. When I opened up my first studio location it was set up in a way that was really separated by private areas but I didn’t have this one large room to be able to have enough machines for a group class.

I made do with what I had, and eventually had two reformers, a trapeze table, and a chair. I was able to do trios and duets and was able to get people to realize they were working on the same thing on different machines and there’s that sense in the room that you’re in the same vibe in the movement.

When I acquired the studio space I am in now, I got this larger room area which is what I specifically wanted in order to be able to teach group reformer classes. The moment we moved into this space my business completely transformed. It went from a smaller operation to “wow” I am impacting a lot of people’s lives and really felt like a force in the neighborhood. It was simply for that reason, the ability to reach multiple people in that one hour of time.

Let’s face it, I love to teach privates, and I love one-on-one, but it is kind of trading time for dollars. When you can create an opportunity to scale your services and to reach a larger group of people, In this case with group classes as well as teaching online, it really changes the game in terms of how I feel I can impact people. We have this network now and it is just wonderful to be able to share that.

BA: One of the things that impressed me is the ease of the introduction of movement in a safer space. In the reformer studio, we can control things like speed, progress quicker, and make the proprioception less or more challenging. The reformer was built to be able to assist people who were not able to do the Pilates mat work. If you can’t hold your feet up in the hundred position, we can put your feet in the straps. We can put just enough springs to take off the load so that you can do the exercise correctly.

As we progress we can move towards the hundred, leg circles, and other exercises. This made so much sense to me as a rehabilitation practitioner. Sometimes in reference to the Pilates studio, we use the word “playground”. This ability to go in and create assistive environments to be able to progress people through graded load, proprioception, and tempos. What are your thoughts on that environment?

AW: It’s one place where people have the opportunity to feel graceful because they are supported. Feet in straps baby! I do not dare teach a class without feet in straps. I laugh because I tried and we actually had to go back and do it because my students were revolting!

It’s the place where they feel like they have control of their movement and what’s wonderful is that for the beginner we can still modify. Maybe they can’t tolerate having their legs totally straight, maybe they have some neural tension, no problem! We can load up more springs and maybe move the straps to their thighs. It’s funny because I always hated physics when I was in school, I couldn’t stand it.

Working with the equipment was dealing with physics every day, but it doesn’t feel like physics it just feels fun. You can see these angles of pull and you start to appreciate just through using it that you can see “we have a shorter lever here – distribute the weight there”.

The biggest thing is just helping people feel like they can move. They are being nurtured and supported in movement if they need to be. I teach a Pilates for athletes class, maybe it should be Pilates for Ageing Athletes because they are all athletes over fifty. The class allows them to do the things that feel athletic but they also very much revel in the stuff that’s more basic and fundamental because they realize how it feels in their body that they can feel their femoral head massaging their socket. They can feel the benefits!

They are developing this awareness they didn’t have before because maybe they were just powering through, or bulldozing through their exercises.

BA: Exactly!


Ready to bring the reformer into your Physical Therapy practice? We are kicking off Online Reformer Training this April, 2023! Learn more about our Online Pilates Reformer Teacher Training here. Watch the full #PilatesHour episode “The Pilates Reformer: From Rehabilitation to Performance” here.

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