By Dawn Medley

Its appearance is intimidating. It’s in a slightly awkward location. And even its name is kind of odd.

But STAUNTON-AUGUSTA FAMILY YMCA Personal Trainer Sheree Kiser knows that if people could get past those initial impressions, they would fall in love with the Pilates Reformer. As a trainer with decades of experience in fitness, yoga, and Pilates instruction, she understands that the apparatus could change their bodies – and overall health – for the better. 

The Reformer is part of inventor and health enthusiast Joseph Pilates’ complete system, which, Kiser explained, “is really about learning to move with respect to our bodies.” 

“We work to build strength and flexibility, to elongate the spine with movements that carry over into everyday life. The goal is to keep the whole body safe and aware,” she added. 

Located behind a locked screen in the hallway space between the Cardio and Mind/Body Studios on the second floor, many members still don’t know much about the Pilates Reformer even though it has been on site since August 2022. Kiser is hoping to change that by offering free 20-minute demonstrations this month to any member who signs up. 

“We just don’t think people know it’s here, or, if they do, they really don’t know its purpose or how it could benefit them,” she said. 

The few people who have become acquainted with the machine sing the praises of its versatility, ease on the joints, and ability to gently transform their bodies and minds. 

“I initially wanted to try it out to improve my flexibility,” said Membership Director Alice Killian-Bosserman, who has been working with Kiser on the Reformer for several months. “The way it increased my agility and strength was a pleasant surprise. And then I realized that my stress level was lower, and I feel more relaxed and kind of come ‘back to life’ after my sessions.”

In a typical hour-long session, Kiser can take clients through a full-body workout, making sure to balance movements on each side of the body as well as hone in on core control and strength. She can also target precise areas that need attention. 

“My goal is always to stabilize before we mobilize,” she said.

Emily Harman came to Kiser with the specific goal of strengthening and building flexibility in her hip before she has surgery this month, also called “pre-habbing.” 

A lifelong athlete and Navy veteran, Harman tore both of her ACLs while playing basketball as a student at the Naval Academy. She also suffered a knee injury last November that forced her to be couch-bound for two months. She credits the Reformer with helping her get back to being steady on her feet and able to walk on grass, sand, and other uneven surfaces.

“Sheree is such an expert at [Reformer training]. She’s always thinking, recommending ways to help me. She picks up on tiny little movements that I could do differently that really make an impact,” Harman said. 

“That’s the benefit of working with a coach, especially a coach who is always a few steps ahead of you,” she added.

Kiser herself has been on both “sides” of the Reformer, using it as part of her rehab after bilateral hip replacement surgery in addition to completing training to guide others through the exercises. 

The SAYMCA’s machine was donated by Augusta Health – where Kiser worked for several years – another testament to the relationship between the organizations.

“We’re really fortunate to have the opportunity to give members access to equipment like this,” she said.