PILATES IS ONE OF TODAY’S MOST POPULAR EXERCISE REGIMENS, WITH TEN MILLION AMERICANS REGULARLY ATTENDING STUDIOS AND CLASSES TO IMPROVE THEIR CORE STRENGTH, BALANCE, AND FLEXIBILITY.
While many Pilates exercises can be performed on a mat, the use of the rather intimidatingly named reformer adds a plethora of movements to improve and enhance your workout. The reformer is also used extensively for physical therapy and rehabilitation.
All Pilates reformers share a basic design, but there are a few important variations. Since it is an expensive addition to your home gym, it’s important to identify your specific needs and know what to look for. Our Pilates Reformer Buying Guide is full of tips and information to help you find the right Pilates reformer for your exercise room. If you’re ready to buy, check out our top product recommendations, too.
What is Pilates?
Pilates is a regimen of low-impact exercises that target the core, or “powerhouse,” muscles of the abdomen, hips, and lower back. These exercises are designed to improve flexibility, coordination, strength, and balance. While elite athletes use Pilates for cross-training, performance improvement, and injury recovery, there are also benefits for daily life, since one result of Pilates is better posture and body alignment. Many people find relief from back and joint pain by doing Pilates.
While many Pilates exercises are performed on a mat, perhaps with the addition of a Pilates ball, resistance bands, and/or “magic ring” (a circular device you squeeze), and give great results, the Pilates reformer adds hundreds of new exercises to the menu – and it can be a lot of fun.
What is a Pilates Reformer?
Anyone who has walked into a Pilates studio has probably seen some of these daunting-looking machines that look a bit like a medieval torture mechanism. But thanks to their multifunctional nature and ease of use, these devices have become a popular and versatile piece of exercise equipment.
When using a reformer, you are working against your own body weight. There are many unique exercises you can do on a reformer – standing, sitting, lying down, and even upside down if you’re daring and know what you’re doing. It’s a one-stop shop for a total body workout, and the exercises can also be made more difficult as you improve, so you will never outgrow a reformer.
Another bonus is that you’re likely to see results sooner than with mat sessions alone. And with guidance and some exercise modifications, you can also use the machines if you have a physical disability.
PILATES REFORMER FEATURES
Frame: The frame is like a bed, with a carriage that rolls back and forth on wheels within the frame, much like a rowing machine. The carriage is pushed or pulled by the practitioner, using an adjustable foot bar at one end. Frames can be beautiful blonde wood or more industrial looking durable steel and aluminum. Above all, look for a sturdy and stable frame. You don’t want a flimsy model that tips, creaks, or wobbles.
When shopping, also consider the amount of space you have. These machines take up quite a bit of room, though there are some that can be raised or folded to get stored away when not in use.
Straps: Reformers have straps attached to the the frame that are pulled with the legs or arms to move the carriage. These should be adjustable, so they can be customized to work with your size, level of fitness, and any physical limitations.
Springs: At higher priced reformers, the springs can be adjusted to many different levels, make the carriage more difficult to push or pull as you gain strength. Adjustable springs are also important to do each exercise with the appropriate resistance. Look for good-quality springs. Lower-end models use bungee-type cords rather than springs, which may not stand up to wear and tear.
Other elements: High quality reformer may also include an adjustable headrest and shoulder braces. An adjustable foot bar is a must.
Upgrades: For an even higher variety of exercises, you can look for a reformer with tower. Some manufacturers offer the tower as an accessory that can be bought separately and attached later. The tower often included its own set of accessories.
Accessories: Some top-quality reformers come as a ready-to-use package with the Pilates box and jump board - a more recent addition to the classical reformer that is a lot of fun to use for cardio exercises. Other Pilates equipment includes Pilates chairs, ladder barrels, wall units, arcs and spine correctors
Warranty: Make sure your investment is covered by the manufacturer.
Some machines come with instructional DVDs, which is helpful. However, it is highly recommended that you first take some lessons on a reformer at a Pilates studio or with a certified Pilates instructor before using it alone at home.
PILATES REFORMER PRICES
Pilates reformers are not cheap – generally in the same ballpark as treadmills, from $300 to $8,000 – so make sure you’re committed before buying one and you don’t end up with a very expensive clothes hanger.
You can find some very basic reformers for around $300. Some of these are folding models that can be rolled under the bed for storage, but these will be much less stable and therefore less enjoyable to use. They commonly have much less adjustment options for your size, height, and level of ability. Also, they may not have the longevity of a pricier machine.
These reformers cost from about $2,000 to $5,000, the sweet spot for most people, and have all the features you need in a good product. Some of them even mirror studio-quality reformers.
For a studio-quality machine, you’ll need to pay in the region of $5,000 to $8,000 (the most expensive include a tower). Home users often justify the expense of buying a reformer by noting that Pilates reformer classes are pricier than most exercise classes, as much as $100 an hour. If you use the reformer regularly, the cost may be worth it.
- Consider your size and physical abilities. Reformers come in a variety of sizes, so check that the carriage will fit your body type.
Take some Pilates group classes at a qualified Pilates studio before you invest in a reformer. The exercises are very specific, and it’s necessary to have a trained Pilates instructor guide you.
Take a few private sessions to learn the principles as well as help you hone in on your personal fitness goals.
Consider ongoing sessions at home. Once you have your own machine, consider hiring a personal Pilates instructor for regular sessions in your home.
PILATES REFORMERS REVIEW
There are lots of reformer models to choose from, and we found others in addition to our top five. The Balanced Body Studio Reformer is a great machine from a respected brand, and it’s certainly one of the best looking on the market. Its aesthetically pleasing design includes maple accents, a stainless steel frame, and nautical cleats, making it suitable for the trendiest studio. It also boasts a ton of features. If you have deep pockets and want a great machine that’s also going to complement your décor, look no further.
EASY, FAST ASSEMBLY
Comes 90% assembled. Easy to set up. Low profile and easy to store under a bed or couch. Mid-level price. Comes with reformer box, metal pole for roll-ups, and two workout DVDs.Cons
May be hard to adjust for people of different heights.
SMOOTH AND QUIET
Smooth movement and a reasonable price matched with good quality makes this one a fan favorite. There are several different models available with slightly different features (some don’t have adjustable springs, for instance), so check that the one you buy has all the bells and whistles that you need.
Comes with a rebounder for cardio. Rails are longer than average to accommodate taller people. Rollers are quiet and smooth.Cons
Can't adjust spring resistance, but there are ways to adjust bungee cords for this purpose. Doesn't fold for storage.
THE ULTIMATE HOME GYM REFORMER
It’s easy to see why this is an ultimate wish-list item for many people. Adds a tower system to the reformer setup. Positioned higher from the ground for easier access by those with mobility challenges. Very sturdy; designed for hours-long use in a studio environment.Cons
Very heavy; needs more than one person to set up.
This improved model has a wider stationary bar and base. Comes bundled with stand, rebounder, head and neck pillow, DVDs, and chart.Cons
Very noisy when using rebounder, especially for tall users. Too bulky to store.
BASIC BUT RELIABLE
Comes with two DVDs and full-color wall chart for reference. Folds easily for storage. Completely adjustable for taller or shorter people. Can be used for a wide variety of exercises.Cons