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If you've taken a Pilates class—or 10—you know there's a reason why so many people are obsessed with the workout. It probably has something to do with the countless benefits or the fact that you don't really need fitness equipment to get a Pilates workout in.
That being said, if you are interested in taking your workout to the next level, a Pilates reformer is a must. The machine helps you increase your mobility, overall strength, core, and balance, says Studio SWEAT onDemand's Pilates trainer Sam Belle. After all, Pilates is all about balance and movement. "Pilates moves the spine in all four planes of motion, and focuses on rebalancing the inevitable imbalances we all have due to our daily activities and posture,” Belle says.
Peep some of the best Pilates machines, below:
For some, using a Pilates reformer may even make their workouts a little more comfortable. "Some people might not be able to get into a position on the mat using just their bodyweight. The springs [on a reformer] can add resistance, but they can also help support to different parts of the body as well," explains Alysia Pope Ehret, a certified Pilates instructor and founder of PurelyYou, a virtual Pilates community and course.
So if you are ready to level up, check out the 12 best Pilates reformers you should add to your home gym right now, per customer reviews.
What is a Pilates reformer and how is it used?
A Pilates reformer is actually a tool that was created synonymously with the practice itself by Joseph Pilates. So, to do Pilates with a reformer is how it was meant to be done. If you ever do Pilates without a reformer, it's all inspired by moves that were classically done with one, says Pilates instructor Amanda Blauer.
"A reformer in a lot of ways supports your body," Blauer says. "It can assist people that are just getting started [in their Pilates practice] to learn where [their] body should be in space and [it gives] that extra guidance."
Reformers can also make a training session a bit more challenging for someone with more experience with Pilates, says Carrie Minter, a certified Pilates instructor and founder of Carrie’s Pilates Plus in Los Angeles.
“The reformer machine works your entire body,” she explains. “The springs and cables on it change the tension, so you get much more of a workout than you would on just a mat."
How do you choose the best Pilates reformer machine for you?
There are a few things to consider when making a Pilates reformer purchase, including quality, size, and price. Experts reiterate that when it comes to reformers, everything is relative to the person shopping—so definitely listen to yourself first.
Springs or no springs
According to Blauer, real Pilates reformers include springs and are not going to be less than $500. Some reformer companies will make versions of Pilates reformers using bands instead of springs, which makes the machine less expensive.
"A traditional reformer will have either four or five springs that connect the carriage—that piece that glides back and forth—to the end of the frame, Blauer explains. "The spring resistance is really what gives it that amazing reformer feel and the springs should hold up for 10 years."
If you want the real deal though, you need to invest in a more expensive piece of equipment—and springs. However, you'll be able to count on the machine for a long time—so it's not for nothing!
Contemporary or classical
Blauer also notes that among Pilates reformers, there are two different styles to be aware of—classical and contemporary. A classical reformer is more similar to the exact piece of equipment designed by Joseph Pilates—with the same tension in their springs. If you're really dedicated to Joseph Pilates' craft, this might be the type of machine to look for.
There's also the contemporary style of Pilates reformers, which adds resistance and even more tension to their springs. They're also compatible with non-traditional Pilates exercises and movements.
"You can get really creative on the more contemporary reformers and kind of create your own variations of exercises," Blauer says. "I lean towards and prefer a contemporary one."
Ehret also says you should consider whether you will want to add accessories to your reformer, such as a tower or a jump board.
Size of your space and home
Both Blauer and Ehret say that if you are going to invest in an at-home Pilates reformer, you should have some type of instruction on deck—whether that's a virtual class (BTW, you can use the code 'WOMENSHEALTH' for a free month of PurelyYou) or a personal instructor.
You should also take into account the size of your personal space. If you live in a one bedroom or studio apartment, a Cadillac or a reformer with a tower is probably not the right choice for you.
"If you need one that folds under a bed, pick that one. If you have a big space, maybe pick one that’s an actual professional model that studios use," says Heather Andersen, founder and owner of New York Pilates. "The most important thing is that you have one, so pick the reformer that works best for your living situation."
What are the benefits of doing Pilates on a reformer?
Classically-trained ballet dancer and Pilates instructor Melissa Bentivoglio says that while mat Pilates can be practiced in low to high intensity, your brain and body activate totally different muscles (called stabilizers) when you're on a reformer. This allows for a more challenging full-body workout.
"Your balance and focus are challenged by being elevated on the reformer," she says. "Through small, controlled movements and customizable weight resistances, you can strengthen, tone, and build endurance all in one workout." Doing this allows you to implement safe, progressive overloads for your fitness needs," she adds.
Is a Pilates reformer machine worth it?
Pilates reformer machines are not exactly cheap—the best ones are typically over $2,000, though you can certainly find budget buys without any bells and whistles for $200 to $400.
So, if you already have the cash or plan on swapping this machine for your gym membership, it'll definitely be worth the cost over time.
"Doing reformer Pilates at home also allows you to go at your own pace in an intuitive, personalized way with the best technology available at your fingertips—if you get a quality machine," says Bentivoglio.
"Additionally, in-person classes can be large or too fast paced for the instructor to be able to check or guide all participants' form," she adds. That's why it's important that beginners stick to beginner classes [until] they're fully comfortable with the machine.
Neha Tandon is the senior commerce editor of Women's Health—she's an expert in discovering the best products and services you can buy and giving recommendations. She discovered her love for magazines when as a teen, she started stealing her mother's magazines. Determined to see more women who look like her and her family members on the glossy covers of magazines, she was guided by seasoned editors and mentors to write for brands including New York Magazine, Cosmopolitan, BRIDES, Harper's Bazaar, Business Insider, Byrdie, and Well+Good. When she’s not grilling dermatologists about the latest skincare trends, she’s doing candlelit yoga or watching Humphrey Bogart movies over vegan pizza. Follow her on Instagram.
Olivia Evans (she/her) is an editorial assistant at Women’s Health. Her work has previously appeared in The Cut and Teen Vogue. She loves covering topics where culture and wellness intersect. In her free time, she enjoys cooking, running, and watching rom-coms.
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