Pilates is still one of the best forms of exercise for strengthening and toning muscles and your core, increasing flexibility and endurance, improving balance and coordination, and improving your posture. That’s the reason gym classes or having a personal trainer to help you do the exercises properly is quite expensive. So how do you ensure that you’re getting a proper and versatile workout at home without straining your joints and spine? You get a Pilates reformer. But not an expensive one like you find in Pilates studios, but one that’s designed for home use. So which is the best home Pilates reformer machine for your needs? Our Pilates reformer reviews will help you answer that.
- 1 What is a Pilates Reformer?
- 2 How to Choose the Best Home Pilates Reformer Equipment
- 3 What’s the Best Pilates Machine for Home Use?
- 3.1 Stott Pilates MERRITHEW At Home SPX Reformer Bundle – the Best Rated Home Pilates Reformer
- 3.2 Balanced Body Pilates IQ Reformer with Library Wheels – a Foldable Pilates Reformer
- 3.3 Stamina AeroPilates Pro XP Home 557 Pilates Reformer – Best Under $1000
- 3.4 Stamina AeroPilates 700 Premier Reformer with Stand and Cardio Rebounder – Best Budget Choice
- 3.5 Stamina AeroPilates Reformer 287 – Least Expensive Choice
- 3.6 Pilates Power Gym ‘Pro’ 3-Elevation Mini Reformer Exercise System – Best Beginner Power Gym and Reformer Hybrid
- 3.7 VigorFit 3000 XL w/ Power & Pilates Kit Gym – Best Power Gym with Pilates Kit
- 4 Differences Between a Pilates Reformer and Mat Pilates
What is a Pilates Reformer?
The reformer is one of the best Pilates home equipment you can get. It is a flat platform and frame called a carriage that lies on a pair of rails with wheels set in between to make the carriage move back and forth. One end of the carriage is attached to springs that provide varying levels of resistance to this movement. But what is it that moves the carriage back and forth? You! You lie, kneel or sit on the carriage in either direction and use your own body weight, arms and legs to push and pull yourself. To prevent yourself from sliding off the carriage, there are are shoulder blocks on both ends.
At the same end as the springs is an adjustable footbar which can be used by your hands or feet to help you push and pull. Your feet push against the bar to move away from that end, while your hands pull you closer to that end if you lie down in the other direction.
On the other end of the carriage is a pair of long straps with handles with each going around a small pulley fixed slightly above on two posts. You can either pull these straps by your hands or hook your feet through the handles and pull them to move the carriage while lying, kneeling or sitting on it. Your own body weight as well as the resistance of the springs makes this easier or harder to do.
You can perform a variety of exercises on a reformer that work many leg, arm, core and back muscles and you can start off with low spring resistance and increase it as you get stronger.
Some reformers come with add on attachments to add even more kinds of exercises to your routine. A foot rebounder or jumpboard let’s you bounce off it to add power and speed to your workout so that you can also get in some cardio exercise. A reformer box can be positioned on top of the carriage to give you more height off the frame, while a platform extender lets you do standing exercises. A roll-up pole adds variety to your arm and shoulder workouts. The various reformers parts can be adjusted for your body size and level of skill.
If you want more related information, this article on Pilates by June Kloubec of Bastyr University’s Department of Nutrition and Exercise Science includes research-based findings on its health and fitness benefits using both Mat Pilates and a Reformer. We’ll also explain the differences between the two with pros and cons later in this article.
How to Choose the Best Home Pilates Reformer Equipment
When selecting a Pilates reformer for your home, there are a few criteria that go into finding the right one.
Quality: A stainless steel or solid wood frame and well padded carriage are essential for long term use. You want as few plastic components as possible and the machine should be able to support at least 300 lbs.
Comfort: If it is not comfortable to use, chances are you won’t use it at all after a while. The carriage should be wide enough and well padded to comfortably support all body types. The head rest, footbar and straps should be adjustable so as to work well for your height and allow you to perform a large number of exercises.
Versatility: Other than getting a reformer with one or more attachments, there are other ways to perform a variety of exercises and get maximum value out of it. If the straps and height of the carriage off the ground are adjustable, you can do more kinds of exercises. If there are enough levels of resistance available, you can do a mix of slow strengthening exercises and slightly faster cardio work. You can also use the same machine as a beginner as well as an advanced user some years down the line.
Space: A reformer is not a small piece of equipment. To ensure a full range of motion, the rails on which the carriage travels have to be long enough even for tall people. That’s why you need a good amount of floor space to workout. If you can’t leave the machine as is after your workout and need to stow it, a few reformers can be folded up to fit inside a closet. At the very least, it should come with a set of wheels and be light enough so that you can put it away in a corner. If even that is too big for you, then consider getting a Pilates chair instead.
Price: While commercial reformers are very expensive, you can get an inexpensive one for home use if your budget is tight. As long as you don’t need a lot of attachments, a decent one can be had for under $400, while attachments like a rebounder will bump the price to around $500. If you’re already an advanced user and want the very best home model, be prepared to spend upwards of $1000. These, however, do come with better warranty and support.
What’s the Best Pilates Machine for Home Use?
Stott Pilates MERRITHEW At Home SPX Reformer Bundle – the Best Rated Home Pilates Reformer
If money is no object then get yourself the MERRITHEW At Home SPX Reformer Bundle by Stott Pilates. In addition to the reformer you get a metal roll-up pole, a reformer box, and a padded platform extender. To assist you with over 250 Pilates exercises, you’ll get two 90-minute DVDs and a poster guide.
This brand is popular in Pilates studios but this is a version designed for home use and is much lighter than commercial ones. However, it is the most expensive model on this list and is heavy compared to home models from other brands, so unless you’re serious about sticking to a long term workout plan, it will be overkill. Even so, beginners as well as advanced users will love the versatility and ease of use it provides.
This machine is highly adjustable, with 3 headrest positions, 4 footbar positions and 3 levels of spring resistance provided by 3 full, 1 half and 1 quarter strength springs that you can change using the 3 position gearbar. The springs feature handy grips to allow you to easily change them for resistance and the springs are enclosed in sleeves to minimize noise. The carriage and platform extender are well cushioned, with the carriage having 6 stopping positions to accommodate multiple family member heights and wheels to ensure smooth gliding of the carriage over the rails. The ropes glide over a standard pulley system that is easily adjustable before you start your workout, while the end of the ropes feature hand and foot handles so you don’t have to stop in between workouts to adjust them.
If you have knee or hip issues, the reformer box and foot strap lets you sit or lie at a height for a more comfortable workout. The box also helps give you more variety in addition to the workouts you get without it. The platform extender allows you to do standing inner and out thigh work. The metal pole that you use through the rope hand grips increases the number of arm and shoulder conditioning exercises without adding strain to the neck. The footbar can be folded underneath and out of the way if it’s not needed.
This unit comes almost completely assembled and you only need 15-20 minutes to finish setting it up for your comfort and abilities. The Merrithew weighs 115 lbs and comes with a pair of storage wheels on one ends so that you can roll it away like a wheel barrow. It is low profile and measures 26″ x 96.5″ x 10″, so is ideally stored under a bed.
Balanced Body Pilates IQ Reformer with Library Wheels – a Foldable Pilates Reformer
Another professional-quality reformer designed for home use is the Pilates IQ Reformer with Library Wheels by Balanced Body. It is handmade in the USA and is the only reformer that shortens to half its length for storage. Its library wheels make it easy to be rolled away and stood upright to store in a closet.
Its length is 98 inches in its extended state and 62 inches when shortened. It is 24″ wide and 18″ high including its footbar, which is removable and leaves it at 7.5″ high, which allows you to store it under a bed that has at least 9″ height clearance. The unit weighs 70 lbs.
Even with its shortening ability, the carriage slides smoothly over its telescopic rails. The 5 signature Balanced Body Springs boast progressive resistance, meaning the resistance increases as you push and pull harder, so it adapts to your abilities and fitness level. The ropes are easily adjusted by nautical cam cleats. You also have a 4-position footbar and a 3-position headrest, both adjustable by knobs.
Instead of a platform extender attachment, there is a built-in, non-skid 5.5″ wide standing platform for when you want to do thigh workouts. If you want a few extras, Balanced Body make the following optional attachments: a sitting box, footstrap, jumpboard, and alternative loops/handles.
This unit takes a good 45-60 minutes to assemble and you may find that the bolts that make the rails extend and contract have a sticking problem which may require them to be re-treaded or replaced. This has only been observed by a few existing customers.
The one disadvantage of this Pilates IQ Reformer is that it sits quite low on the floor as compared to other reformers and the company does not make legs to raise it. However, if storage space is an issue, this is the only foldable Pilates reformer so if you can get used to the low height, it is a very good high end alternative to the Stott reformer.
Stamina AeroPilates Pro XP Home 557 Pilates Reformer – Best Under $1000
Stamina specializes in reformers for home use and they have several models available. The Stamina AeroPilates Pro XP Home 557 Pilates Reformer is a high end offering that’s not quite as expensive as the models above and it even comes with a cardio rebounder attachment.
This model has the longest set of rails in the brand’s line, so you can be assured of the full range of motion while exercising. The shoulder rests are made of high density foam, and the spring resistance, headrest, footrest, ropes, and hand grips are all adjustable. The footbar is also removable and adjusts to 3 positions. The aluminum rails are elevated and set on an oakwood build to allow for more variety in workouts. The rebounder attachment is nice and large so you can do free form cardio leg work easily, and because of the extra long rails, even tall people can “jump” without hitting the other end.
This reformer measures 98 x 23.5 x 15 inches, while the rebounder is 19 inches tall and 14 inches wide. It comes with transport wheels but be aware that you cannot stand the unit up straight under low ceilings.
There are 4 springs provided and 4 levels of resistance that you can choose from and the commercial-grade carriage wheels makes for smooth gliding back and forth. Using the rebounder for some gentle cardio exercise is a bonus and you won’t hurt your joints with it.
You also get the AeroPilates 1st Level Workout DVD, the 20 minute Cardio Workout DVD, and the full-color workout wall chart. Assembly will take about 2 hours if you do it alone.
The small drawbacks here are the lack of hand posts near the headrest to hold on to when doing certain exercises and there is no stop bar for the carriage return, which is not a big deal for most people but if you have long legs, you might find it rough. Also, the carriage return may not feel as smooth as what you get on a studio-grade machine.
Overall, this machine is the closest you’ll come to professional-grade reformers without breaking the bank, so as long as you don’t expect it to perform exactly like the studio ones, you should be quite happy with this model from Stamina.
Stamina AeroPilates 700 Premier Reformer with Stand and Cardio Rebounder – Best Budget Choice
If the Stamina XP Pro is too expensive for you or too big for your home, then the Stamina AeroPilates 700 Premier Reformer is the next best model. It measures 86.25 x 20 x 14 inches including the provided stand that elevates it nicely off the floor for more variety in exercises and ease of getting on and off.
This model uses 4 resistance bands instead of springs and all provide the same resistance, so in order to vary resistance, you have to use a combination of them. You also get DVD video workouts and an exercise wall chart.
The carriage and included rebounder are not as wide as on the XP Pro, but most people won’t find this an issue. It is also a bit shorter, so tall users using light resistance or jumping strongly on the rebounder may find that you can’t extend your legs fully without hitting the stopping point. However, this won’t be an issue for beginners and if you use enough resistance and it is rated for people up to 6’4″. The footbar is fixed at a 90 degree angle. These may seem like too many drawbacks, but you do get an additional head and neck support pillow to put over the adjustable head rest, and 4 position adjustable pulley risers so that the ropes can be angled perfectly for a variety of exercises. You also have a removable rebounder, which means that you get great value at this price.
There are no transport wheels on this model, but it is easy enough to lift it up and stand it against a wall for storage.
Stamina AeroPilates Reformer 287 – Least Expensive Choice
The least expensive reformer on this list is a bare bones model that doesn’t come with any extras and is a very good choice for beginners or anyone wanting just a simple machine for simple Pilates workouts. The Stamina AeroPilates Reformer 287 also folds up for storage so if you have a small apartment this model is ideal. You just fold it up and wheel it out of the way using its in-built wheels.
This reformer’s resistance comes from 3 heavy duty elastic bungee cords, which you can replace with your own or add to for more resistance. The steel frame and padded platform are supported by non-skid supports – 6 in all. The footbar, hand and foot grips, shoulder pads and headrest are all padded for comfort, and the headrest is adjustable between three positions. The footbar is not adjustable but is removable and a textured platform at the same end allows for standard standing Pilates exercises.
If you’re past the beginner’s level, you may find that the included resistant cords are not enough. In that case, the Stamina Pilates Double Power Cords are made to work with any Stamina reformer and will do the trick for you.
For more variety, you can also add a box and pole and/or a rebounder from Stamina to this unit.
Pilates Power Gym ‘Pro’ 3-Elevation Mini Reformer Exercise System – Best Beginner Power Gym and Reformer Hybrid
For those looking to do a mix of body building and Pilates work, the Pilates Power Gym Pro 3-Elevation Mini Reformer Exercise System combines a power gym with a Pilates reformer into one compact unit. This is not a full length reformer, but will work quite well as long as you’re not on the tall side.
The platform slides on rails for pilates but also rises up on one end to 3 different height levels to provide an incline for additional strength training. A set of 3 resistance cords provide 48 different levels of resistance. The cable pulleys are set into posts beside the adjustable headrest, which is different from traditional reformers that have them set at one end.
You also get a detachable rebounder, which is better suited for jumps when the platform is at an incline rather than flat. The headrest and footbar fold flat and the transport wheels allow you to roll the unit to a corner or closet and store it upright. It will not fit under a bed, though. It is 16″ wide, 53″ long and 10″ high.
The adjustable footbar can be adjusted for your height up to a certain point but if you’re 5’10” or over, you’re better off getting a proper reformer. Wide set people will also find that the frame is too narrow. For smaller people, this is a very good alternative to and expensive reformer, especially if you want to do a combination of Pilates and more intense strength training.
VigorFit 3000 XL w/ Power & Pilates Kit Gym – Best Power Gym with Pilates Kit
If you have a slightly bigger budget and like the idea of a combination power gym and Pilates reformer, the VigorFit 3000 XL w/ Power & Pilates Kit Gym is a better model than the Pilates Power Gym Pro. It could also be an affordable replacement for a home gym like the ones reviewed in our reviews for best compact home gyms.
Even though it is designed as a home gym, it is designed cleverly enough to also incorporate a reformer. There’s a pull up bar and cable pulley system set at one end and a detachable push up/foot bar or a rebounder at the other. It comes with 5 VigorFit® Power Bands for Pilates resistance and the platform can also be elevated at the pulley end so that you can do more strength or body building exercises if you want. There are 15 incline levels and this is where the extra resistance comes from for strength training. You can even add weights of up to 100 lbs on the detachable weight bar that goes through the platform near the bottom for added resistance. Weight clips are included.
For Pilates, there are cushioned shoulder pads and dual leg rope system with adjustable ankle cuffs or hand grips for arm work.
In the fully open position with all the accessories attached, this unit measures 7′ Long x 3’8″ Tall x 27″ Wide. When folded for storage it is 51″ x 21″ x 8″ and can fit under most beds. Transport wheels help you put it away.
Differences Between a Pilates Reformer and Mat Pilates
Many instructors will tell you that if you want to build and strengthen your core, Mat Pilates is the way to go and they’re absolutely right. Because the workouts require you to move your body in a lot of different ways that require balance and posture control, your back and stabilizing muscles are engaged continuously to support your body weight. These muscles are often neglected when doing traditional core training. With Pilates, your hips, shoulders and complete torso are made to work.
What the reformer does is to ratchet up the benefits you get from Mat Pilates. This is because you have added resistance to your workouts via the springs and pulley system. You can start with a low spring resistance and simple exercises, and increase resistance as you get stronger as well as add more complex movements. The suspension-based system of the reformer is easy on the joints while maximizing your muscles strengthening efforts in a shorter amount of time. Many Pilates practitioners find it easier to use the reformer if they find balancing hard to do.
You also ensure better posture because your body is aligned with the plane of motion. The reformer also helps those who find it hard to achieve fluid coordination and rhythm through all movements of Mat Pilates or other core workouts. This is because your body responds naturally to the push and pull of the cables and springs.
When doing many free form workouts, it’s easy to fall back on bad habits like not fully extending your arms, legs and back. With a reformer, you instinctively go through the full range of motions and therefore get a more effective workout. If you want to add more focus on improving your spine alignment and posture then you can place a spine corrector on top of the reformer carriage to aid with that.
The advantage that Mat Pilates has over a reformer is that there’s no need for expensive or bulky equipment and you only need enough floor space for a Yoga or Pilates mat. However, the cost of a reformer doesn’t have to be prohibitively expensive and some models can be folded up and put away when not in use. Most home models are also pretty lightweight and therefore cheaper and easier to move than commercial ones.
While the reformer is the most popular Pilates equipment, there is also the Pilates Toning tower, which is ideal for home use. For those really tight on space and want a compact and piece of Pilates equipment, consider the Pilates Chair.