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Around for nearly 100 years, Pilates is both an effective and low-impact workout that has grown in popularity in recent decades. Known for its ability to strengthen and tone the body, the exercise method works deep muscles and improves everything from muscle control to flexibility and circulation. You’ll commonly see mat Pilates in most group fitness classes which is an excellent form of Pilates for beginners, but those looking to level up their Pilates game may want to kick things up a notch and consider using a Pilates reformer machine.
“While a Pilates reformer may at first seem daunting with its many straps, springs and sliding carriage, it can be an incredibly useful tool to help maximize your Pilates workout,” says Rachel Rothman, Chief Technologist & Executive Technical Director at the Good Housekeeping Institute. Rothman has an extensive background in Pilates instruction and says that reformer Pilates exercises, in particular, can create even more core stability and muscle control than those done on a mat.
“The key behind the effectiveness of a reformer is resistance, with springs attached to a moving platform (a.k.a. carriage) on wheels,” Rothman emphasizes. “The springs allow for changes in resistance, and by pushing or pulling with arms or legs you can then initiate movement of the carriage along the frame to get a full-body strength-building workout.”
Reformer Pilates classes can cost upwards of $30 a session at fitness clubs and boutique fitness studios, so if it’s something you frequently incorporate into your exercise regimen, it may be worth investing in one for your home. Here are the best Pilates reformer machines of 2022, according to fitness professionals in the Good Housekeeping Institute Wellness Lab.
Our top picks:
You can read more about how we evaluate Pilates reformers — plus everything you need to know about getting the most out of your Pilates workout — at the end of this guide.
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Best Overall Pilates Reformer
Precision Series Reformer 535
Best Reformer System
At Home SPX Reformer Bundle
Best for Beginners
Pro XP Reformer 557
Most Versatile Reformer
LIT Method Performance Kit
Developed by Joseph Pilates, the exercise method combines core stabilization, strength, flexibility, balance and proper alignment with concepts like mindfulness, breathing techniques and fluidity of movement. The workout was initially designed to help injured athletes and dancers return to exercise in a safe manner and also maintain fitness moving forward. Using a combination of simple repetitive exercises, Pilates recruits tremendous core strength and other muscular activity. The method can be performed on a mat or exercises can be done on a reformer using a variety of accessories.
What is a Pilates reformer?
A Pilates reformer is a large piece of equipment that resembles a padded table with springs, a sliding carriage, ropes and pulleys. They can be made from different materials, including steel, aluminum and more. Rothman explains the components of a Pilates reformer machine which include:
- Moving carriage: This is a flat, cushioned surface that is designed to move forward and backward. Some include shoulder blocks for added comfort and stability.
- Front platform: This is a stable area that usually houses springs to adjust tension. Some will also have an adjustable bar for more Pilates variations. The front platform can be used as a base for exercises.
- Back platform: This is another flat, stable area that often houses shorter straps with handles and adjustable bars.
- Springs: Often color-coded to signify more or less tension, these are what allow for adjustable resistance on the machine to vary exercises. Sometimes a lighter spring may not mean “easier” as increased core stability will be required.
- Straps: The longer straps found near the carriage are usually for balance and stability exercises, and the shorter ones for more tension-driven exercises.
But you may be wondering, is buying a Pilates reformer worth it? The answer ultimately depends on how often you plan to utilize the machine and if any other members of your household will be able to take advantage of it. Reformer Pilates classes can cost upwards of $30 a session, and if you frequent them that can add up quickly. If you’re not sure about whether you should make the investment, consider a lower-priced but still high-quality model like our Best Value pick.
How we tested and how to choose the best Pilates reformer for you
Fitness experts in the Good Housekeeping Institute researched Pilates reformers that are durably made and provide an effective workout. Our top picks include budget-friendly items as well as higher-end options with more features. When purchasing a Pilates reformer, you’ll want to consider the following:
✔️ Cost: Reformers are a large investment, so it’s important to thoroughly research the one you plan to purchase and consider whether or not the cost is within your budget. More expensive models tend to be a bit higher quality and include more special features and related accessories.
✔️ Dimensions: Pay close attention to the height, length and width of the reformer, and ensure that you’ll have additional room beyond this as you’ll want to be able to walk around the machine and perform movements that require stretching out your arms or legs past the edges of the machine. You can also position the machine on a diagonal if you need to make additional space. Another thing to note is the height and weight limits of the machine to make sure you will feel comfortable and supported during the workout.
✔️ Warranty: Since a Pilates reformer is a big investment, you’ll want to get the most use out of your machine as possible. Look for products with lifetime or competitive warranties, especially for the frame of the machine.
Why trust Good Housekeeping?
Rachel Rothman is a certified Pilates mat instructor and has always been an avid athlete, continuing to play soccer, tennis and lacrosse well into adulthood. She has experience testing a multitude of fitness equipment, including benchmarked tests of treadmills, ellipticals, rowers, smart fitness mirrors, Pilates reformers and smartwatches.
Stefani Sassos has been working in the fitness industry for the past 10 years. As a NASM-Certified Personal Trainer, she uses her expertise and exercise science knowledge to create informed fitness content for the Good Housekeeping Institute. From vigorously testing exercise equipment to curating workout plans for GH readers, Stefani is passionate about leading an active lifestyle and inspiring others to do the same. She values Pilates as a low-impact form of exercise that targets muscle imbalances and core engagement.
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