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Buying guide for Best pilates reformer machines

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 exercises are 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 reformers share a basic design, but there are a few variations. Since it is an expensive addition to a home gym, it’s important to identify your specific needs and know what to look for. 

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German-born Joseph Pilates invented the reformer while working as a hospital orderly in the UK during World War I. He used bedsprings attached to the bed frames to help rehabilitate patients with injured limbs.

Key considerations

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 machine?

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.


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. This is pushed or pulled using an adjustable footbar at one end. Look for a stable machine. You don’t want a flimsy model that tips or has a wobbly footbar.

When shopping, consider the amount of space you have. These machines take up quite a bit of room, though there are some that can be folded and stored away when not in use.

Straps: Reformers also have straps attached to the top of the frame that can be pulled with the legs or arms to move the carriage. These are all adjustable, so they can be customized to work with your size, level of fitness, and any physical limitations.

Springs: The springs can also be adjusted to make the carriage more difficult to push or pull as you gain strength. You want good-quality springs. Lower-end models use bungee-type cords rather than springs, which may not stand up to the wear and tear.

Other elements: The reformer may also include a mat, headrest, and shoulder brace. Some come with a tower for even more exercise options. Some machines come with an instructional DVD, which is helpful, but it’s highly recommended that you have some experience with a reformer in a studio with a certified instructor before using one at home.

Upgrades: Some reformer manufacturers offer additional gears for the springs for more precision as you improve, as well other accessory packages like poles, towers, chairs, and blocks.

Pilates reformer machine 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.

Basic: 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 less stable and may not have the longevity of a pricier machine.

Mid-range: These reformers cost about $1,000, the sweet spot for most people, and have all the features you need in a good product.

Expensive: 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. Reformers come in a variety of sizes, so check that the carriage will fit your body type.

Take some Pilates classes before you invest in a reformer. The exercises are very specific, and it’s necessary to have a trained Pilates practitioner guide you. Take a few private sessions to learn the principles as well as help you hone in on your fitness goals.

Consider ongoing sessions at home. Once you have your own machine, consider asking your instructor for regular sessions in your home.

Do Pilates reformer exercises slowly and smoothly. Use precise movements and proper breath control.

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According to a 2016 study, after just eight weeks of Pilates, users have improved balance, flexibility, abdominal endurance, and strength.


Will I lose weight using a reformer?

You may not lose pounds by using the reformer alone, but you’re likely to see your body shape change to a leaner physique due to the nature of the Pilates exercises. However, you are burning up calories in your workout, so you can use the reformer as part of a weight-loss regimen along with diet and/or other fat-burning exercises.

How many calories will I burn?

Because the exercises are so varied, and because calorie burn also depends on body type, it’s hard to pinpoint, but researchers estimate that you can burn between 240 and 480 calories per hour.

How often should I use the reformer to see results?

Most users see good results using the reformer three times a week. Due to the variety of exercises, you can’t overdo it, so it’s fine to use the reformer daily for faster results.

Can I use a reformer after an injury or having surgery?

Yes, with the advice of your doctor and under the supervision of a certified instructor. These machines were originally designed for rehab and are perfect for non-weight-bearing exercise or for accommodating other physical limitations. There are specific exercises that can be used for your situation, so consult your Pilates coach. Used correctly, you’re likely to have a much better outcome than if you stay sedentary.

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