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The reformer was first invented by Joseph Pilates, the godfather of pilates. This bed-like contraption is designed to promote postural alignment, elongated muscles, and core strength while improving flexibility, coordination, and balance. It has a spring-based resistance system and a flat surface (AKA "carriage") that rolls back and forth when you push the attached footbar and pull on the straps.
Pilates machines are often used in physical therapy to alleviate pain, speed up recovery, and enhance athletic performance—but they're not just for sports medicine. A reformer is an excellent piece of workout equipment for all fitness levels and anyone looking to tone up or build strength. As you push out with your feet and pull with your arms, the tension on both ends requires you to engage muscles throughout your entire body to stay in control. In other words, a pilates reformer offers an all-in-one, full-body resistance workout.
Here, the best pilates reformers available today.
Best Overall: Merrithew At Home SPX Reformer Bundle
The Merrithew SPX Reformer Bundle has everything you need to improve your strength, flexibility, mobility, and endurance right at home. It has an adjustable footbar with four positions, extra-plush foam cushioning, a padded platform extender, a reformer box, and a metal roll-up poll. Thanks to four full-tension and one half-tension springs, you can change the resistance based on your fitness level or the intensity of your workout. Additionally, this pilates reformer is designed to offer ultra-smooth back-and-forth motions while minimizing noise.
"Most physical therapy offices use Merrithew machines, so you know you're getting the best of the best if you purchase one for yourself. Any of their reformers are amazing," Seattle-based pilates coach Tory Rivera tells Byrdie.
Best Budget: Stamina AeroPilates Reformer 287 Trainer
If you're on a budget, you really can't go wrong with Stamina's AeroPilates 287 Trainer. This reformer is designed with three adjustable bungee cords, allowing you to work your way up to more challenging workouts. We also like that it has high-density shoulder pads and a non-skid support system to stabilize your movements and promote balance while you work your midsection, strengthen your legs, and tone your arms.
A cushioned platform keeps you comfy, while a steel frame offers a smooth glide and long-lasting durability. Additionally, a padded footbar helps with shock absorption as you count your reps.
Best Splurge: Merrithew Rehab V2 Max Plus Reformer
"The best pilates reformer is the V2 Max Plus by Merrithew," Rivera says. "It is of the highest quality, lasts forever, and has a very timeless design. There's not much to improve upon—I'm almost certain they haven't changed their overall design since the beginning, or at least in the last 15 to 20 years."
Unlike other reformers, this one doesn't have any hooks for the springs. "It's more of a ball-in-the-socket deal, which makes it way more streamlined," Rivera explains. And since the springs are also rounded, it's virtually impossible to pinch yourself (which she says she's done on a few other machines).
Best for Home Use: Peak Pilates Casa Reformer
Designed specifically for at-home use, this beauty by Peak Pilates is lightweight and user-friendly. The Casa has a five-spring resistance system, a single-hand gear bar with four positions, one-touch rope adjusters, a three-height headrest, and a locking footbar. Not only that, but it includes a long/short pilates box for added variation.
Constructed out of powder-coated aluminum with wood accents, this sleek pilates machine is just as sturdy as it looks. It weighs 110 pounds and measures 97 inches long and 25 inches wide with a studio-height (16-inch) platform. The thoughtfully engineered carriage features high-quality wheels for a comfortable, smooth movement with every rep.
Best Wooden: Soulara Zen Flex Standard Wood Reformer SWF1
Featuring a durable wood frame and a modern silhouette, this pilates machine from Soulara is a sight for sore eyes. The Zen Flex comes with two pulleys, two ropes, two dual straps, a foot belt, and a stopper with five color-coded springs of varying resistance.
You'll also get a foot mat, two shoulder rests, a wooden stretching stick, an orthopedic box, and a jump board. The innovative footbar allows you to work at five different angles while offering maximum grip, thanks to Soulara's unique honeycomb wrap. We also appreciate that it has built-in wheels on the bottom, so you can move it around your home and store it easily.
Best for Beginners: Stamina AeroPilates Pro XP 556 Reformer
If you're new to the world of pilates, the AeroPilates Pro 556 is a great place to start. This reformer is made with beginners in mind and allows you to adjust the footbar and resistance bands to your preferred intensity. You can use it to tone your abs, hips, and glutes or hone in on your cardio with a heart-pumping endurance routine.
With aluminum tracks 2 inches longer than standard reformers, an extra-wide platform, and four resistance cords, this pilates machine accommodates people of all heights, sizes, and fitness levels. It also comes with intro-level DVDs and a color-coded wall chart with various pilates moves you can reference during your workout.
Best for All Levels: Elina Pilates Pilates Wood Reformer
Featuring high-quality construction for ultimate safety and durability, this visually pleasing wood reformer by Elina Pilates is a favorite among trainers and at-home exercisers alike. It has a patented whisper-smooth rolling mechanism and an adaptable design with a five-spring resistance system that accommodates all body types and fitness levels.
The Pilates Wood Reformer has a set of quick-release shoulder rests, which you can take on and off, plus a padded headrest with three positions and adjustable ropes. It's also designed with a non-slip standing platform, a jump board, and a pilates box.
Best with Tower: PilatesEquipment.Fitness Pilates Reformer Vintage
Made of solid beechwood and sturdy metal, this pilates reformer doesn't skimp on features or aesthetics. The built-in tower component allows you to perform moves in a standing, seated, or kneeling position. It's super stable and resistant but also adaptable and accommodating of various fitness levels.
You'll also get a soft-bed sliding system with eight wheels and silent bearings, quick-release shoulder rests, a padded headrest, adjustable snap ropes, a jump board, and a pilates box. This European-made machine has foam cushioning with faux leather upholstery throughout, making it comfy and easy to clean.
The best pilates reformer overall is the Merrithew At Home SPX Reformer on account of its comprehensive features, adjustable design, super-smooth rolling mechanism, and mid-range price tag. However, if you want something a bit more affordable, the Stamina AeroPilates Reformer 287 Trainer is also a solid choice.
Meet the Expert
Tory Rivera is a Seattle-based pilates and barre coach. She graduated from Pacific Lutheran University with a Bachelor of Science in Biology.
What To Look For in a Pilates Reformer
When shopping around for pilates reformers, one of the most important things to consider is the carriage. Since you'll be sitting or lying back on the platform, you'll want something with a bit of padding. A non-slip design is crucial, too, as it'll keep you in place while you roll back and forth. Additionally, some carriages are extra-wide or come with extenders to accommodate people of different sizes and heights.
Springs are another important feature of a reformer, as they're what creates resistance. Most pilates machines have five springs of varying tensions, which allows you to adjust the intensity level. They'll typically be color-coded, so you can change them quickly without having to reference the instruction manual. Some springs are also rounded to minimize the chance of pinching yourself.
When browsing pilates reformers, you'll also want to pay attention to the footbar. Most allow you to change the position to adjust the intensity, and some offer a locking mechanism for when you want to work only your arms. You'll also find some footbars with different angle adjustments for targeting your abs, hips, and legs from different directions.
How Do You Use a Pilates Reformer?
The proper way to use a pilates reformer depends on the specific move you're doing, as you can use it in a seated position while kneeling or in a standing position. That said, there are a few things to keep in mind before getting started. First, make sure you thoroughly read through the instruction manual and set the springs to your desired resistance. Additionally, perform each movement slowly to avoid straining a muscle, and breathe deeply with every motion.
What Muscles Do Pilates Reformers Target?
While reformers offer a full-body workout, they're known for targeting the core, so you can count strengthened abs, obliques, and back muscles. Additionally, pilates machines help tone the hips, glutes, legs, thighs, arms, shoulders, and chest.
Is It Safe To Use a Pilates Reformer While Pregnant?
Since they offer support and stability, pilates reformers can be ideal for building strength and maintaining mobility during pregnancy. That said, after about 16 weeks, it's best to avoid flat-back exercises (whether on the reformer or otherwise) to avoid constricting circulation. If you're unsure about what you should or shouldn't do while pregnant, be sure to check with your healthcare provider.
Why Trust Byrdie
Byrdie contributor Theresa Holland is an experienced commerce writer with a background in fitness and beauty. She's well-versed in the world of at-home exercise equipment and knows how to spot high-quality machines with reliable designs. You can check out more stories by Theresa on The Spruce, MyDomaine, and Verywell Mind.