The Ultimate Pilates Home Reformer Buying Guide
You're in the right place for choosing a Pilates Reformer!
Reformers are big and expensive items and you want to make the right choice. We get it. We are a group of Pilates instructors, enthusiasts, and Pilates lovers and we have put together a comprehensive guide for things to consider and look for when purchasing a reformer. Basically, you want to get a reformer that is going to meet your needs, you’ll want to use it and you’ll get the benefits out of, including getting your best body version, yes it definitely gets results!
In this article you’ll learn about
The reformer is a big piece of equipment and there are a lot of working parts to the machine to look at. Essentially you want a machine that will work with your body type and allows you can do the exercises that you choose to do.
You will feel better in ten sessions, look better in twenty sessions, and have a completely new body in thirty sessions
What makes a good Reformer?
Lets personalize the question, what makes a good reformer for you? This is because one type of reformer can provide a better experience over another, depending on the build and priorities of the user. However, essentially you want one that fits your body type and that you want to use!
How to choose a Pilates Reformer for home – the checklist
What things you need to think about when buying a Reformer?
1) Frame & Length
The frame of the reformer is the chaise of the machine. The frame will be either aluminum (anodized) or wood (rock maple, artisan maple, strata woods). Some reformers may have a slight mixture, frame is aluminum, and footrest/platform is wood. What kind of finish do you prefer? Is your reformer going to be in a prominent part of the house, so you’ll be looking at it? If so you may want it to fit in with your other furnishings more.
Table shows different frame types for Reformers
The frame height from the floor will be different for each reformer. Very low lying reformers will be 9” as opposed to higher framed reformers at 16”. If you are wanting to do any exercise that sweeps the leg down the side of the reformer, this won’t be possible with a low lying reformer. Low lying reformers are also very difficult to clean under!
The length of the reformer is important as it determines how far the carriage will slide. Shorter reformers you usually won’t be able to use a jump board with. If you are tall you will also want a longer length carriage. Carriage travel length ranges from 39” to 50”, for the Allegro Stretch.
A word about the foot platform,
The foot platform is a space to stand on at the same height as the reformer at the top of the machine. Cheaper reformers will have no foot platform. Some reformers the foot platform will just be part of the frame, for other reformers, it will be another separate wooden part to the reformer.
It is important to consider the size of the foot platform. Can it comfortably accommodate your foot both horizontally and vertically? Some reformers do have platform extenders but ideally, the inbuilt foot platform should work for you, without having to additional spend money on the extender.
2) Carriage technology
The carriage technology determines how easily and silent the reformer carriage glides up the rails. The high end reformer brands really invest in this. Why? Because having a silent carriage that glides up the rails not only feels great but you don’t need to listen to any clunks! The top end reformers use an 8 wheel system or patented rolling mechanism that is smooth and silent and is a quality ride. You can just feel the difference. Are you wanting this kind of experience or you aren’t fussed? As you develop a deeper connection with reformer and your practice you may want a better experience.
A word about the carriage width & length
The carriage width can range from 22.5” – 30” and length from 85” – 111” like on the Allegro Stretch. What is your body type? Do you prefer a wider and longer carriage? You want to find a carriage that feels comfortable for your body type. It is very difficult to practice well on a smaller carriage if you are taller and have a heavier body, to the extent that you won’t get the full range of body movement and you compromise the exercise.
Change happens through movement & movement heals.
The springs give the carriage resistance and is a major and crucial part of the reformer build. The usual standard is 5 springs, with at least a lighter, medium, and heavy spring option (usually). Often there will be 2 medium, 2 heavy and 1 light, to complete the set. The spring color will denote the strength of the spring but be careful, just because yellow is a light spring on 1 brand doesn’t mean that it’s the light spring on another!
Just a word on springs, it’s a good idea to have a light to very light spring on the reformer. If you are doing any single arm work even a medium spring is likely to be too heavy. Also, as you advance you may want to try doing a plank series on the lighter spring, to just see how it feels.
“ A lighter spring doesn’t always denote the exercise will be easier! There are positions where a lighter spring is actually harder, like in full plank pose”
A lighter spring doesn’t always denote the exercise will be easier! There are positions where a lighter spring is actually harder, like in full plank pose
If a reformer doesn’t use springs it will have bungee cords, usually 3 or 4 like in the Aero Pilates machines. The bungee cords are nowhere near as durable as springs. If you look at the original Pilates reformer designed by Joseph Pilates (link to page about Joseph Pilates)he used bed springs, so if you want to stick to the true form of a reformer then go for the spring option.
Spring Color & Options
Body Balanced Allegro 2
5 = 1 Yellow(very light)
5 = 4 Full (100%),
4 = Heavy Duty Bungee Cords Black
5 = 1 Red (Heavy)
The springs have a good lifetime, however, if you do need to replace any you will need to go back to the brand manufacture to order them, as they are not interchangeable between brands.
4) Foot bar and foot bar positions
The reformer foot bar comes in different widths and number of positions it can be put in. When looking at a foot bar you want one that will comfortably accommodate your feet and hands. The foot bar will either be ‘internal’ or ‘external’, which is important when doing some platform exercises. An external foot bar will fit right over the frame of the reformer and will extend the reformer’s width beyond the carriages width.
How many positions do you need the foot bar to go in? Most foot bar positions will come in a range of 3 positions, like the Balanced Body Allegro 2, to 4 positions. There are some more specialized machines that will have 5, like the Elina Pilates Aluminum reformer. However, most people really do prefer to use the reformer with the foot bar all the way down or in its most elevated position. Some reformers have the added benefit of moving the foot bar along the frame of the reformer, like the Allegro 2, if this is appealing.
5) Rope & pulley system & Straps
The rope & pulley system allow you to move the reformer when you have your feet and hands in the foot/hand straps. On some reformers, you will need to adjust the ropes to accommodate your height and can be done by lying on the carriage with your feet it the long straps. Other reformers, the rope & pulley system is retractable and will accommodate your height. If you need to adjust the length of the ropes this is usually done by a lever tucked behind the headrest or through the clam cleats. The ropes thread through a pulley and riser system at the back of the reformer. Most reformers will allow you to adjust the risers, so the height which the pulley and rope system is connected to at the back of the reformer.
A last word on straps,
The straps should feel comfortable in your hands and over your feet. On the better quality machines, they will be cotton and slightly padded. They shouldn’t cut into your hands or feet when using.
Reformers aren’t built to be portable. There we’ve said it! They are big framed machines to accommodate your entire body plus some, so you can push and pull yourself up the railing. They weren’t originally built to be moved around. However, now day’s people want to have the option of ‘putting’ it away at the end of the practice. If a reformer is ‘transportable’ it will come with a wheel kit. There are also reformers now that have a very low lying frame and even foldable.
When a reformer does come with wheels it means that you can usually store it on its end and some are even stackable, so you have the option of putting it in the closet. If a reformer has a very low lying frame then you may be able to roll it under the bed out of the way. If you are after a reformer that is foldable, then have a look at the Stamina AeroPilates Reformer 287 and Aero Pilates Reformer Plus 379.
A last word on foldable reformers,
When a reformer is foldable it will never be as strong as it’s sturdy frame counterparts. Also. it will have a few more nuts and bolts to allow the center frame to fold over.
Do you want the accessories to the reformer? Accessories make the reformer much more fun! They add to the variety of movements that you can do on the machine. You’ll also find, if you take Pilates classes at a studio they will have the minimum of a sitting box. Other studios will also have jump boards, which really are fun!
Some reformers instead of a jump board will have a rebounder like the AeroPilates 701 Premier Reformer. However, you should note that most reformers will not include either the sitting box or jump board in the reformer price, they are additional accessories. Even without these accessories, you can still use the reformer for all sorts of moves.
Some reformers will even come with the option to add a vertical tower, which is attached to the end of the reformer. Some would think that this starts to become more like a clinical Pilates session.
Stott Pilates Merrithew SPX Max Plus
Elina Pilates Convertible Cadillac
Peak Pilates Artistry with Rope
Regardless, without a box, jump board, platform extender, vertical tower you can still have fun on the reformer with some more portable and cheaper accessories, as the Pilates Ring, weights, and dowel stick. These will often be used and incorporated into studio Pilates classes and can add to a well-rounded session. Have fun any way you like!
8) Price – a word on price
Reformers are pricy, they are big machines and have lots of moving parts. Even the cheaper machines on the market will set you back a couple hundred dollars. The better quality machines, with studier frame, advanced carriage technology, spring rack, rope & pulley system are going to be pricier. Are you doing Pilates classes at a studio at the moment? How much are these costing you? This is one of the reasons why many people look at getting a home reformer and also practicing anytime they want!
Finally, the better quality machines, if you look after them well they are set to last a lifetime.
Not only is health a normal condition, but it is our duty to not only attain it but to maintain it.
Special inside tips
How do we know about these? It’s through our use of different reformers that we can bring you these points.
1) Foot bar – internal or external
The foot bar will either be internal, meaning inside the frame of the reformer, or external, meaning extends over the entire width of the reformer. Have a look at the above photo, is the foot bar internal or external?
The plus of having an external foot bar is you’re able to put it all the way down so it doesn’t impede standing on the foot platform, either vertical or horizontally, opposed to an internal foot bar which can’t level off because it hits the frame. However, external foot bars as they extend over the complete width of the frame do add to the total width of the reformer, so check the measurements.
The gearbox is also called the spring rack and holds the springs. It is helpful if you can adjust the spring rack by moving it forward and back, depending on your height. If you are tall you are going to want to move it back, so you have more legroom! If you are tall you may also want to consider some of the stretch Pilates reformer options. Some gearboxes are fixed and do not allow this adjustment.
3) Carriage stopper
The stopper will determine where the carriage stops, how far it comes forward. Some reformers you have the option of moving this carriage stopper, which means you can come further into the foot bar or move it further back. If the carriage stop is fixed, it may stop the carriage a little too soon for you to complete the full range of the exercise. In summary, it is helpful if you have the option to move the stopper up and down the carriage railing.
Most reformers allow the headrest can be adjusted into 3 positions. However, in practice, a small soft Pilates ball can be a more comfortable option to get the ideal height and will do just as good a job. So it’s not a big deal.
Just as a note – you should always have the headrest flat on the carriage when you are lying on your back and it can be adjusted upwards to support your neck when you are lying on your side, to complete footwork.
5) Height of the reformer
It’s good to have some height off the floor. If the reformer is very low lying, then it’s not possible or much harder to do some movements as lunge work, where you are required to sweep your leg forward. In summary, height gives you more options.
6) Carriage width
Not all carriages are of the same width. Some carriages are much narrower or wider by a good inch or so. You should feel comfortable on the carriage both length and width wise.
7) Carriage length
You want a good length in the carriage, especially if you have a jump board and you want to be able to push off from the board and have plenty of room to move up the carriage.
8) Foot platform length
You want to make sure the platform is wide enough so you can comfortably put your foot on the platform. Some platforms are very narrow. Some reformers do come with platform extenders and this does help with a more comfortable footing but they usually come at an additional cost.
A final word
A reformer should fit your body type and should meet your equipment expectations. Now that you are familiar with what you need to look at when purchasing a reformer, lets look at home reformer options.