What makes a good reformer for you?

What is Reformer?

Reformer Pilates is Pilates done on the reformer machine. It is using the mechanisms of the machine to both assist and provide resistance when completing movements.  Most instructors will shorten the name, to just ‘reformer’. The other form of Pilates is mat Pilates, which is done on the floor on a mat.  Pilates movements can be completed on the floor or on the machine and Joseph Pilates indeed had a series for both on the mat and the reformer.

You can find the mat Pilates reformer series in his most notable and original book, Pilates Return to Life Through Contrology, which is the bible of Pilates.

In this post we examine your Pilates reformer purchase checklist and what makes a good reformer for you.

Pilates is the complete coordination of body, mind & spirit

Joseph Pilates

What is the Pilates Reformer machine?

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!

Woman using the Pilates Reformer machine sitting upright, hand is straps facing the back of the reformer

Ease of use

Yes, a reformer is easy to use. It’s the exercises that can be more challenging! But the machine isn’t difficult to use. The carriage only goes one way, that’s forward and back. You determine things as the foot bar position, height, and the spring resistance.

Move your body

Any basic Pilates Reformer will include the following parts:

Photo of the reformer, with tags showing the names of the different parts of the reformer to consider when looking at the reformer purchase checklist.

At the most basic level, the carriage moves along the track rails and you can add different spring resistance by using different colored springs. Then you can add in the foot bar, foot platform, and straps to complete different movements. If that wasn’t enough, most high-end Pilates Reformer machines come with accessory options, jump board, sitting box and tower extensions. You can also add in weights, Pilates magic ring, dowel to your exercise routine. It’s easy to see that with all these options then it certainly keeps Pilates reformer interesting and varied and is the exact reason why so many people come to love reformer, as we do.

What things do I need to think about with a home Reformer?

So you are thinking about getting a home Reformer? Pilates reformer classes are expensive and getting a home reformer can be a good long term option. Perhaps you have done a few Pilates classes and got the ‘bug’ and want to be able to better access and control your own practice. Whatever the reason, it’s good to consider and research your options into the reformer world. That’s why we’ve come up with the reformer purchase checklist.

Good quality reformers are expensive but are worth it. Pilates gives amazing results, if you do a regular practice, people around you are going to comment and ask what you’ve been doing! It’s very easy to fall in love with Pilates and what better way to get an in-house reformer.

However, before launching in with much gusto, lets have a look at what you need to consider before purchasing one of these fine machines.

two ladies in a pilates studio practicing reformer together

The Pilates Reformer pre-purchase checklist:

1) Size

Reformers are big! They take up space, there’s no way around it, they are a big-ticket items! The average length of a reformer is 90-100 inches.  So you need to think about where you are going to put it!  There are a number of reformers on the market now, which are ‘transportable’ and some of them are even ‘foldable’. So you can have a look at these if space is tight. You might be able to store them under the bed or in the closet. The Aero Pilates reformers have many options like this. However, the best Reformers we believe are the Reformers that are full length, sturdy, and don’t collapse. They are more durable, more authentic and you’ll have a better quality experience. 

If you do have the space, it’s always nice to not have to pack away the reformer at the end of your session. Setting up and packing away a reformer can be a deterrent in actually getting to your practice!

However, if space is an issue for you and you need to pack away your reformer, get one which is stackable or foldable. However, with a stackable reformer (think, one you can rest up against the wall), do consider even to get it up against a wall may not be easy and you may need a second pair of hands to help you. The second option is a foldable reformer which we review in our blog, Best Foldable Pilates Machines.

2) Weight

Again these machines are big and use a lot of metal and wood, so they are equally heavy! This poses more of a first challenge of getting the reformer to the right spot at home. Once it’s there, the theory is that you can leave it there.  The transportable and foldable reformers will be lighter, which is a plus if you are trying to move them around for storage. However, again the really good quality reformers are heavy for a reason, they use good quality materials that make the Reformer more sturdy.

If you are purchasing a reformer you are going to need at least 2 strong people to assist you with bringing it into your lounge room, bedroom, or where you plan to use it.

Lady on the reformer with heels on the reformer foot bar, hips up towards ceiling and shoulders up against in shoulder blocks.

3) Warranty

If you are making a more expensive purchase you are going to want to check the warranty. Most reformers will have a lifetime warranty on the frame, 90 days on the upholstery, and 1 year on straps, spring clips, and other moving parts. What’s important is that you certainly check your new purchase when it arrives. You want to check that it has all the right parts, straps, screws. If not, then you should get in contact with the manufacturer asap for replacement parts.

You should equally take care of your machine by only ever using gentle cleaning agents. Harsh cleaning chemicals may damage the upholstery. Also, take care that you don’t pull the upholstery with sharp objects, like rings or keys.  You can also now get reformer protective covers, which can protect the upholstery of the Pilates reformer. There are some pretty designs that you can go for as well.

The high-end good quality machines really are designed and built for a lifetime of use, if you look after them and maintain them correctly. Also, make sure that you put your receipts in a safe place, just in case you do need to return any item, as these serve as proof of purchase.

4) Quality

In general, the more expensive the reformer is the higher quality it is. The top-end reformers are built from higher quality materials and are more durable than their counterparts. They will also have better springs more spring options and the carriage will be smooth and silent.  They will also have better foot bars, foot platforms and come with foot straps.

When buying a reformer, part of the buying process should involve questions as, how often you will be using it? What kinds of exercises you want to do on it? Does it bother you if the springs clunk or the carriage isn’t that smooth? 

Often you will have been introduced to the reformer by going along to reformer classes, where they usually have higher-end machines. So if you are used to these kinds of machines and buy a cheaper version, then you are going to have to get used to some of these nuances of a cheaper machine. Ultimately, it comes down to your expectations of a machine and what you want out of it. Next, we look at price.

Lady using a reformer in her home gym, practicing sideline exercise.

5) Price

Price is always a consideration. Apart from the reformer itself, do you also want some of the accessories, as the sitting box, jump board, foot platform extender? A lot of reformers will come with these accessories but you need to add them separately on top of the reformer price. There are some exceptions though, as the Merrithew V2 Max Reformer Bundle, which comes with the sitting box, jump board, foot platform extender. You can do without these accessories but they do make a nice addition to the reformer and add to the variety of exercises and movements that you can do. So if you are a Pilates enthusiast they are usually good to get but equally can be classified as ‘nice to have’ items.

We also note that wooden framed reformers are pricier than their aluminum counterparts. The Balanced body studio reformer with classic foot bar and the Peak Pilates Artistry Reformer with Rope are more expensive than other reformers in their brand grouping.  A large part of the price is also linked to things as the carriage technology and springs. Body balance’s machines have an 8 wheel system and Stott Pilates uses a patented rolling mechanism, which both provide a smooth and silent quality ride. The springs on the higher quality machines are more durable and silent rather than bungee cords. Bungee cords are only going to last so long, especially if you are using your reformer frequently.

We think these 5 points are important to have on your checklist when purchasing your reformer.

Through the Pilates Method of body conditioning this unique trinity of a balanced body, mind and spirit can ever be attained. Self confidence follows

Joseph Pilates

Can beginners do Reformer Pilates?

Yes, if you are new to Pilates you can do reformer. You may at first be using muscles that you wouldn’t normally use, so you should always start with lighter springs, for most exercises and do less reps (be aware though some lighter spring options actually make an exercise harder on the reformer!). There are certainly some harder and more challenging moves but start with some footwork, lying on your back with the foot bar up, then you can start with using the straps for your hands and feet, the short straps are traditionally for your hand and the longer straps are for your feet.

Lady on Pilates Reformer, lying on her back with hands in straps palms facing the front of the reformer and legs straight into the air.

The Rise of Private Pilates Classes & Online World – Can I Practice at Home?

The world in a lot of ways is becoming smaller, you can now take an online Pilates class from another Pilates studio in a completely different country than yours, if you choose so. Some studios are now offering live classes, 1-1 across a Zoom meeting or you can tune into a studio class, when you want to, all done from your own living room or bedroom.   You no longer need to leave the house to do reformer,  you can have your own home Pilates reformer and own teacher.  

Going to a reformer class at a studio is nice but it comes at a cost and also your own time of driving to the studio and finding parking. Reformer classes can be very expensive. So having a reformer at home and continuing with your own practice can be a nice fix to this. The range of reformers that are on the market now can really make home practice a reality. 

Some of the well known online Pilates classes are John Gary and Pilates Anytime. Just like with a face to face class, you need to try a few classes to see what style and level fits you. Also, many reformers now will come with free DVD’s to get you going and demonstrate some of the basic moves to start with.  The Aero Pilates reformers come with DVDs with workouts and some with a color workout wall chart. More people are practicing reformer at home and seeing the benefits without having to leave home.

Parts of the Reformer – in detail

Below we show more details of the reformer. It has many moving parts and it helps to know some of the names, as when you are following a class you will need to know where your feet, hands, and torso need to be placed and how they move.

Tags showing the different parts of the Reformer machine in detail that need to be considered when looking at the reformer purchase checklist.