The best Pilates equipment for practicing at home, according to experts

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Denise Chakoian/CORE
Denise Chakoian/CORE

I have long been transfixed by pilates — the smooth transitions between movements, the lithe yet strong muscles and how everything looked like a dance — which is what the best pilates equipment should ultimately help you obtain. In fact, when I first saw the infomercial for the Mari Windsor Pilates DVD when I was 10 years old, I begged my mom to buy it for me the same way most kids ask for a puppy.

Over 20 years later, Pilates continues to be the foundation of my personal training practice where I coach clients to stabilize their core through a range of full-body movements using a combination of low weights and high repetitions for an accessible full-body workout at home. There’s so much to love about Pilates, but getting started at home on your own can feel daunting (and no, you won’t need a pricey reformer to get a great workout). Here’s everything you need to know to begin one of the most rewarding workouts you can feel good about.

What is Pilates?

“Pilates is a core workout utilizing your full body to not only lengthen but improve core strength and posture, says Denise Chakoian, certified personal trainer and founder of CORE Cycle.Fitness.Lagree. So while a Pilates workout might be heavy in planks and sit-up variations, it simultaneously recruits other muscle groups to offer an efficient workout that requires less of a time commitment. This makes Pilates ideal for those working out at home in both small spaces and even smaller windows of time (we’re looking at you, busy parents and students).

According to AJ Mason, a certified trainer at Studio SWEAT onDemand, Pilates is generally divided into three groups: “Mat Pilates, which are primarily bodyweight exercises done on a yoga mat; wall Pilates, which is great for beginners and those with knee or back issues; and reformer workouts, which are done on gliding, spring-guided machines.”

What is the difference between mat pilates and reformer pilates?

While a trip to the reformer Pilates studio does indeed make for an ideal pre-Sunday brunch activity, using weight resistance for a more challenging workout, the cost can add up quickly. That’s what makes at-home mat Pilates workouts, which primarily uses bodyweight, ideal for squeezing in between Zoom meetings, study sessions and an endless list of errands.

Convenience aside, it delivers next-level health benefits. “The first would be posture,” says Chakoian. “As we get older, our bodies tend to develop postural issues in the spine. Strengthening the core [which includes the lower back, hips and glutes] helps the spine and its posture as we grow older.” She adds that as we age, our balance tends to degrade as well. “Pilates focuses on balance through movements that challenge the core stabilizers,” she says. Think: one-legged movements to challenge your proprioceptors (that mind-muscle connection) or moves performed on uneven surfaces to activate those stabilizer muscles, like planks or squat pulses on a BOSU ball. Strengthening your core — along with those oft-overlooked stabilizer muscles — can all contribute to injury-prevention in everyday life.

The best part about Pilates? It’s a natural mood booster. “All that hard work you do during the workout does a great job of circulating oxygen and blood flow, which releases those yummy dopamine and endorphin chemicals that boost your energy and your mood,” says Mason.

Tips for beginning Pilates at home

No matter which Pilates variation you choose, the expert advice remains the same: “The most important thing is to breathe with every exercise. The breath is the most important part that differentiates Pilates from any other exercise,” says Joan Breibart, inventor of the Tye4x Pilates Wearable Reformer and owner of PhysicalMind Institute. Additionally, while music has been proven to assist with exercise responses, that’s not quite the case with Pilates whether you’re practicing at home or in a studio, according to Breibart. “Try to ignore the music if they are playing any. Music doesn’t help your concentration,” she says. For instructor-led workouts, keep clothing color top of mind too. Breibart recommends wearing light-colored clothing to boost your visibility against the often-dark mat.

Best pilates equipment

To look and feel your best, here’s the expert-approved gear you need to get started on your Pilates journey.


The Mat 5mm Made With FSC™ Certified Rubber

lululemon
lululemon

“I recommend having a good Pilates mat that has no slip underneath,” says Chakoian. We love this ultra-popular non-slip mat from Lululemon that we found to be gentle on the joints without compromising our form in testing. It’s also lightweight enough to comfortably move from room to room in your home and has superior moisture-wicking properties than other brands tested. That means you’ll safely stay put even as the sweat starts to pour.




Trideer Stretching Strap

Amazon
Amazon

Flexibility helps enhance your range of motion, which thus allows you to better move through the full spectrum of an exercise, such as stretching those hamstrings in preparation for a double leg stretch. Chakoian recommends a long strap that you can use to gently loosen any kinks to help you make the most out of your Pilates workout. Be sure to always perform a dynamic warmup before you stretch and to never use a stretching strap on “cold” muscles.




Renoj Resistance Bands, 5-Pack

Amazon
Amazon

“If you want to take it up a notch, you can add some bands to add extra resistance,” says Mason. These five bands offer a range of resistance levels that meet you where you’re at in your journey. Wear them at the lower end of your quads during squats, press out against them during shoulder raises or wrap them around your ankles during glute kickbacks for a burn you never knew you needed.




ProBody Pilates Ball

Amazon
Amazon

Chokoian recommends investing in a soft Pilates ball to enhance the workout. You can use it by placing it under your lower back to challenge your core balance and resist rotation or between your adductors (inner thighs). Doing so helps activate a sleepy muscle in order to engage it further and deeper than if you were to have performed the movement on its own.


$10 at Amazon



Amazon Basics Neoprene Coated Hand Weights, 3-Pack

Amazon
Amazon

Bodyweight exercises are incredibly important and effective in helping you master the form and range of motion of an exercise safely without any external force. Once you feel ready, “I would suggest having a couple of sets of weights such as a set of three- and four-pound hand weights,” says Chakoian. This budget-friendly set allows you to gently introduce weights into your routine and features a hexagonal silhouette to prevent rolling.


$37 at Amazon



Trigger Point Performance Grid Foam Roller

Trigger Point
Trigger Point

One of the best ways to enhance recovery after a particularly grueling Pilates session is to practice self-myofascial release through the use of a space-friendly foam roller. Our all-time favorite foam roller relieves tightness where you need it most through its medium-density foam surface that’ll help optimize performance.


$35 at Amazon



Stamina AeroPilates Pro XP 556 Reformer

Academy Sports + Outdoors
Academy Sports + Outdoors

Mastered mat Pilates and looking for a serious challenge (and conversation piece)? Look into a reformer “if you’re able to get a piece of equipment into your home,” Chakoian suggests. This home gym in a single eight-foot unit allows you to perform over 100 movements for a challenging yet enjoyable workout you’d get in a studio.




Tucketts Allegro Toeless Non-Slip Grip Socks

Amazon
Amazon

Your mat only goes so far in keeping you grounded during a Pilates class. Breibart recommends Tucketts socks with “yoga toes,” which can help grip onto your mat or Pilates apparatus while still giving your toes the opportunity to keep you stabilized.




Ballerina Mulberry Silk Scrunchie

Beyond Scrunchies
Beyond Scrunchies

Breibart recommends always wearing your hair tied up during Pilates so as to avoid snagging on any equipment. This editor fave made of frizz-fighting silk looks as cute in your hair as it does on your wrist as a functional accessory.




Peloton App

Peloton
Peloton

The Peloton app is one of the best apps to help guide you through a functional Pilates workout. You can select your class based on several helpful factors like length, difficulty, playlist and instructor and you can even get a glimpse of each move you’ll need to perform before your workout so there are no surprises. Suffering from hip flexor pain? Skip the workout heavy on single leg stretches, for example. Not looking to spend what feels like infinite in a plank? Opt for a class free of mountain climbers. No matter your goals in a Pilates class, the Peloton app can support you.



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