Pilates is a system of exercises and equipment developed by Joseph Pilates as a way of strengthening muscles and increasing coordination and flexibility through core stability. His equipment has been further developed and modified for home use. The best home equipment uses suspension and body weight to strengthen muscles with the least strain on the joints. It also helps keep the body aligned throughout the exercises. The best equipment also optimizes space and is cost-effective. For this reason, the top piece of equipment is the reformer, followed by the chair, barrels and arcs and then balls and blocks.
Reformers are the best Pilates equipment out there because of their versatility and effectiveness. Reformers are intuitive to use and the framework keeps the body aligned throughout the workout. The spring and suspension-based system keeps the joints safe and optimizes muscle strengthening, coordination and flexibility. To use the machine, you lie on your back, kneel, sit or lie on your stomach depending on the set of exercises you are doing. The part of the machine your body rests on moves back and forth through the frame using a system of springs. These springs provide resistance for strength training. You can perform various exercises on the reformer that work out major muscles of the legs, core, arms and back. However, reformers often can be bulky and take up a lot of space. The best reformers fold up into compact shapes in order to remain space-effective. By eliminating the heavy frame, they are lighter, easy to move and cheaper.
If you have limited space and budget for a piece of equipment but still want something that provides a resistance system, the chair may be the best piece of Pilates equipment for you. The chair is a square block, with or without handles, that works on a spring system. It has a pedal attached to two springs. By providing your body with a small framework to exercise in, the chair aids greatly in body alignment and posture. The spring system works in a similar fashion to the reformer, protecting joints while increasing the effectiveness of the workout through resistance. You can sit on the chair, stand on the chair or stand on the pedal to do exercises. The chair is one of the best pieces of equipment because it is so versatile and effective in strengthening muscles and improving posture, while still being light and fitting easily into a corner of a room. The best chairs have adjustable handles and springs.
Barrels and Arcs
If your goal is to increase the effectiveness of body-weight exercises by learning proper alignment, barrels and arcs may be a better choice for your home. Barrels and arcs are curved, wooden shapes that sit on the floor. To use them, you lie on your side, stomach or back, depending on the exercise. Barrels and arcs do not have a spring or suspension system for joint protection, nor do they provide any resistance or weight to aid in muscle strengthening. However, they are much more cost and space-effective than the reformer or the chair, and they help in activating the core. The best barrels and arcs come with a list of exercises and how they can be done on the equipment.
Balls and Blocks
If you want something simple that can also be used for yoga and to aid in muscle activation during basic body-weight exercises, balls and blocks are a good bet. The simplest Pilates equipment, balls and blocks come in a variety of sizes and weights. They can be used as weights, to activate hard-to-find muscles and to practice balance. The larger balls can be use to increase the effectiveness of body-weight exercises -- such as crunches, planks and pushups -- by forcing you to balance on the ball while activating your other muscles. This helps activate your core. Depending on the size of the ball, you can sit on them; squeeze them between your knees, ankles or hands; balance on them in a bridge pose; or use them as a massage tool to help break up adhesions in the muscles. Blocks can also be used to practice balance or to squeeze between the knees or ankles, or as light weights. These are the cheapest and most space-effective options available. However, they are not as effective in practicing alignment or protecting joints as the reformer, chair or barrels and arcs, nor do they provide the extensive number of exercise options as the other equipment.