Types of Pilates Machines (Reformer, Cadillac, Chair, Etc.)


Posted By: Pamela Toy

What is a Pilates Machine?


Pilates Machines are exercise equipment developed by Joseph Pilates to improve the Pilates Method.

You can use other equipment to aid in your Pilates workouts, but only equipment designed by Joseph is considered to be a “Pilates Machine”.

While you can do Pilates on the mat, the machines are much more versatile and allow you to hit muscle groups you otherwise wouldn’t be able to.

Most Popular Pilates Machines Used

Here are the most popular Pilates Machines used in many studios:

  • Pilates Reformer
  • Pilates Barrel
  • Pilates Chair
  • Pilates Cadillac
  • Other (Small) Pilates Equipment

    Pilates Reformer

    The Pilates Reformer was developed by Joseph Pilates in the 1920s. (1) Reformer Pilates training is one of the most popular types of Pilates exercises. It uses a series of springs/cords and pulleys to provide resistance from various different positions. You can adjust the level of resistance by removing cords or springs to make things easier or more difficult.

    It is the most versatile machine as there are many different attachments and straps you can use making it a great piece of equipment to have for beginners, intermediate and advanced students. Not only is it a great full-body workout, but it helps you to lengthen your muscles while strengthening them.

    The one downside to the Reformer is the amount of space it can take up.

    Types of Pilates Reformers

    There are several ways to classify Pilates Reformers. We will break down the types of Reformers as some reformers may suit your needs better.

    Professional Reformers

    Professional Reformers or studio reformers are machines that are very versatile and durable for heavy gym use. These machines are typically higher quality than your average Reformer for home use. They have to be able to support a multitude of body types and sizes and usually contain a tower attachment for added versatility.

    Home Reformers

    The Home Reformers are typically smaller in size, less expensive, and may not contain a tower attachment. Some Home Reformers are also foldable providing more spacial efficiency.

    Pilates Barrel

    The Pilates Barrel was originally created by Joseph Pilates because he loved to drink beer. (2)

    Beer was delivered to him in barrels, so he took it upon himself to play with the beer barrels and metal rings. The Barrel has evolved into what it is today and is used to support the flexion and extension of the spine using gravity.

    Types of Barrels

    Like the Reformer, there are a few different types of Pilates Barrels. Each Barrel has its own features.

    Ladder Barrel

    The Ladder Barrel combines ladder rungs with a surface for stretching, lengthening, strengthening, and flexibility. The Ladder Rung connects to the barrel with an adjustable sliding base.

    Small (Mini) Barrel


    The Small Barrel is great for both professional studios and home use. The curve of the barrel was designed to be identical to the Ladder Barrel, but it is shallow in height and can accommodate practitioners who aren’t super flexible or have a limited range of motion.

    Spine Corrector Barrel


    Designed by Joseph Pilates, the Spine Corrector Barrel was used to open the chest and correct/restore the spine’s curve. As we age, our muscles can weaken causing the spine to lose its natural curve. Using the Spine Corrector barrel is a great piece of equipment to help combat that.

    Arc Barrel


    The Arc Barrel is a versatile lightweight Step Barrel that is great for both home and studio use.

    Pilates Chair

    Like the Reformer, the Pilates Chair was equipment engineered by Joseph Pilates. The first chair was designed by Joseph to convert quickly into an armchair. (3)

    The chair is great for both standing and seated work as exercises can be performed on both your front and back.

    The Pilates Chair was initially seen as a niche piece of equipment, but nowadays, studios are offering classes devoted entirely to it.

    A great benefit to the Pilates Chair is how little space it takes up in comparison to the Reformer or Cadillac.

    Types of Pilates Chairs

    Like the Barrel, there are several different types of chairs. Each chair is engineered differently and has unique features.

    Wunda (Low) Chair


    The Wunda Chair was created based on Joseph Pilates’ original designs and dimensions. (4)

    Typically a Wunda Chair has a wide range of resistance and contains at least 2 springs. There are also cutout handles for secure handholds.

    High (Electric) Chair


    The High (Electric) Chair is a type of Pilates Chair that has a sophisticated and stable high-backed chair (hence the name) designed for full-comprehensive workouts. There are twin poles on each side that help you to maintain balance and support.

    One of the main benefits of the High Chair is that you can place your back flat against the chair, which can help you to maintain proper posture for specific exercises.

    For people who either struggle with their proper posture/alignment or have a limited range of motion, the high chair can be a great piece of equipment.

    Arm Chair


    The armchair is a traditional piece of equipment that was originally designed by Joseph Pilates. It is probably the best piece of Pilates Equipment to develop scapula stability and arm strength through core and upper bodywork.

    Unlike the High Chair or the Wunda Chair, there is no pedal, so you cannot perform leg exercises like with the other chairs. Instead, there are typically handles that come out of the sides of the chair with resistance springs. (5)

    Pilates Cadillac


    The Pilates Cadillac also called the Trapeze Table is a specialized piece of equipment that enables you to work virtually every muscle group. Similar to the Reformer, it involves working various muscles with challenging poses through resistance.

    The Cadillac places the body in a variety of suspended positions using a series of ropes and pulleys. You can lift your arms and legs into the air to suspend your body over the machine.

    One of the primary differences between the Reformer and the Cadillac is that there are horizontal and vertical bars (listed in the image) above the table.

    Other (Small) Pilates Equipment


    One of the downsides to most Pilates Equipment is the amount of room it can take up. However, there are types of equipment that can provide a great workout, without taking up too much space.

    Pilates Mat

    While machines like the Reformer, Chair, or Cadillac offer a lot of versatility, Mat Pilates work can also be very beneficial. It is the true foundation of Pilates that has continued to evolve over the years. Exercises on the mat can be difficult because you have to support your own body weight.

    However, in comparison to the Reformer, your body is the resistance. You can use free weights or bands on the mat to make exercises more difficult, but you do not have the luxury of a resistance system to increase or decrease the challenge. If you are unable to support your own body weight due to a limited range of motion, training on a machine may suit your needs better.


    Pilates Bands can be used on the mat, reformer, or standing. They can add an added level of resistance to your exercises.

    Foam Rollers

    Foam Rollers are great recovery equipment to use after a workout. They can help to loosen up your muscles and get the knots out of your muscles.

    Stability Ball

    The Stability Ball is another great piece of equipment to have either in the studio or at home. You can use it on the mat and do various exercises like the bridge and push-ups. The ball can add an added degree of difficulty to exercises as you really have to keep your core engaged to maintain balance and stability throughout.

    Pilates Rings/Hoops

    The Pilates Rings can add a dynamic addition to your workouts. They are small rings that you can grip with your hands or thighs. This can add added resistance to your workouts and can be used on the mat or reformer.

    Which Pilates Machine Should You Choose?

    If you have the budget and space at home, the Pilates Reformer is the Machine to have because of its amazing versatility. However, if space is a concern, the Pilates Chair is a great option as well.

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