Basic pilates exercises can be done on a mat, relying simply on gravity for resistance, but exercisers looking for a challenge can find a number of pilates machines which will add to their workout. The reformer is the core machine, and the sliding seat and spring pulls enhance traditional mat work. Pilates circles, metal circles with padded handles, add resistance to arm and leg exercises. The arc and barrel is a variation of the half circle designed to support and correct the spine. The pilates chair uses a set of pedals to work underused muscles. Other accessories, like the tower or weighted balls, are becoming more popular with modern pilates classes.
The main pilates machine, the reformer, was created by Joseph Pilates himself. It has a padded seat that slides back and forth along a wooden or metal frame. Springs and ropes are attached at either end of the reformer, and the exerciser uses these for resistance and alignment. Most of the pilates mat work exercises can be done while lying down, sitting, or kneeling on the padded area of this machine. Some practitioners feel that these pilates machines offer more support than the mat and better resistance than body weight and gravity.
Joseph Pilates also created an apparatus called a “Magic Circle.” These pilates machines consist of tempered steel rings with padded wooden handles. The circles range in size from 14.5 inches (37 cm) to 16.5 inches (42 cm) and come in varying numbers of resistance bands. The circle is designed for both arm and leg exercises. Today, versions of the pilates circle are available in plastic as well as metal or with rubberized coatings to soften sharp edges.
The spine corrector was also created by Pilates and is roughly similar to the pilates arc and barrel. These pilates machines are round half circles, often with a gentler curve on one side. The arc can be used with the reformer or on the floor with mat work. The pilates barrel includes a small seat area, useful for alignment with exercises like the Teaser. Both pieces encourage proper form and provide spine support.
Pilates chairs are useful machines for strengthening muscle groups that are often missed with traditional workouts. Most pilates chairs have a padded seat and pedals, with no back. The pedals use springs for resistance, and some chairs have places to attach bands to work the arms. The chair is thought to help with correct alignment and balance.
There are a few other machines and props used in pilates. The trapeze or tower, a tall frame with resistance tubes or straps, can be attached to the reformer to add another level to the exercises. While not machines, weighted balls or foam rollers are used by many modern practitioners to increase the challenge and dimension of exercises done on the mat. Resistance bands have also become popular for use with pilates mat work, but they are best used by more experienced exercisers so that form does not suffer.