If you want to build a leaner and stronger body, there’s no better workout method than Pilates. Developed by German physical trainer Joseph Pilates in the 1920s, this dynamic movement practice remains a killer mix of strength, mobility, balance, coordination, flexibility and breathwork.
Pilates is famed for helping people to achieve better posture and abs of steel, but it’s secretly great for targeting every area of your body. Although the exercises don’t look as explosive as plyometrics or HIIT classes, don’t be fooled by its seemingly relaxed pace: the range of movements in a Pilates class continuously engage the muscles in your arms, shoulders, core, legs and glutes. It’s no wonder it’s loved by elite athletes and super-fit A-listers like Vanessa Hudgens, Karlie Kloss and Meghan Markle.
With many of us now working out from home, incorporating regular Pilates sessions into your routine can help you to build strength in your mobility, which is particularly important if you’re exercising a lot and want to avoid niggling
lockdown injuries. While there’s nothing specifically wrong with following an equipment-free Pilates workout on YouTube, investing in a few key props can help you to deepen your stretches and support your progress over time.
Pilates equipment varies and can cost anywhere from a few pounds to several hundred. Smaller kit like rings and resistance bands are great for adding some intensity to your workouts without breaking the bank – and they can be utilised in other types of workouts like barre and cardio too.
If you have the space and budget though, you might want to splash out on a Reformer machine. These bed-like frames deliver a blistering workout by transferring the techniques taught in the original mat-based Pilates workout on to a machine that’s loaded with springs and pulleys. Many are portable and compact enough to sit in a home gym too.
We’ve tried and tested a number of different types of Pilates equipment, as well as supportive props like blocks and balls to put together this shopping list. We’ve also drilled down the hundreds of options to find the perfect pair of Pilates leggings for comfortably getting your stretch on at home.
Liforme Yoga Mat
This lightweight mat is crafted from naturally sourced rubber for enhanced traction and a sturdy grip on both sides. The texture is ideal to roll out on any type of surface, with a thick and cushioned feel that will protect your spine and joints from the floor below. Helpfully, it’s also few inches longer and wider than regular yoga and Pilates mats, so you have more space to move. Liforme’s sustainable mats are a great option for beginners looking to start their practice during lockdown, as the design features alignment guidance to help place feet correctly and stay balanced in difficult poses.
CuleedTec Pilates Ring
This 15-inch pilates ring is made from an impressively sturdy fiberglass material that doesn’t buckle or permanently bend out of shape when it’s placed under maximum pressure from the arms or inner thighs. The spring-like resistance system provides a tough workout for both upper and lower body, while soft grips are helpful for keeping sensitive skin protected from bruising or chafing. We particularly liked this cheerful violet hue, but it also comes in a pink colour too.
Lululemon Lift and Lengthen Yoga Block
Blocks are helpful for supporting and aligning the body during Pilates, and this one from Lululemon is great for assisting standing stretches and deepening spinal mobility. Standard in size, it can be used in three different positions, depending on the level of length you need. Made from a dense foam, the yogi brand has put lots of attention to detail in each product, and you’ll even find a personal motivational message printed on each block.
Girlfriend Collective Compressive Stretch Leggings
Husband and wife duo Ellie and Quang Dinh founded cult brand Girlfriend Collective after failing to find high-end activewear with a sustainable edge. 25 plastic bottles are recycled to create each of its high-performance compression leggings, which genuinely feel just as comfortable, flattering and premium as other high-end (but less ethical) brands on the market. The ‘second skin’ fit, provides the ultimate support during bendy squats and leg raises, while the compression fabric helps to aid faster muscle recovery by increasing blood flow to the legs.
Ultimate P.volve Bundle
Influencer-approved P.Volve is a workout method that personal trainer and founder Stephen Pasterino says is the “opposite of a gruelling, high-impact, painful workout”. Each kit comes with a soft mini-ball, gliders, a resistance band, hand weights, ankle weights and a foam roller for recovery. A monthly subscription gives you access to a library of 200+ workouts (the first month is free), many of which are inspired by the functional, endurance movements in pilates. The mini-ball is particularly handy for toning up hard-to-target areas, as it comes with thick velcro straps that hold it snug to your inner thighs, so you won’t be distracted by the thought of it rolling away mid-burn.
Sweaty Betty Pilates Socks
Socks with added grips aren’t essential to a Pilates practice, but those who are serious about the method know that they can really help you to create stability. This especially true if you struggle to stay in place once you start to sweat. This pair from Sweaty Betty have a high-grip design on the sole that adds lots of much-needed support during tricky balance moves like plank toe taps and single-leg glute bridges. The sock material itself is a super soft cotton that feels lovely even after being put through the wash. We also love the ballet-inspired Mary Jane style that looks really flattering on the foot.
CHYIR Portable Pilates Bar Kit
CHYIR’s portable multi-use tool is great for getting deeper into stretches like leg scissors and torso twists. This simple steel bar is fitted with resistance-band cords and nylon loops that can be slipped either through the hands or feet. The padded bar is comfortable to grip and doesn’t slip or slide once you start to sweat. We also found the resistance band useful as an alternative to hand weights for strengthening moves like overhead presses, kickbacks and rows. After use, it can be niftily unlocked, folded in half and stored away in a cupboard.
Domyos pride themselves on their affordable and practical fitness equipment and this cheap but effective balance board is no different. If you struggle with wobbles during your Pilates practice, this is a great bit of kit for improving your stability over time. The circular, wood platform is robust enough to hold up to 110kg of body weight, and it’s fitted with a rough, grippy material that stops your hands and feet from slipping. You can use it to add an extra challenge to your press-ups or lunges, or you can simply try to balance on the surface with both feet. The plastic dome underneath can be quite slippy on hardwood floors, so we recommend laying down an exercise mat before you attempt to use it.
Bodi Tek AeroPilates Pilates Reformer 435
This Reformer Pilates machine is outfitted with generously-sized straps, four springs and a sliding carriage to ensure your core is engaged during every movement. We liked how easy it was to adjust the resistance by choosing from the helpful colour-coded springs underneath the carriage, and that you can also replace the classic foot bar with a vertical trampoline for a fat-burning rebounding session. The tabletop itself is cushioned with a soft, leather-like material that supports the spine and is really easy to wipe down after use. It arrives almost fully assembled, so you don’t need to worry about screwing in lots of different pieces – simply attach the wheels and end caps, fit the risers and you’re good to go. It also folds down to just over half its assembled size, meaning it is easy to store and doesn’t take up lots of space.
Whether you’re new to Pilates or you’ve been practising for years, a Liforme mat was our must-have pick from the list. The grip is noticeably superior to other exercise mats on the market and the guide markings were helpful for correcting our posture during training. If budget is an issue, the CHYIR Portable Pilates Bar Kit is a really functional and wallet-pleasing alternative to splashing out on a Reformer Pilates machine. We found we could replicate many of the toning moves in a Reformer class, like leg and inner-thigh stretches, at a snip of the price.