Reformer Pilates Is Pricey. Can You Recreate The Workout At Home?

From equipment to virtual classes, here’s everything you need to get started.
Reformer Pilates Is Pricey. Can You Recreate The Workout At Home?

(Photo: iStock)

Pilates is having a moment. Kerry Washington shares her favourite workouts on Instagram; Kristen Wiig played a sadistic instructor on SNL. Thanks to a spate of new studios in Toronto, we’ve become devotees of reformer Pilates, which uses a machine to make the workouts even more effective (but also more expensive). Is it possible to get a reformer-level workout at home? We talked to Laura Helsel, founder of Toronto’s Pilates Process, to find out. 

Be realistic 

“You can’t get from a mat what you can get from [a reformer],” says Helsel—but you should be able to replicate a gym mat Pilates workout at home. (One of our editors notes that her core is stronger and more defined after two years of at-home mat workouts.)

Getting started 

If you’re already comfortable doing yoga, “you can probably jump into online Pilates pretty easily,” Helsel says. If you want more of a foundation, take an online introductory course (see below) or a few in-person classes before moving online.

What you’ll need 

  1. A Pilates mat, which is thicker than a yoga mat. (But placing a towel under your yoga mat, if you already own one, will create a similar effect.) 
  2. Head support, such as a thin pillow or more towels. 
  3. A pair of stretchy resistance bands; Helsel suggests one light and one medium.
  4. A one- to three-pound weighted ball or hand weight.
  5. A squishy Pilates ball to work your abs and inner thighs. 

What to look for

There’s no standardized Pilates certification, so look for an instructor that teaches in a studio as well as online, Helsel says (as opposed to online only). The instructor should focus on compound movements that work multiple muscle groups at once, talk you through every step of a movement in detail, and incorporate breathwork throughout.  

And listen to your own body. “There’s a difference between work felt in muscles, like burning in exhausted quads, which is a good thing, and pain or irritation in your joints, which is not,” Helsel says. 

How can you make your home mat Pilates workout more effective?

The most challenging reformer Pilates class we’ve ever taken was Jaybird Toronto’s The Burn. (Our legs shook on the TTC on the way home.) So there’s no one better to ask about amping up a home Pilates routine than Jaybird founder Ariel Swan. 

When it comes to home Pilates—as with most things—Swan says you get out of it what you put in. The key, she says, is “a mind-to-muscle connection”—that is, concentrating on your form, your breath and on the muscle group you want to work. “So, you know, if you do a lunge, you’re thinking about squeezing your glutes or your hamstrings to stand up,” she says. “If you’re thinking about something else you won’t really be getting as much out of the workout.” 

Beyond that, Swan recommends gradually adding in the props we run down above, as well as incorporating a fitness slider. “Sliders can give you that same kind of slidey effect that you would have on a reformer,” she says. 

But the bottom line, Swan says, is just getting moving—whether it’s at home, on a mat, or on a reformer. “Doing Pilates is one of the best things you can do for your body, in my opinion. It saves my back. It's a long-lasting tool that is excellent for every body type, for anyone that wants to really strengthen their body from the inside out.” 

Three online Pilates classes to try

Pilates Process


This eight-part introductory series is a great primer and designed to be done in order. Led by Helsel, it walks you through the basics for a successful practice. $45,

Apple Fitness+


All classes feature excellent music and three instructors working at various levels of difficulty; there are two beginners’ classes to get you started. From $13 a month,



The cult-favourite fitness app’s Pilates classes—which live in the Strength section—come in three levels. (The intermediate classes are pleasantly challenging!) They’re led by one instructor, who may offer some modifications. From $17 a month,

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