9 Best Pilates Chairs for Home Workouts
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Reap the benefits of Pilates at home with these expert-approved Pilates chairs. You'll save space while sculpting a stronger core and better flexibility.
The rise of Pilates and the Pilates chair
If you feel like you’ve seen more about Pilates recently, it’s not just your imagination. The exercise is rising in popularity—though it’s hardly new.
Developed by Joseph Pilates in the early 20th century and originally dubbed Contrology, the Pilates method focuses on a myriad of exercises and small movements to improve physical and mental well-being. Breathing techniques play a big role in the practice.
Thanks to its hundreds of exercises, the Pilates method builds a combination of stability, flexibility, and strength. “It is a form of low-impact exercise that aims to strengthen muscles while improving postural alignment and flexibility,” says Dana Henneborn, a virtual personal trainer with the training app FlexIt.
Exercises can take place on a mat, no equipment required. That’s one reason it’s become a go-to exercise.
“The curiosity surrounding Pilates is constantly growing,” says Lynette Pettinicchi, a New York-based certified Pilates instructor and creator of the socially distanced class Pilates in the Park. Pilates has become even more popular during the coronavirus pandemic, she says, because it doesn’t require equipment and can be done anywhere, making it a great exercise for people staying closer to home. (Continue your at-home workouts with these online fitness classes.)
Though you can do Pilates at home with nothing, many practitioners use machines, such as Pilates reformers or Pilates chairs (a.k.a. Wunda chairs) to do the exercises. Reformers are the go-to Pilates machine, but they can be bulky and extremely expensive. Chairs, on the other hand, still allow you to do many Pilates exercises but take up much less space.
Here’s an overview of Pilates, plus recommendations for the best Pilates chairs for your at-home workouts. (Need more convincing? Here’s why Pilates is one of the best workouts to try.)
What are the benefits of Pilates?
Trainers like Pichenetti love Pilates for its health benefits: everything from improving your balance to reducing your risk of injury and strengthening your core. “You’ll sometimes hear it referred to as a modality that lengthens and strengthens,” she says. “Exercises are performed slow and controlled to ensure proper alignment and that the correct muscles are being targeted.”
Zach Bergfelt, a Pilates and Lagree (a workout that combines both resistance training and cardio) certified trainer of personal training app Onyx, agrees. He cites increased flexibility, better posture, and overall muscular strength as top reasons to practice Pilates.
(You can also do Pilates for weight loss—here’s how it helps.)
Studies have confirmed these benefits and others. A randomized controlled trial published in 2016 in Medicine, for instance, showed improved posture and reduced pain levels in people with lower back pain who practiced Pilates three times a week for 14 weeks. And in a 2013 study in the Journal of Dance and Somatic Practices, researchers found enhanced mindfulness, mental well-being, and overall well-being in people who did Pilates three times a week for 15 weeks.
“Many physical therapists have researched Pilates, and most would agree that the core-strengthening perks of Pilates may ease pain and improve the overall quality of life—especially for those who suffer from low back pain and other bodily alignment issues,” says Hennenborn.
(Dealing with back pain? Check out these back pain exercises.)
What’s a Pilates chair?
You may be familiar with the Pilates reformer, a large wooden or aluminum device that looks a bit like a bed. It works via a back-and-forth motion on wheels over a platform called a carriage. The apparatus is commonly found in Pilates studios and is the tool most often associated with the exercise.
But it’s not the only piece of Pilates equipment. Smaller in size is the Pilates chair, which looks like a wooden box. It’s topped with a padded seat and includes a pedal and springs. “The springs allow for the tension of the pedal to be adjusted to make the exercises easier or more challenging,” says Henneborn. With the added resistance, the chair offers a more challenging form of Pilates than you’ll get by doing exercises on a mat.
Though it may be new to you, the Pilates chair has been around a while—it was also created by Joseph Pilates.
“Joseph Pilates designed this piece of apparatus for home use,” says Erica Walters, a Pilates instructor and owner of Pilates Fit Studio just outside Louisville, Kentucky. “It is small in dimensions but packs a punch with the exercises used. The resistance of the springs will tone and strengthen in places you didn’t even know you had.”
In creating the chair and other equipment, Pilates aimed to help people take his method further, explains Henneborn. “One of the original pieces of equipment designed by Joseph Pilates, [the chair] was developed to stretch and strengthen muscles groups not easily reached by traditional techniques and equipment,” she says.
(Check out the best health and fitness apps for at-home workouts.)
Perfect for smaller spaces
If you’re worried you don’t have enough space for exercise equipment, fret not. Unlike reformers, which can be bulky and hard to squeeze into small spaces, Pilates chairs are compact and perfect for small-space living.
“The Pilates chair is Joseph Pilates’ solution for in-home equipment,” explains Denise Posnak Gaffney, certified Romana’s Pilates teacher. “It’s a spring-loaded resistance system that you can do all of your Pilates exercises on and that fits in your living room.”
(Got a tiny apartment? Here are some of the best small treadmills.)
What to look for in a Pilates chair
If you’ve ever browsed prices of Pilates reformers, you may have come away with sticker shock. Good news: Pilates chairs typically are less expensive, making them better options for people on a (relative) budget.
Make sure it’s sturdy
Amanda Martin, owner of COREdination Pilates in Brecksville, Ohio, stresses the importance of choosing a high-quality, well-made chair.
“Oftentimes, clients will ask me for a recommendation of which Pilates chair would be best for home use. I have seen many chairs on the market that are flimsy or do not allow for enough spring weight options,” Martin says. “Either of these scenarios will prevent clients from being able to do the full repertoire and frankly can be dangerous.”
Kathryn Kelly, a Las Vegas fitness competitor who took first place in the Team USA 2020 Junior Masters fitness competition, agrees. “When buying a Pilates chair, it’s important to invest in one that is sturdy so that you can engage in a variety of stretches and exercises on it safely,” she says.
Comfort is a must
Consider two major aspects of comfort when purchasing a Pilates chair: seat and spaciousness.
Kelly advises that the seat should be comfortable, with enough room for you to balance on for workouts that involve you having to lay down. “It’s also important to look for a layout that is spacious and not too compacted, that will not limit your exercise options or make you feel too cramped,” she says.
Opt for a range of resistance options
Pilates chairs may not be as expensive as reformers, but they’re not cheap. You won’t want to replace yours constantly, so make sure you (and your Pilates practice) can grow with it.
“So you won’t have to upgrade to another chair shortly in the future, look for a resistance range that conveniently offers both beginner and advanced technique levels and can adjust between the two fast and easily,” Kelly says.
Before you buy
It’s important to check with your doctor before starting any new workout, particularly one that you’re doing by yourself at home and not under the supervision of a licensed trainer or physical therapist.
Once you get the okay, decide which chair fits your budget and needs best. Our experts say the products below are nine of the best Pilates chairs to help keep you in shape at home. (Also, try these cardio-focused workouts at home.)
Gratz Pilates Wunda Chair
Available in a jaw-dropping 85 colors, the Gratz Wunda Chair is the gold standard of Pilates chairs, says Walters.
Made of solid maple wood, this Wunda chair is extremely sturdy and features two springs, three eye-hook positions per spring, and a well-padded seat. “If you want to splurge, the best professional Wunda chairs are from Gratz Industries, the original reformer Joseph Pilates used,” Walters says.
“A piece of Gratz equipment is the real deal,” says Gaffney. “The base is solid, the springs are heavy, the leather is high quality. The workout you get on a Gratz is one of the best you’ll get.”
Life’s a Beach Pilates Pro Chair
While it may not be as durable as some of the other offerings, this popular model from Life’s a Beach is a good budget Pilates chair that still gets the job done. Plus, it supports up to 300 pounds.
Available in black, blue, and purple and with a vinyl seat, it features a split-step pedal system (so you can work your legs or arms separately) with adjustable resistance levels through the springs. It’s also easy to fold and store, making it a good option for small spaces. It comes with several instructional exercise DVDs that cover everything from sculpting and core to full-body workouts, as well as a workout chart wall poster.
(Explore yoga with these easy yoga poses.)
Balanced Body Combo Chair
Martin says calls the Balanced Body Combo Chair her favorite. “It is one of the most versatile chairs on the market,” she says.
“The handles allow clients additional safety features in the absence of an instructor right next to them spotting them during balance exercises,” says Martin. “It also features a split pedal, which means that the pedal can be split into two, allowing the legs or arms to work independently. Or the pedals can be used as a classical single pedal by inserting a dowel to connect the pedals.”
The purchase includes access to a library of free workout videos on the company’s streaming platform, and subscription fee will get you even more content. Bonus: There’s a 10-year warranty.
Merrithew Split-Pedal Stability Chair
This compact Split-Pedal Stability Chair from Merrithew (the company that created the STOTT Pilates method) is well-suited to at-home studios where space is at a premium and also offers transport wheels on the bottom for added convenience. “It is the best on the market because of its versatility with the split pedal and handles for support,” says Angela Sutcliffe, owner of Reach and Root Movement and a certified instructor of Pilates and Gyrotonic, a training method similar to yoga and Pilates.
The chair features two heavy springs, two light springs, and three hook-on spring attachments, as well as cushioning for pedals. For people who are newer to Pilates or want a refresher for exercises, there’s also a workout DVD included.
(Get rid of belly bloat with these yoga stretches for bloating.)
ProForm Pilates Studio Chair
For a truly bargain-rate option, there’s the ProForm Pilates Studio Chair, suitable for beginner moves. The ProForm weighs 250 pounds, provides two hand cords for resistance work, and comes with an instructional workout DVD. Since it folds quickly, it can store easily, making it a pick for people with very little space or who practice Pilates infrequently.
Rocky Mountain Pilates Chair
Walters likes this chair and says it’s a good bang for your buck—the company aims to provide quality Pilates chairs that won’t break the bank.
Rocky Mountain makes traditional-style chairs, with only single-pedal offerings available, in three different versions tailored to different heights: The Aspen, for people up to 5 foot seven; The Keystone, for those between five foot seven and five foot ten; and The Steamboat, for the tallest people.
Animals lovers will also appreciate the company’s philanthropic stance: It supports charities including the National Mill Dog Rescue, The Humane Society, ASPCA, Soi Dog, and The Humane Society International.
(Add yoga to your Pilates routine with these best yoga mats on Amazon.)
Balanced Body Wunda Chair
Based on Joseph Pilates’s original chair design and dimensions, the Balanced Body Wunda Chair is beloved by many Pilates devotees and—thanks to its expandable handles and a high back—even doubles as a real chair. “I love the Wunda chair for strength-building and the convenient size,” says Gaffney. “I often recommend my online clients buy a Wunda chair if space is limited and they don’t have room for a reformer in their home. The Wunda chair is magical for increasing glute and core strength while offering spring resistance to lengthen muscles.”
Balanced Body’s chair features the widest range of resistance for any available single-pedal chairs, with two springs adjustable to eight resistances for incredible workout customization. At 21.5 inches wide, it’s also fairly compact and is available in 35 colors. Plus, it comes with a 10-year warranty and access to free workout videos on the company’s streaming platform.
Elina Pilates Combo Chair
Walters recommends this wooden chair from Elina Pilates, citing it as one of her favorite mid-range options. It offers four different positions for each spring, plus two spring strengths to ensure different levels of resistance.
The removable handles feature an adjustable length and are covered with rubber foam, making them both comfortable to grip and durable. It’s available in two colors—black and grey—and also comes with wheels, making it easy to move around despite its heft.
(Try these leggings for exercising indoors.)
Balanced Body Exo Chair
Like Balanced Body’s Combo and Wunda chairs, the company’s Exo Chair makes our list as a top-rated Pilates chair. The difference: It’s more compact, making it a great option for home gyms.
While the Combo Chair weighs a whopping 91 pounds, the Exo is only 36 pounds. And at 23.5 inches wide, it’s slimmer than the Combo’s 27.5 inches. It’s available in single-pedal and split-pedal versions, and you can also purchase resistance band add-ons for both push and pull options. There’s a five-year warranty, to boot.
Next, here are the types of smart gym equipment trainers love.
- Lynette Pettinicchi, certified Pilates instructor, creator of Pilates in the Park and Pilates and PR
- Dana Henneborn, virtual personal trainer with training app FlexIt
- Zach Bergfelt, Pilates and Lagree certified trainer with personal training app Onyx
- Medicine: "Pain Perception and Stabilometric Parameters in People With Chronic Low Back Pain After a Pilates Exercise Program"
- Journal of Dance and Somatic Practices: "Pilates, Mindfulness and Somatic Education"
- Denise Posnak Gaffney, founder of MyBOD Wellness, certified Romana's Pilates teacher
- Erica Walters, owner of Pilates Fit Studio in Louisville, Kentucky, and creator of the Change30 Movement
- Kathryn Kelly, fitness competitor and owner of Taste Buzz Food Tours, Las Vegas
- Angela Sutcliffe, owner of Reach and Root Movement and certified Pilates and Gyrotonic instructor