The Correct Terms for Pilates Equipment

Woman is stretching on a reformer in pilates studio.
Betsie Van der Meer / Getty Images

Every exercise system has its own culture. Using the same language and following traditional practices helps insiders band together as a community. Pilates is no exception, and terms for Pilates equipment are a big part of the culture.

The use of the term "machine" in the Pilates studio is considered a faux pas. To paraphrase Pilates elder Romana Kryznanowska, who trained many Pilates luminaries, Pilates equipment is not a machine, but rather, an apparatus.

Joseph Pilates, the inventor of Pilates who took Kryznaowska under his wing, referred to Pilates equipment simply as "the apparatus." The term "equipment" is also suitable, but when you're referring to the signature Pilates piece known as the Reformer, the term "apparatus" is the favored name.

Seasoned Pilates exercisers and instructors also eschew the word "machine," opting instead for "apparatus."

Types of Pilates Equipment

Pilates equipment can be grouped into two general categories, separated both by size and where you can expect to find and use them.

  • Small, portable equipment: These pieces include magic circles, weights, and resistance bands. Joseph Pilates used the magic circle and weights. Resistance bands came later, followed by heavy metal springs, which are commonly used on a Reformer in a fully equipped Pilates studio. These smaller equipment pieces are popular in some studios and gyms and most are ideal for practicing Pilates at home. 
  • Larger pieces of equipment: The apparatuses include the Pilates Reformer, Pilates chairs, barrels, tower, and the Cadillac. This is the equipment you would expect to find at a fully operational Pilates studio. Boutique group class studios may just have Reformers, but a complete Pilates studio that delivers one-on-one training incorporates the entire suite of Pilates devices.

Using Pilates Equipment

Whether you are practicing at home or taking classes, familiarize yourself with the equipment you will be using.

Pilates Mats

There are several differences between a yoga mat and a Pilates mat, in terms of thickness, firmness, and size. The thicker density is key to performing Pilates mat work exercises to support your joints and especially your spine.

Magic Circles

As the story goes, the inspiration from Joseph Pilates' original magic circles came from the rings that surround large barrels of beer. Magic circles have since evolved. For example, some manufacturers now make them with options for various resistance levels.

Magic circles are considered a secondary prop, which means you can choose to perform Pilates exercises with or without them.

Pilates Bands

Pilates bands come in different lengths and tensions to add resistance to Pilates exercises. These ribbon-style bands usually work better than tubing bands for at-home Pilates practice.


With care and caution, you can incorporate small, light weights (either dumbbells or ankle weights) into many Pilates exercises. Lighter weights are more appropriate for Pilates exercises since heavier ones can take you out of proper alignment.

Pilates Reformer

Joseph Pilates invented the Pilates Reformer, one of the primary pieces of Pilates apparatuses. He reportedly started with hospital beds with machinery springs attached to the bedposts and offered exercises to prisoners of war at an internment camp on the British Isle on Man where he was also being interned during the First World War.

Pilates' early iteration of the Reformer evolved into the "Universal Reformer," which eventually became today's Reformer apparatus.

Pilates Chair

Joseph Pilates also developed the Pilates chair, sometimes known as the "Wunda Chair" or low chair. Some studios offer group classes devoted to exercises on the chair to work on additional balance and strength.

A Word From Verywell

Whatever type of Pilates you enjoy—mat, reformer, chair, or more—knowing the origins of the equipment and its proper names will serve you well. The full history of Pilates is rich. It's no wonder that it works so well on the body.

3 Sources
Verywell Fit uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Pilates Method Alliance. The History of Pilates. 2019.

  2. Kloubec J. Pilates: how does it work and who needs it? Muscles Ligaments Tendons J. 2011;1(2):61-66.

  3. Di Lorenzo CE. Pilates: What Is It? Should It Be Used in Rehabilitation? Sports Health. 2011;3(4):352-361. doi:10.1177/1941738111410285

By Marguerite Ogle MS, RYT
Marguerite Ogle is a freelance writer and experienced natural wellness and life coach, who has been teaching Pilates for more than 35 years.