Back before I had a kid, I used to take weekly Pilates classes at a local studio. While many of the moves bore passing resemblance to those we do in my yoga class, it was unabashedly a workout—a sweat-inducing, core-honing, fast-paced workout. I loved it (and so did my abs). But then my daughter came along and something had to give, so I said goodbye to Pilates, but I missed it!

So when I had the opportunity recently to test out two home Pilates systems, I was delighted! Here’s what I discovered:

  • Portable Pilates Studio by Empower Fitness
  • Pros: This deceptively simple system (it’s just a bar with a resistance cord and foot strap at each end) is easy to put together, and you can follow the workouts on the DVD or just go free-style, twisting, curling, and lifting in all sorts of directions. The DVD is versatile, offering three workouts (plus a bonus arms sequence) that you can mix and match. Instructor Gin Miller gives excellent direction, and while the routines are pretty simple, they’re still challenging.
  • Cons: The quick-reference poster only offers six exercises.
  • Cool extra: The moves are often shown in split screen, from two different angles—really helpful when it comes to getting just the right form.
  • Cost: $25 (a real bargain) at
  • CoreBody Reformer by Nautilus
  • Pros: Where do I start? I loved this! It’s sturdy and easy to assemble, and the end bar unscrews to store inside the body of the system (called the Roller) when you’re done. The cords have three levels of resistance, and you can switch from one to the other with, literally, the press of a button. I can’t say enough about the accompanying DVD—trainer Jennifer Galardi gives terrific, detailed instructions (she’s very likeable), and the workouts combine strength, cardio, balance, and lots of core work for a true full-body challenge. But don’t get me wrong—you don’t have to use the DVD. My daughter and I had a blast using it as a balance beam, then making up our own moves with the resistance cords. More good stuff: It also comes with a track-your-workouts poster, a collection of workout cards, and a washable cover.
  • Cons: There’s a carrying strap so you can schlep the Reformer around, but it’s pretty heavy, so you may not want to go far. Also, the two Stabilizers that hold the Roller in place don’t fit inside the unit for storage.
  • Cool extra: Use it like a foam roller for an awesome massage. You can either follow the “Renew” part of the Stretch & Renew routine, or just do whatever feels good on your deserving muscles.
  • Cost: $249 (worth every penny) at