An Overview of Pilates Machines and Equipment
First of all, what is Pilates, and what are those crazy Pilates machines and equipment? Pilates is an exercise method that Joseph Pilates created back in the day, 1930’s to be exact, using hospital beds and their inherent springs to create resistance.
He later used the same spring concept to engineer what we now know as the Pilates Machines. However, Just to help you set the lingo straight, in Pilates studios the machines are referred to as “apparatuses” and the small equipment is commonly referred to as “props.”
Joseph’s original equipment design hasn’t changed much since the 1930’s and almost the exact same model of the apparatuses he created are in Pilates studios today.
When I tell the average person I teach on the Pilates apparatuses, I usually get the sideways glance with a raised eyebrow. The machines are challenging to describe and don’t differ much from a mid-evil torture device. I thought it would be helpful to post a quick little overview of common apparatuses (with pictures) for those who give me the sideways glance.
On a side note, no matter which apparatus or prop you are using, you will ALWAYS apply the foundations to your movements. Therefore, I created the FREE 6-Day Foundations Course, so you could get a head start and save $65.00 while you’re at it. Click the link now so you can get a head start on your Pilates.
Mat Pilates, commonly called “matwork,” is the method most people are familiar with since this approach is often present at fitness centers, retreats and in online classes. In a traditional mat class, the only equipment a student would need is a mat.
If done correctly….I repeat, if done correctly, mat class is super challenging. The mat class provides A TON of core strengthening using the body’s own limbs for resistance. Additionally, you may find planks, side planks, and pushups in this modality. This class could be dubbed a “graced-up,” intellectual bootcamp with moderate repetitions 😉
Many props find their way into matwork, but don’t be mistaken, mat class will kick butt without any props at all. All of the exercises require that you apply the foundations for the ultimate core strengthening, so if you haven’t gotten those foundations yet, get on it. To get clear on props, read the next section.
Everyone loves Pilates so much, entrepreneurs have created small “props” that have worked their way into the Pilates world to stay.
Such props include the Pilates ring, toning balls, resistance bands, BOSUs, foam rollers, large stability balls, medium stability balls, small stability balls….. you get the point. Tons of props have spiced up the repertoire since the beginning of time and I even have a 12 Minute Resistance Band workout you can do at home or while traveling here. Props are used for many purposes:
- Added challenge.
- Change the emphasis of the original exercise to a different muscle group.
- Modify a classic exercise to better accommodate a student that can’t perform the classic exercise at that time due to disability, weakness, or rehabilitation.
The Pilates reformer is the most common apparatus of the family.It was named the reformer by Joseph because, “it would only take 10 sessions to reform your body.” Sounds good to me!
The reformer has a “carriage” which slides along two railings that serve as the frame of the machine. The carriage has springs of varying resistance that hook up to the front edge of the frame that can create as much or as little resistance as you’d like for a particular exercise.
Students may lay on the carriage which creates a nice initial support system for the core while the limbs are being strengthened. However, it is just advanced enough that while working on arms, the legs must be in “table-top,” up in a 90 degree bend, presenting a constant core challenge. Alternatively this machine is so versatile, a student may sit, kneel, stand or be on all 4’s on the carriage facing forward/backward/sideways while utilizing the apparatus.
The 12 minute resistance band workout I mentioned above includes a variation of reformer footwork that can be done with the band at home if you don’t have a reformer at home.
Add the “box” on top (not pictured) in short or long position to create a HUGE variety of even more exercises. This machine is seriously the cat’s meow!
The Cadillac was Joseph’s “cadillac” apparatus, just like the car, fully loaded with all of the bells and whistles.
The cadillac consists of a long flat mat surface along with a tower on each end and connecting bars overhead (think parallel bars!) Many of these exercises are done utilizing the tower and mat section with springs of all kinds. The springs are attached to a roll down bar, a push through bar, and have individual loops for arms and legs. Attached to the bar are fuzzy hanging straps where you can hook your feet and hang from the parallel bars for spinal traction and serious abdominal work.
The cadillac truly provides a huge variety of level options. Students that are beginners, have limitations, or are rehabilitating can utilize this machine with tons of support for the body on the mat while strengthening any limbs. The advanced practitioner can find many challenges as well within the machine making this a well rounded apparatus.
Reformer/Cadillac baby & Springboards:
In recent years the reformer and cadillac have merged to be more efficient for small studios. In this case, there is a reformer with a tower at the end and an extra mat section that can be added on to the machine in addition to the carriage to create a long flat mat. (Not Pictured).
Additionally, some studios have even taken just the “tower” part and attached it to a wall. This is commonly referred to as a “spring board.” A classic mat can simply be laid on the floor in front of the tower to simulate cadillac exercises that usually use the tower and mat section.
The Pilates Chair is one of the smaller apparatuses that still utilizes a spring system for resistance.
The base of the chair is pretty much a large block with a pedal attached. Springs are attached to the pedal to provide more or less resistance for a specific exercise. Some chair designs allow the pedal to be “split” into two separate sections allowing a spring tension for each section of the pedal.
Exercises on the chair include seated, kneeling, standing and laying on the chair base or on the floor to utilize the pedal for resistance. Since the base is soooo small on the chair, the core has to work even harder to stabilize the trunk and the pelvis while performing exercises on this apparatus. I have a Chair Workout that you can check out if you want to see what exercises look like on this apparatus!
The “Barrel” category in Pilates is wide spread and includes the ladder barrel, spine corrector and classic barrel.
The ladder barrel (pictured) is often as referred to as an apparatus due to it’s large size, where as the others may be more commonly referred to as a prop. All of the “barrels” are actually shaped as the top half of a barrel.
Largest of the barrel family, is the ladder barrel. The ladder barrel has a tall base with a ladder on one side and a barrel across from the ladder that looks similar to a horseback saddle.
The spine corrector is the next barrel, which is a step barrel with a flat elevated ledge off one side. The spine corrector can sit alone on the floor or on an apparatus. It commonly has small bars on each side of the barrel for added stability handles during exercises.
Lastly, there are arch barrels which are simply a single “barrel” in a arch shape- ground breaking 😉 Arch barrels may sit on the floor or on the apparatuses. All of the barrels are excellent for increasing spinal mobility and core challenge without stressing out hip flexors.
I’m excited to show you what exercises look like on these mid-evil torture devices, so be sure to connect with me on social media (they’re all linked up on the bottom of the website) and also subscribe to the website so you can see it all right after it’s released.
Sign up now for access to this quick, full-body workout on the Pilates Chair!