Perhaps the most renowned of all Pilates equipment is the Reformer. With its sophisticated system of springs, straps and pulleys, unlimited can be performed on this surprisingly versatile apparatus.
The reformer bed is a gliding platform on which one can sit, kneel, stand or lie on their front, back or side. The user pushes and pulls off the foot bar using the arms, legs, wrists and ankles to slide back and forth along the rails in a controlled manner while the tension in the springs gently works the muscles.
The Pilates Reformer helps one establish torso stability and postural alignment while working peripheral limbs in a range of motion. The adjustable springs allow for progressive resistance, which helps to lengthen and strengthen the muscles rather than building bulk. It makes for an effective, no-impact stretching and toning workout that is friendly to the joints.
Don’t be surprised if some beginner Reformer exercises seem simple – a relaxing, almost effortless glide back and forth on the carriage with none of that overexertion sensation you get from pumping iron. The effects go deep, and you’ll engage muscles you never knew you had. As you progress, the fitness challenge becomes significantly greater.
Resembling a stylish little stool, the Pilates Chair (most commonly known as the Wunda Chair is an all rounder used to strengthen arms, and legs while stabilizing through the torso. Don’t let the word “chair” fool you – it’s not necessarily a sit-down workout. The Wunda chair is an important part of any Pilates instructors tool bag that allows literally hundreds of exercise variations.
While many of these Pilates exercises are performed seated on top and pressing down on the step/pedal with your feet, others entail lying on the floor, standing straight up, lunging forward or doing push-up like moves with the arms.
Like many pieces of Pilates equipment the Wunda Chair uses adjustable spring resistance to challenge the user.This apparatus activates the lower back, buttocks, shoulder, transverses abdominals and pelvic region and heightens neuromuscular coordination. From a rehabilitation perspective, the Pilates Wunda Chair is particularly effective for stretching and rebalancing muscles that have been strained or injured.
The Cadillac (also known as the Trapeze Table) is one of the most effective and versatile pieces of exercise equipment ever to be engineered.
The Cadillac was originally devised by Joseph Pilates to rehabilitate bedridden patients back when he was working as a hospital orderly. The apparatus has evolved a bit since the makeshift bed spring days, but its inspiration is apparent and it continues to be a bridge between exercise and physical therapy.
The Cadillac is essentially a raised horizontal table-top surrounded by a four-poster frame on which various bars, straps, springs and levers are fixed. Standard models include a push-through bar (which can be sprung from above or below), a roll-down bar, a trapeze or cross bar, arm springs, leg springs, thigh and ankle cuffs and even fuzzy hanging loops. As with most Pilates equipment pieces, the Cadillac contains various adjustable parts and you really need a trained instructor to guide you through safe, proper usage and effective technique.
Many different exercises can be performed on this piece of Pilates equipment, ranging from gentle spring-assisted sit ups to advanced acrobatics that have one hanging from the upper bars – there’s something for all ages and abilities. The Cadillac repertoire of exercises truly challenges the core abdominal muscles, develops spinal flexibility, works the shoulder girdle, strengthens the back and stretches the total body.
The high barrel consists of ladder-like rungs and a rounded barrel-like surface on which a multitude of stretching, strengthening and flexibility exercises can be performed. The barrel is separated from the ladder by a sliding base that can adjust to accommodate different torso sizes and leg lengths in a range of Pilates exercises. The ladder rungs – four to six in total – are also adjustable to facilitate varying levels of fitness.
The Pilates high barrel helps isolate deep postural muscles and challenges the body on all planes of movement. For example, one exercise has you sitting on the barrel facing the ladder with your feet secured in the rungs, then you arch back over the barrel with your vertebrae following its contour and activate the core abdominals to return to the starting position in a controlled manner. Mental focus is key to executing this safely and effectively. Other exercises have you facing the other way, with your belly on the barrel, giving you a supported spinal stretch that helps to release tension.
The Pilates Spine Corrector, Step Barrel or Hump Barrel sort of resembles a whistle shape, with a semi-circular arch plus an angled step or seat. Handles or grips on the side allow for more security in movement.
Like most barrels, this unit is effective for stretching the spine and shoulders in a safe, stabilized, supported way. It adds variety and challenge to a Pilates mat routine or circuit training session whether one is a novice or expert. These are becoming popular items for Pilates instructors to program into group exercise classes as well.
Pilates equipment today is not much different than that of yesteryear. Spring tension, straps to hold feet or hands, supports for back, neck and shoulder are as important now as they were then. Because of the remarkable nature of the equipment to both challenge and support the body as it learns to move more efficiently, the inimitably designed pieces act as a complement to the challenging “matwork” exercises.
“Look, you see it resists your movement in just the right way so those inner muscles really have to work against it. That way you can concentrate on the movement. You must always do it slowly and smoothly. Then your whole body is in it”
Joseph H Pilates, on the importance of his unique exercise equipment.