If you’ve been to a Pilates studio, you’ve likely been introduced to a wide range of equipment, also known as the Pilates apparatus. Or maybe you’ve peaked into your local studio or seen Pilates performed on TV and have been wondering about all of those “crazy-looking” contraptions.
Pilates is a system of exercise that combines both Mat-work and apparatus-based exercises. These pieces of apparatus can seem intimidating at first, but once you understand the purpose and proper technique, they can be life-changing.
Below, I explain the three main types of Pilates apparatus, as well as Mat Pilates and why we still need it to complete the Pilates practice.
Aside from the Mat, the Reformer is probably the most widely known piece of Pilates apparatus. The Reformer’s unique combination of springs, pulleys, straps and sliding carriage make it an incredibly versatile piece of equipment. Joe Pilates, the creator of the Pilates method, was way ahead of his time when he invented this apparatus we still use today.
Like most Pilates equipment, the Reformer differs from traditional fitness equipment in very fundamental ways. Rather than using an isolated set of muscles to move an external force, such as how weight training machines work, you use your “Powerhouse” (core muscles) to lift and pull your body’s weight along with the Reformer’s spring-loaded carriage. This action automatically centers you and helps develop balance, coordination, as well as body and space awareness. At the same time, it strengthens and stretches your entire body, not just any one isolated set of muscles.
When Joe Pilates developed a series of exercises for the Reformer, he intended for them to be performed in a specific sequence and manner, resulting in a series of constant, flowing movements. This is done while inhaling and exhaling for 30 to 60 minutes during the nonstop workout.
Each Reformer exercise prepares your mind and body for the next one—warming your muscles, awakening your mind and body, stimulating your organs, coordinating your breathing and training your muscles to “fire” in the correct sequence to give you the maximum fitness benefits from the exercise movements. I love this workout and how it feels.
The Tower is an adaptation of The Cadillac (also known as a Trapeze Table). It is a Pilates apparatus that is attached to the Reformer, but offers a more stable surface to work from.
Unlike the Reformer, which slides back and forth, the Tower remains stationary and is positioned on an integrated Mat. The client can hold on to the handles or the grab bar that is attached to springs of varying tension. To work the lower body, they can put their feet inside of the loops that attach to the springs.
For some, the stable base of the Tower can make it less intimidating than the Reformer with all of its moving parts. That’s why this apparatus is ideal for beginning clients, or those recovering from injuries. Additionally, there is very little pressure on the joints because your body weight is supported by the Mat portion of the apparatus.
Ultimately, there’s an unlimited number of possibilities with the Tower that incorporate basic Mat exercises, ranging from gentle to the most extreme depending upon your needs and abilities. At Studio Be, the Tower Class is a signature class because it’s one of the best ways to utilize springs for a deeper stretch with resistance training, allowing for a full-body workout.
The Wunda Chair
In the Pilates system there are two main types of chairs: the Wunda Chair (also known as the “Low” chair) and the High chair. The main difference between the two is the High Chair has a back and two handles that rise on either side and the Wunda chair does not. The Wunda chair has simplistic design, consisting of a box with a padded top and a pedal on one side that moves against the resistance of springs anchored to the opposite side of the chair. We typically use the Wunda Chair for group classes at Studio Be.
Joe Pilates would perform over 50 exercises on the Wunda Chair. You can sit, kneel, lie or stand on, in front of or behind the chair, face toward or away from it—even sideways—as you move the spring-loaded bar.
The chair’s versatile design enables users to get amazing results, from beginners and injured clients to the most advanced students challenging themselves with pushups, backbends and pull-ups.
Pilates Mat work is a system of exercises that happen in a very specific order, performed on—you guessed it—a Mat. Joe Pilates created the Mat-based exercises before he created the Pilates apparatus. His Mat work complements the apparatus exercises, and vice versa.
Although born in a different era, Joe Pilates understood the physical and mental pressures of a busy schedule. He believed his Pilates method would propel people to become more productive both physically and mentally. For this reason, Pilates Mat work is designed to fit into the time constraints of each individual without diminishing its comprehensive elements—Mat exercises can be performed anytime, anywhere.
Getting Started With Pilates
Ultimately, Joe Pilates taught the importance to train on all types of Pilates apparatus to gain a deeper understanding of the Pilates method. He taught that practicing Pilates is a balancing act between body and mind, therefore he coined his method “Contrology”—meaning pure control of the mind and body.
Are you ready to take back control? The best way to get started is taking a private class to learn the proper movements and techniques. For a limited time, we’re offering a series of three private sessions for only $225 to help you get started.
Learn how to book your private sessions here.
About The Author
Fitness has always been a guiding force for Kathy Lopez, owner of Studio Be. Her inherent drive for health has naturally translated into helping others achieve strength, balance and wellness. Kathy has been voted Ventura's best Pilates instructor nine years in a row. Learn more...