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Pilates Apparatus - more than the Mat

For most people doing Pilates means doing mat work and that might be the only thing they will ever experience. But that is not how Joseph Pilates set up his repertoire. He invented various pieces of equipment, called apparatus, that all form part of the Pilates Method.

In fact the mat is 'just' one piece of the puzzle and he ordered his pupils to do the mat exercises as homework. There is nothing wrong with doing Pilates on the mat only. However doing the mat work represents only 10% of the vast repertoire that was designed by the founder.

History of Apparatus

In 1912 Joe Pilates lived in England working as a circus performer, boxer and self-defence instructor. In the First World War he was interned with other German nationals. During this time he developed his technique of physical fitness further, by teaching his fellow internees. During the latter part of the War, he served as an orderly in a hospital on the Isle of Man where he worked with patients unable to walk. He attached bed springs to the hospital beds to help support the patients' limbs, leading to the development of his famous piece of equipment known as the 'Cadillac'.

Joe originally created his system of exercises on a mat. Because the majority of people were not able to successfully perform those movements, he invented apparatus to assist them. He found that the use of springs and resistance was much more efficient in creating better movement patterns and providing tactile feedback which would establish a body-mind connection more quickly.

When he moved to New York in 1926 and opened his studio, he started to design and produce his so-called Apparatus (or Apparaten in German) in a little workshop. The Body Contrology Studio that he opened in NY became very popular, particularly with the dance community, as it offered a chance to improve technique or recover from injury.

Welche Apparaten?

The primary pieces of Pilates apparatus are:

  • Universal Reformer

  • Cadillac (i.e. Trap Table)

  • Wall Unit (i.e. Tower)

  • High Chair (i.e. Electric Chair)

  • Wunda Chair (i.e. Pilates Chair)

  • Small Barrel

  • Spine Corrector (i.e. Step Barrel)

  • Ladder Barrel

  • Pedi Pole (i.e. Ped-o-Pull)

  • Magic Circle

The Apparatus that Joe Pilates designed and used for his client were not used all the time and for every session. He would tailor client sessions by using the piece of equipment that the client needed; either to improve, to strengthen or to deepen the work.

The Universal Reformer was Joseph Pilates' first complete apparatus and was invented almost a century ago. It was a one-size-fits-all machine comprised of springs, straps, and a moving carriage with a head rest.

Another piece is the Wunda Chair (reinterpreted from German 'Wunder' as in Miracle) was originally designed by Joe for his clients who wanted an apparatus they could use at home i.e. a portable gym. If you turn the Wunda Chair over, it becomes an actual chair that you can sit in. Comprised of a box, a platform, a set of resistance springs and a pedal, the Wunda Chair accommodates over 75 exercises.

Furthermore Joseph invented the Pedi Pole to help attain correct posture and spinal flexibility. Its design is intentionally unstable, requiring the practitioner to provide the stability.

The Spine Corrector was designed by Pilates to be used as a way to open the chest and correct the curvature of the spine. Together with the Small Barrel and Ladder Barrel the Spine Corrector form a trio of half-rounded equipment pieces that do not have springs but focus on stretching, strengthening and flexibility.

Choice of Apparatus

Classical or Authentic Pilates is based on the original method developed by Joseph Pilates. Therefore it makes sense to use Apparatus that is as close to the original equipment as possible. I have chosen to use only brands that adhere to the original designs. Both companies are based in the US: Gratz and Basil.

It would be much cheaper, easier and more efficient if I would use equipment that is not classical and not made to the original measurements. But for anyone that knows me I tend to not take the easy road. I want to offer high quality and the best Pilates experience possible. Therefore my studio will slowly but surely be kitted out with classical equipment only, imported from the US to Arrowtown, New Zealand.


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Marco Dingemans is a qualified Classical Pilates instructor

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