Pilates apparatus is the term Mr. Pilates used to refer to his inventions. He preferred the term apparatus over equipment or machine, in the same way a gymnast would use apparatus, not equipment. To paraphrase Joe’s protege, Romana Kryzanowska: A machine moves you, Pilates is the other way around—you and the apparatus work together.
Joe called the springs on his apparatus your ‘extra muscles’ and by working the springs you strengthen your body from the inside out. He created apparatus as a way to correct imbalances that he saw in bodies doing the mat work. Over time, the apparatus work became as much a part of a Pilates workout as the mat. You’ll notice with practice that every exercise on the apparatus complements and refers back to an exercise on the mat, helping you to do the mat better. We recommend Gratz Pilates Apparatus for their high standards of maintaining Joe’s original design.
The following is a Glossary of Pilates Terms and a list of the most commonly used Pilates apparatus.
Apparatus & Glossary
Contrology – “Contrology is complete coordination of mind, body and spirit.” (Return to Life, by J.Pilates) Joe Pilates called his method Contrology, but it was his own name that stuck and is why we say, ‘I’m on my way to Pilates,’ instead of ‘I’m on my way to Contrology.’ We chose Pilatesology as our name as a reminder of Joe’s original name.
What is Classical Pilates? – Classical Pilates refers to Joseph Pilates’ original repertoire without added exercises, interpretation or blending with other methods such as yoga or dance. Classical teachers promote the style and principles taught by Joseph Pilates and his protege, Romana Kryzanowska. Joe’s original method is meant to be a vigorous workout that acts as a foundation to keep the body balanced and in peak condition for daily activities and sports. Classical Pilates promotes autonomy and independence so that students learn how to care for their own bodies rather than becoming dependent on an instructor or a piece of equipment. Classical Pilates views the body as healthy and normal, so that if you have an injury it is something you work around, instead of the injury being the focus of your workout.
Powerhouse – Joe used the term ‘girdle of strength’ or Powerhouse to refer to the muscles that are targeted in Pilates. All Pilates movements aim to engage the Powerhouse, and then, radiate that strength out to support the arms and legs. The Powerhouse is comprised of the muscles that support your hips and spine–the abdominals, back muscles, buttocks and inner thighs–the area an old fashioned girdle would cover.
Imprint – To imprint the spine is to lengthen and press each and every vertabra into the mat so that the spine becomes long and supported by the muscles that are used to imprint. Imprinting is key to many movements in Pilates because by lengthening out the spine on a regular basis we can avoid and undo many of the havoc wreaked on the body by gravity.
C-Curve – Creating the letter C out of your spine by curling your hips under and pulling your abdominal muscles back toward your spine–a movement that concentrates power and strength in your center while lengthening out your spine. This is a common action in Pilates.
Scoop – Scooping the abdominals in and up toward your spine. When you pull your abs in, you create a scooped feeling in the low belly. By hugging your abs into your spine, you provide a strong system of support to the spine as well as the vital organs. Weak abdominals can’t do their part to keep the body lifted against gravity and can be a common cause of back pain, poor posture and many other ailments.
Articulation – The rolling and unrolling of the spine. This articulation of the vertabrae of your spine creates length and is very important in the Pilates method. Joe wanted you to regularly articulate your spine, “You are only as old as your spine is flexible” he would say.
Mind-Body Exercise – Pilates is a mindful exercise. This is one of the reasons Joe didn’t add music to his workouts. He wanted you to listen to your body and pay attention. There is a growing body of research that shows that paying attention to complex movement helps to grow new brain cells and the comunication switchboard that tell our bodies what to do. “Contrology… reawakens thousands of dormant brain cells, thus activating new areas and stimulating further the functioning of the mind.” (p. 20, Return to Life by Joseph Pilates)
The Universal Reformer as it was originally called, is a bench-like system of springs and pulleys that provide support to the body to aid in strengthening, stretching and teaching control while creating a balanced musculature. As the student becomes more experienced, the apparatus begins to offer less and less support via the springs and repertoire so that the student is continually challenged.
The Jumpboard is an addition to the Reformer that was invented by Romana Kryzanowska, Joseph Pilates’ protege. Romana added the Jumpboard as a tool to help teach the proper connection to the Powerhouse when jumping. It is used only at the end of a class for this purpose, it is not meant to be used for an entire Pilates workout.
The Cadillac is sometimes referred to as the Trap Table or Trapeze Table. It gets it’s name for being the largest and perhaps most luxurious of the apparatus. WIth overhead bars that students can hang upside down in fuzzy straps from, to the trapeze like bars attached to springs to roll down with, the Cadillac provides a large array of exercises to choose from.
The Wall Unit or Tower consists of half of a Cadillac and a High Mat. It can be used to practice all of the exercises from the Cadillac except for those that require the overhead bars.
The High Mat is a padded wooden box that is about 3-4″ high. One end has handles that stick out to the side and the other end has a foot strap. The handles are used to open the chest and shoulders while the strap helps the body work as one piece during roll up exercises such as Neck Pull and provides stretch and stability during exercises such as Single Leg Circles.
The Magic Circle is an example of Joe’s simple genius. Used to strengthen the Powerhouse, arms, legs and glutes, the ring was made from bands of tempered steel with wooden handles on the outside. It’s rumored that Joe used the steel hoop from a beer keg to construct his first Magic Circle. The magic of the circle is that it creates more stability in the body by engaging your Powerhouse when you hug it correctly.
The Wunda Chair was originally designed by Joe for his clients who wanted an apparatus they could use at home. If you turn the Wunda Chair over, it becomes an actual chair that you can sit in. He would design a full workout on the chair only for those who had one at home, otherwise it was used just for those exercises a student needed.
The High Chair is sometimes called the Electric Chair because of it’s medieval looks. Similar to the Wunda Chair with a tall back support and handles on the sides, it uses the heaviest springs of all of the apparatus. It is often used for strengthening and balancing the hips, glutes and legs.
The Arm Chair or Baby Chair is a low chair with a back that tilts forward and back and springs on the back. It uses the lightest springs of all of the apparatus and is commonly used to restore proper balance and strength to delicate students or those with upper body issues.
The Pilates Barrels do wonderful things for the spine. The curves of the barrels are meant to correct the imbalances that happen to the body due to gravity and bad habits. Exercises for strengthening and stretching the whole body are performed on all three of the barrels.
This underused apparatus has a scary name but is fun to use. Two bars attached to the ceiling house springs that a horizontal bar attaches to like an H. The student must push the bar up or down while keeping the springs even. More advanced exercises on the Guillotine become more gymnastic, swinging under and through the upright bars.
The Pedi Pole is a tall pole with a T on top from which springs hang down. The pole is set in a small wooden platform that the student stands on to work the springs with the arms. The straight pole represents your spine and by lining your body up against it the student is challenged to lengthen and move with control against the springs.
The Foot Corrector does just what it’s name says, corrects your feet. It has two small heavy springs attached to a plate much like the one that you use to measure your feet for a new pair of shoes with a curved plate on top that you press down. With a series of stretching and strengthening exercises, feet become stronger and more flexible with improved proprioception.
The Toe Corrector is designed to restore the toes to working function and particularly to help prevent or relieve pain from bunions. It works by slipping a strap over a toe and then using the toe to pull on the strap and stretch a small spring. This action strengthens the supporting muscles in the entire foot and stretches the opposing muscles.
The Breath-a-cizer is a pinwheel type device that you blow on to practice proper breathing. If asked how you should breathe, Joe would always say, “Get all the air out.” By completely expelling all stale air, your lungs expand further on the next inhale and this action has many benefits, including increased lung capacity.