Pilates Equipment 101


- By Rachel Taylor Segel of The Pilates Center

Joseph Pilates developed his method over a period of sixty-some years. He constantly created new exercises (over 500) and new equipment (more than a dozen types) to make transformations in people’s bodies and in their lives that they could not make otherwise. He stated that his equipment was to act as “extra muscles” to access illusive and weaker areas and to “build brain cells” that a person alone on the mat would find nearly impossible to achieve. If you are finding matwork difficult or you are at a plateau in your progress, taking some lessons on any of the Pilates equipment will break you through to your next challenge point.  Let’s take a look at some of the equipment that Joseph designed to help us “return to life”:

The Cadillac (Trapeze Table)

Photo courtesy of Balanced Body®

Mr. Pilates nicknamed this “The Cadillac” because it has everything! As on all of his equipment, we can lie face down or up, sit in every direction and even hang upside down to increase breath capacity, circulation, strength and mobility of the joints (especially the spine) and often rehabilitate from injury or surgery. Some teachers call the Cadillac the “therapy table” which is an appropriate name because it is high enough off the ground for teachers to stand beside the client and assist them easily in a myriad of ways. 

The Universal Reformer

Photo courtesy of Balanced Body®

One of his first patents, the Reformer offers a lot of support for the body so that we don’t overwork our strongest muscles and instead develop our bodies uniformly, one of his stated goals. There is a headrest, a foot bar to hold leg weight, straps to help us align and strengthen arms and legs. We lie supine and prone, sit and kneel in both directions to work with the springs, building core and limb strength as well as coordination.

The High (Electric) Chair

He actually did nickname this piece The Electric Chair!! This piece makes a lot of the Low Chair exercises easier because there are handles to aid in balancing, a seatback for postural feedback, and platform slats to guide alignment. Some manufacturers make a High/Low chair so you can get the best of both.

Photo courtesy of Balanced Body®

The Low (Wunda) Chair

Photo courtesy of Balanced Body®

Mr. Pilates designed this piece to be in “every home and hotel room in America”! The Low Chairs come in many versions, sizes and even, split-pedal. The springs integrate into whatever body part addresses them and create instant muscle tone through to one’s abdominals. It is great for small studios as a complete workout system or as an adjunct piece to highlight and work on specific imbalances and re-create good alignment. It can be a very aerobic workout!

The Wall or Pole System

Photo courtesy of Balanced Body®

This has been devised by manufacturers since Mr. Pilates’ death to answer the desire for the Cadillac springs and exercises in a very small area; we can do them all here, except for the dozen or so aerial exercises.  The springs on all of his equipment work our muscles both eccentrically and concentrically (agonists/ antagonists) for the unique-to-Pilates pliancy of muscle fibers and fascia that gains us supple power.

Rachel Taylor Segel received a B.F.A. from the University of Colorado, and B.A. in Dance from Loretto Heights College in Denver. She danced professionally with the David Taylor Dance Theatre and Brent Mason and Company. In addition, she taught ballet and was director of the dance department at the Arvada Center for the Performing Arts. In 1986, Rachel moved to New York City where she taught ballet at The Alvin Ailey School.
Both Rachel and her sister Amy studied Pilates under the direct tutelage of Romana Kryzanowska at the Pilates Studio in New York City where they received their Pilates teaching certificate. In 1990, Amy and Rachel opened The Pilates Center (TPC) in Boulder, Colorado and established The Pilates Center Teacher Training in 1991.  The sisters co-authored The Everything Pilates Book, are active in the Pilates Method Alliance (PMA) and assisted in creating the PMA's certification exam. Rachel is currently a member of the PMA Certification Commission and travels extensively worldwide presenting TPC Pilates teacher training workshops. After two years of research and development with Balanced Body, Rachel and Amy have created the Centerline Pilates Reformer, Cadillac, and Low Chair. Rachel is married and has two teenage daughters. 

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