The popularity of Pilates in the fitness world has continually grown since it was created in the early 1920s by Joseph Pilates. Originally known as "Contrology," this fitness program consisted of a series of 44 exercises performed on the floor without equipment. And today, this original matwork is still incorporated into present mat classes but, now, integrates props such as bands, balls, BOSUs or foam rollers. However, a line of Pilates equipment was also invented by its namesake during his time in England during World War I. In the infirmary, he created rehabilitative exercises for wounded soldiers who were confined to their beds from the mattress springs that were rigged to provide resistance. And in fact, today's Pilates equipment is still not much different. Spring tension, straps to hold feet or hands and supports for the back, neck and shoulder are as important now as they were then. This equipment both challenges and supports the body as it learns to move more efficiently, and these carefully designed pieces truly act as a complement to the challenging "matwork" exercises.
Once known as the Bednasium, the Reformer was Joseph Pilates' first piece of equipment to help rehabilitate wounded soldiers. The gliding horizontal platform is attached by springs to a frame to create resistance. A foot bar allows for push-and-pull movements, creating a sliding effect back and forth over the rails. Hands or feet can be placed on the foot bar to generate movement or by straps and handles attached to a pulley system behind the platform. This piece helps establish torso stability and postural alignment while working the peripheral limbs in a range of mot-ion. Typically, a routine will begin in a horizontal position (with gravity) and slowly start to become more challenging as the client moves into a more vertical position (as in everyday living — seated and standing). Additionally, five different springs can be adjusted to challenge core, shoulder and hip stability. Most private, semi-private or duet sessions are done on the reformer, about 30-35 minutes of the full hour. As a client becomes more fam-iliar with the order of the exercises, the tempo can increase and one exercise can move right into the next, challenging strength and stamina. The Reformer ranges from $2,000 to $4,000.
The Cadillac is a horizontal table surrounded by a four-poster frame in which various bars, straps, springs and levers can be attached. Most apparatus have a trapeze, a push-through bar, a roll-down bar, arm springs, leg springs and hanging cuffs. Some models also offer the ability to be converted into Reformers, wall units or Towers that allow for space economy. Often, studios will offer "Tower" classes that combine mat and Cadillac-type exercises.
The Cadillac offers a large array of exercises for the total body (such as hanging pull-ups) to isolating just the shoulder or hip (serratus pull-downs) and develops spinal flexibility and strength, while also limbering the total body. A "traditional ending," a series of challenging exercises, including hanging pull-ups (hands on the top of the frame, feet on the trapeze, "abs-in" and pull-up), is performed on the Cadillac to finish an advanced student's private session. The Cadillac costs $3,000 to $5,000.
The Chairs: "Wunda" & "High Back Chair"
Both the Wunda and the High Back Chair offer horizontal, seated and standing exercises that work the body in all planes of movement, including rotation. The pedal attached to the springs offers various tensions, typically, lighter for hands on the pedal and heavier for feet on the pedal. This apparatus activates the lower back, buttocks, shoulder, transverses
abdominals and the pelvic region and heightens neuromuscular coordination. More unilateral exercises are emphasized on the chairs, providing the opportunity to access muscular imbalance.
The High Chair has a tall back, handles and wooden foot support that help find balance and stability (think of performing a squat on a Smith Machine versus standing on a wobble board with dumbbells). Many High Chair models can be adjustable to a low or Wunda Chair (just a pedal and a seat), increasing the degree of difficulty. This piece of equipment is really an efficient way to move from one exercise to the next while keeping up the intensity. The chairs cost $700 to $1,200.
The Ladder Barrel has adder-like rungs and a rounded barrel-like surface, offering a wide range of exercises, including stretching, strengthening and flexibility. The Ladder Barrel helps isolate deep postural muscles and challenges the body on all planes of movement, while also providing a surface for active stretching of the hamstrings, quadriceps, hip flexors, shoulders, chest and spine.
The Spine Corrector and Small Barrels are semi-circular arches that sit on the floor. They provide support for the back and shoulders and can open up the neck, hips and thighs. The Spine Corrector is larger, has a step and offers a larger arching angle. Both, typically, have handles on the side that can be used for support during the exercise. These are smaller pieces of equipment that are great for a "traveling" instructor as core, shoulder and hip stability can be worked from various angles. The costs on the barrels are as follows: The Ladder Barrel ranges from $900 to $1500 and the Spine Corrector and Small Barrels range from $100 to $450.
With all of this equipment, it is essential for the Pilates Instructor to be properly certified to guide their clients through a safe routine. As with many certifications in the fitness industry, there are several forms of certification, from the weekend workshop to the rigorous apparatus training that often requires hundreds of hours of training. Weekend classes typically teach Mat-based classes and are often prerequisites to the apparatus training. In some cases, educators require students to have some Pilates education prior to their certification. The Apparatus Training Programs typically run from six to 18 months. This training can include coursework, observation, assistant teaching, self-practice and exams. Often, app-rentice hours are required before certification is completed.
Claudia Boorman is a Nationally Certified Massage Therapist and Pilates Instructor. For more information, visit www.bodylanguage-studio.com.