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The Pilates Apparatus

A Pilates studio is full of apparatus but it’s totally unlike anything you’ve seen in a gym.  Even a dedicated Pilates Mat with it’s handles and strap is different than a regular exercise mat: see this post’s “featured image”.

One big difference is that most gym equipment has just one single purpose.  

In contrast, most of the large apparatus (Reformer, Barrels, Wunda Chair, Cadillac, Arm Chair and Ped-O-Pull) in a Pilates Studio is multi-purpose.

And then there’s small apparatus (2″x4″, Sand Bag, Magic Circle, Push Up Device, Foot Corrector, Toe Exerciser, Neck Stretcher and Breath-A-Cizer) which though less versatile, is still designed to help connect to your centre!

The full name for Reformer is “The Universal Reformer” which reflect just how versatile it is intended to be.

And this is the most interesting thing!

Pilates has two main sets of exercises: the Matwork and the Reformer work.  The intention was broadly, that the Matwork is homework and the Reformer work is for the studio.

They are not completely different, like many people assume.  Many of the exercises are in fact done on both Mat AND on the Reformer.  And there are many, many elements in common.  Learning the Mat is the best way to improve your Reformer work and the best way to learn the Reformer is to practice your mat.  Home practice means that you can practice at home – and that is where you not only get best value, but it’s where the magic happens – guaranteed!

Swan on the Ladder Barrel. The Swan is practiced on every piece of apparatus!


But there is more!  Pilates is actually designed so that the same exercise is done on different apparatus.  That changes the context for the central nervous system and reinforces the objectives of the exercise as well as making the exercise more challenging or more accessible.

For this reason, many people say that in fact there are very few Pilates exercises, but many variations – and that is part of what makes Pilates a system.

Why "Apparatus" and not "Machines"?

Here’s a Wiki Definition:


The difference between machine and apparatus: is that machine is a mechanical or electrical device that performs or assists in the performance of human tasks,  while apparatus is the entirety of means whereby a specific production is made existent or task accomplished.

Pilates apparatus aren’t “machines”, but “apparatus”. A machine is something that does something for you or assists you. Apparatus is more like a tool or tools that helps us achieve a goal or a task.

I like to think about it like this: a Coffee Machine makes coffee for us, it would be strange to call it a Coffee Apparatus…

The Large Apparatus: the Reformer

Gratz Reformer
A Traditional Reformer - by Gratz

The most well known is The Reformer.  A Reformer is a carriage attached to springs inside a frame.  They can be made of either wood or metal.  Some are very close to the original design whilst other models have moved away and have incorporated new design elements: five springs with different tensions, precision sealed bearings and risers that elevate the ropes (rather than leather straps) height from the frame.

Which is best?  If you want to learn how Pilates was supposed to be felt, then the traditional design is essential.  The feel of the two types is dramatically different!

"Supplementary" large apparatus

This apparatus is “supplementary” because it exists to help us learn and understand the Mat and Reformer repertoire.

The Cadillac - a complete gym on it's own!

There is the Cadillac.  This is a complete gym in itself.  The possibilities that it offers are so numerous that it can take years to fully appreciate how it can be used.

Jeremy Wunda Side
Our Wunda Chair still in it's maker's workshop

But that is just part of the story. There are curvy Spine Correctors, Ladder Barrels and the Baby Barrel, Wunda Chairs that look like boxes (apparently inspired by an apparatus that Chinese acrobats used in the circus.


Spine Corrector
One of our handcrafted Spine Correctors by "Purist Pilates"

The Small Apparatus

Toe Corrector Long Seated
The humble but incredibly useful Toe Gizmo

Then there is the smaller apparatus: the Toe Gizmo, the Foot Corrector, Magic Circle and Neck Stretcher. There are Push Up Devices, the Bean Bag Roll Up Device, the Ped O Pull, Sitting Boxes and numerous Poles, Jump Boards, 2”x4” Foot Exerciser and more… 

The Sandbag – it looks innocent enough!

The big takeaway is that there is no “Reformer Pilates” nor “Mat Pilates”… it’s all the same system and the two completely complement each other…

Group Classes

There’s a problem with “Group Classes”…

… everyone has to be on the same apparatus be they Mats of Reformers. But Pilates done Proper requires a reasonably full complement of apparatus.

Why not try a "First Lesson"?

If you like this material, why not try for yourself and book a First Lesson?

Find out about your First Lesson here:

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