Joseph Pilates created several pieces of equipment, each uniquely customized to the way in which he wanted to move, lengthen and strengthen his students’ bodies. Many use spring resistance, others simply provide the perfect shape to encourage specific spinal movements. One thing they all have in common is that they aren’t meant to do any of the work for you – they may provide guidance and gentle resistance or support, but it is up to you to perform each exercise with proper alignment and correct sequencing. There are exercises that can be performed on all the different pieces including the mat, and others that are unique to one piece.
The equipment has changed very little since his original designs. Of course various manufacturers have added bells and whistles, but the basic intent of each piece is still at the core of even the fanciest models. Below is an overview of each piece.
This is the primary piece of resistance equipment. The padded platform, called the carriage, glides smoothly along the rails. The carriage is attached to a set of springs at one end, and a rope and pulley system at the other. There are hundreds of exercises that can be done on this piece, from the gentlest rehab work to the toughest Teasers in the land.
Also called the Trapeze Table, the Caddy offers a variety of spring lengths and tensions coming from all different directions, and adds a host of three-dimensional movement options into your workout. There are exercises in lying, seated and standing positions, and even some hanging from the bars!
My personal favorite, this is a small (chair-sized) piece, with a pedal on one side that can be pressed down against spring resistance. The small base of support and highly adjustable spring tension challenges your overall stability and balance, and the pedal can be split into two, allowing you to work both sides, just one, or both reciprocally.
The Ladder Barrel, Spine Corrector, and Arc Barrel are all tools to increase mobility and flexibility in various ways. The Arc Barrel is often incorporated into Matwork exercises, to increase or decrease the level of challenge.
Most people wouldn’t think of the Mat as a piece of equipment, but the Matwork is absolutely integral to the Pilates method. Bringing it down to you, the floor and gravity, often the Mat version of an exercise is the most challenging. In fact, it’s often said that if you have mastered the entire Mat repertoire, you have no need for any equipment!