THE UNIVERSAL REFORMER
The Universal Reformer can have an aluminium or wooden rectangular frame. It consists of 4 springs, pulleys, straps, and a sliding carriage, its accessories are a box, leg straps and a pole, a relatively new addition on larger models is a Jumpboard. Its versatility allows The Reformer to address a wide variety of physical capabilities and disabilities, allowing the young, the old, the unfit, the weak, the strong and the professional athlete to be able to use it, and be challenged by it! In other words, there is no ‘body’ that it cannot serve. The exercises allow for lying, sitting, standing, and kneeling, in many positions, helping to extend, stretch and strengthen the body in a unique fashion. It develops the body ‘uniformly’ in strength and flexibility, working the entire muscular system simultaneously. The minute you get on The Reformer you have to centre yourself, working from your deepest, core muscles – ‘The Powerhouse’*. There are close to 100 exercises in the Classical repertoire to be learnt on this piece of apparatus.
*The Powerhouse was a term that Joseph Pilates used for the activation of your ‘centre’, your ‘core’. The primary ‘Powerhouse’ muscles are: The Transversus Abdominus (The deepest layer of abdominal muscles, a spinal stabilising muscle), the Pelvic floor muscles, the Diaphragm, and The Multifidii (The muscles that support the spine). The Powerhouse, when activated works as an internal ‘corset’ to the spine. Other muscles that are used in the activation of The Powerhouse are the Internal and External obliques (the waist muscles), the Rectus Abdominus (the ‘6 pack’), the buttocks (the Gluteus Maximus), and the inner thighs (The Adductors). When you are cued to activate your ‘Powerhouse’ these are the muscles that the term refers to! Our limbs move from a strong and stable CENTRE.
THE WALL UNIT WITH HIGH MAT
The Wall Unit is an adaptation of The Cadillac. It is basically half a Cadillac! The only exercises that one cannot do on the Wall Unit are ‘The Monkey’ and the hanging & strength work done on the canopy/bars of The Cadillac. The Wall Unit comes with the unique wooden ‘Push Through’ bar that attaches to springs either above or below, a wooden Roll down bar, leg springs & arm springs. The exercises that can be done on The Wall Unit help to correct particular imbalances, helping to develop a balanced, and well aligned body. The Wall Unit also helps to build leg & upper body strength & power, spinal mobility, spinal stability, and as always, abdominal & pelvic floor strength. It comes with The High Mat in our studio. The High Mat is the traditional mat that was designed for the 34 mat sequence to be performed on, and it is also used in conjunction with The Wall Unit. The mat is raised (4 inches) & deeply padded, made of wood & thick foam, and covered in a waterproof mock leather fabric. It has a wooden bar at one end, a foot strap at the other end, and two ‘Moon’ boxes either side for the feet to be placed on in certain exercises. The High Mat helps beginners to become stronger and more proficient in the mat work, it allows for the safe execution of the rolling exercises. The design of the High Mat also allows intermediate & advanced students to reach deeper into their bodies, strengthening their muscles further, and allowing the body to deeply stretch, and work to its full potential.
THE LADDER BARREL
Gratz Pilates Ladder BarrelThe Ladder Barrel is used for deep, progressive stretching, a favourite place to practise the ‘ballet stretch series’ and it is also a fantastic place to take exercises from The Reformer, adding a different dimension & depth to The Swan, The Short Box series & Horseback.
THE WUNDA CHAIR
The Wunda Chair to me is ‘WONDEROUS’! It is a two sided ‘box shape’ with a pedal attached to the ‘box’ with two springs, and 3 hooks each side, allowing for varying degrees of tension. The traditional Wunda Chair, can also be used as a normal chair, when turned on its side. This was designed for small New York apartments with little space for exercise! You can sit, stand, kneel and lie on it, in front of it, behind it, and sideways on to it. You can learn over 50 exercises on it, and a lot of the original mat work can be performed on it. It can be used for most types of rehabilitation, scoliosis, knee problems, balance problems, and the injured, but it can also be used with elite athletes, challenging them with push ups, backbends, and balancing work. He was reported to have often used it with Chinese acrobats. The spring-loaded pedal offers a myriad of options and deeply challenges the intrinsic muscles of the body.
THE SPINE CORRECTOR
The Spine corrector is also known as ‘The Hump Barrel’. It is made of wood with a thick layer of padding, and vinyl covering. It has a ‘lip’ and a ‘barrel’ with two steel handles either side of the barrel. It does what its name implies: correcting the spine! The barrel works on decompressing the spine, promoting fluidity of the spine, and deeply strengthening the surrounding muscles. The exercises performed on it help to correct poor posture, release tight chest muscles, lengthen and strengthen the hip flexor muscles, and help to balance and re-coordinate the leg muscles. I have found that the chest opening work often helps to relieve, and sometimes completely eradicate Carpal Tunnel Syndrome that has become so common in people who work with computers all day. The abdominals strengthen significantly in the work performed on The Spine Corrector. The exercises are performed in a way that develops length and strength simultaneously. The Spine Corrector can also be used to help develop the strength needed in order to perform The Classical 34 Mat exercises safely. There are over 18 exercises to learn on this piece of apparatus in the Classical repertoire.
THE ARM CHAIR
The Arm Chair develops scapular stability & upper body strength & co-ordination, whilst working from the deep postural muscles. It is good for any level, and is excellent for improving posture.
THE PEDI POLE
The Pedi Pole was reportedly designed to help a famous opera singer improve their breathing technique needed for their work! The Pedi Pole gives immediate feedback on the alignment of your spine, as you have to stand on a small wooden base, and align your spine against the steel pole that comes up out of it. There is a T bar at the top of the pole, and at each end a spring hangs down with a handle on each end. The Pedi Pole is relatively unstable, therefore you are immediately forced to centre yourself, control your balance and awareness throughout the movements. The shoulder girdle is worked on to achieve balance and strength. Breath control and lung expansion can be worked upon with the spine in alignment with the pole. Neck issues can be safely worked on in an upright position. People who suffer from ear related balance problems, whiplash, and vertigo often feel more comfortable working on the Pedi Pole. People that have disc issues in their spine are also more comfortable working here, as it enables you to ‘pull yourself tall, creating space between the discs’ and alleviating the pain of trapped nerves. There are several exercises to perform on it that challenge: strength, suppleness, balance, breath and control. When you step off after having performed the set exercises, you cannot help but feel elongated, centred and realigned.
THE FOOT CORRECTOR
The foot corrector works on correcting the feet! It is used to strengthen the intrinsic muscles of the foot and ankle, improving the alignment and functionality, which in turn has an upward spiralling effect on ‘whole body’ alignment, benefiting the knees, pelvis and lower back.
Unfortunately wearing shoes all day weakens the feet, ankles and calves, and this has a ‘knock on’ effect throughout the entire body. The Foot Corrector is made out of solid cast iron, with two strong springs either side of a foot pedal. There are a variety of exercises performed on it with the foot placed in different positions. The final exercise being a foot massage, as you slide your foot over the pedal, using the power of the springs to work and release the fascia of the sole. The Foot Corrector, when regularly used can correct: Collapsed arches, bunions, plantar fasciitis, weak/damaged ankles, and Achilles tendon problems/injuries.
THE TOE EXERCISER
The Toe Exerciser is perhaps the smallest piece of apparatus designed by Joseph Pilates, and it works on strengthening the toes, increasing the flexibility and simply bringing the muscular control of your toes alive! If you cannot move your toes independently….think of the artists who can paint with their toes! This piece may not help you become a ‘foot painter’ but it will greatly help with bunions, work damaged/injured toes, and improve the dexterity of your digits! When your feet are strong, flexible and dextrous, you will be amazed to feel and see the difference throughout your entire body.
THE MAGIC CIRCLE
Joseph Pilates designed the Magic Circle to be portable. It is lightweight enough to take on trips away, or to bring wherever you may want to do your exercises! You can use it in conjunction with the apparatus, the Mat Work, or simply on its own. Traditionally it came in 3 strengths, made up of 2, 3, or 4 layers of thin steel bands, with a padded handle either side. Nowadays there are lighter versions available, made out of plastic materials that are still very ‘tensile’ but much more ‘portable’.
The Magic Circle can be used to strengthen, lengthen, and stretch the body. It is amazing for the inner thighs muscles, pelvic floor, Powerhouse*, chest, back, and arms. It can be used seated, standing or lying on the floor, or on the apparatus.
WHY I USE GRATZ EQUIPMENT
Gratz Industries is in New York City. They were founded in 1929, and produce architectural metalwork, museum quality furniture and metal sculpture. They are masters in all types of metal work, welding, design, etc. It was Frank Gratz whom Joseph Pilates first approached with his unique designs for his radical apparatus over 50 years ago! Frank’s son Donald continued the commitment to preserving the integrity of the apparatus design, and in the late 1960’s worked and consulted with Romana Kryzanowska, the well-known protégé of Joseph Pilates. Gratz continues to stay true to the original specifications as given by Joseph Pilates. The quality of the equipment is supreme, from the wood, metals, leather used, to the dense padding that is necessary to protect the spine, and help you achieve the objectives of the work.
Having worked and studied with apparatus manufactured by other designers, I soon discovered the differences between the companies, realising that the dimensions when altered on the apparatus, greatly alter the exercises from the Classical repertoire, losing the potency of the movements, sometimes putting the spine in an unsafe position, and marring the clarity of Joseph Pilates’ intention with his work. I will continue to respect and honour his work by only using Gratz apparatus, because that is exactly their intention too!
The main pieces of apparatus found in a Pilates Studio are: The Universal Reformer, Wall Unit with High Mat, The Ladder Barrel, The Wunda Chair, The Spine Corrector, The Arm Chair, The Pedi Pole, The Foot Corrector, The Toe Exerciser, and The Magic Circle. In a traditional, Classical Pilates Studio other pieces to be found are The Electric Chair, The Cadillac, The Guillotine, The Neck Stretcher, The Breath-a-cizer, The Bean Bag, and The Push Up Supports. Intrinsic Pilates currently have the following pieces that are listed below, with the Wall Unit to follow soon!