Mind & Motion

The Pilates Apparatus

Posted in Pilates by Meghan Pickrell on July 26, 2010

I have this vision of Joe Pilates inventing the apparatus. It goes something like this: He has a client on the mat and is asking them to perform a specific task. The client has certain limitations and can’t quite perform the task optimally. Maybe she is trying to perform a relatively simple task such as sitting up from lying down and can’t produce enough force or momentum. Joe uses his hands and body to help her up. When she arrives for the next session there is a bar attached to two springs mounted on the wall which provide the support she needs to perform the task. Thus, the “roll-down” was created.

The Pilates apparatus (aparati?), consisting of the reformer, cadiliac, wunda chair, ped-a-pull, latter barrel, spine corrector and few various other props, were developed from a need, as most gadgets are created. There was a need for fitness among the community. Joe’s mission was to fulfill that need. The apparatus helps condition, strengthen, stretch and inform the body. The springs can either be used for resistance or assistance depending on the goal. I believe the “informing” aspect is the most important and the most unique to pilates. The pilates apparatus gives us feedback about our alignment, helps us leverage our weight and support us through a variety of exercises such as the roll-down.

When we can’t move properly we often need feedback to help us organize and understand how to move our complex, multi-articulate body. We receive feedback from the environment which helps us learn how to move and posture. Posture is key. In many cases, how we tend to hold the body causes imbalances or even pain.

The more we’re in contact with the environment, the more feedback the body will receive about how it is posturing. Pilates exercises require you to lie down on your back (or belly, or side) and to notice how your long multi-jointed spine starts to line up. One of the first exercises you will be asked to do in a pilates session is footwork. As the carriage moves away from the foot-bar, the thoracic spine and sacrum press into the mat. The feet lean into the bar and spine leans into the mat. You start to understand alignment. Once the spine learns how to organize when lying, you start sitting exercises and then standing exercises. Eventually you can stand, sit and walk with a well-postured trunk.

Tactile feedback is valuable when learning new patterns and breaking bad habits. It helps you recognize where you are and where you need to go. Once the patterns are instilled you can carry them into activities of daily life. Everyday movements become easier. The body is able to carry itself with strength and ease. You have an awareness of tendencies. Sensations are more prevalent. These are the benefits of the pilates apparatus.

3 Responses

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  1. Sherri said, on July 26, 2010 at 11:00 pm

    Great post Meghan– very informative

  2. Tom Glover said, on July 27, 2010 at 4:41 am

    Hi Meg,

    Good article.

    Is it true that Joe Pilates first developed the machines to help wounded war veterans? I heard a rumor years ago that the veterans who couldn’t exercise out of bed were given the spring resistance and aids to enable them to gradually build strength and flexibility. Is there any truth to this?

    Much love,


  3. Meghan Pickrell said, on July 28, 2010 at 4:23 am


    Thank you for your comment. Yes! Pilates did work with WWI German soldiers. He rehabilitated them in their hospital beds with springs for strengthening. This later helped him in designing the apparatus. Some time later he moved to NYC and opened his studio where injured dancers were sent for rehabilitation.

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