Pilates Large Machines Explained


What is a reformer?

The Reformer is the most famous of all the Pilates Apparatuses.  Specially designed to challenge and strengthen the body, the ‘reformer’ is so named because it was created to reform the body of the participant. Consisting of a large frame, topped with a flat, cushioned platform; this platform (or carriage) is attached to the frame by springs and moves as you push or pull with your legs and arms. The reformer also has long straps with handles on them which can be pulled to move the carriage.

The Reformer is perhaps the most user-friendly apparatus on which to perform foot/leg work.  It places the body in a comfortable, non-weight bearing supine position and recruits the muscles in a balanced fashion.  Stretches performed like the hip-flexor; hamstrings and adductor muscles cannot be duplicated as effectively on any other piece of pilates apparatus.  The jumping series is unique to the reformer which accommodates plyometric (powerful jump training) movements in a full range.

What are the benefits of the Pilates Reformer?

  • Pilates hits your core (or, in Pilates speak, your “powerhouse”) unlike any other workout.
  • A stronger core equals a better back, by stabilizing the core’s lumbar-pelvic (lower-back) region, Pilates alleviates stress on the area and ups mobility.
  • Pilates’ slow and controlled movements puts minimal impact on your joints.
  • Because Pilates urges you to focus on 1) your breath, 2) your body, and 3) and how they move together, it takes a lot of concentration. That means you’re forced to forget about work, bills, and other worries for a full hour.
  • Reformer Pilates provides a safe option for staying healthy and active during pregnancy. The low impact nature is perfect for swollen joints, the pelvic floor exercises will help during childbirth and core work will help ease back pain.
  • Reformer pilates is great as a cross training tool to mimic movement patterns seen in a variety of sports, since it improves spine strength in combination with limb movements for Athletes.
  • Another unique part of the Reformer is the moving foot-bar that can be used for both the feet or the hands.
  • The Reformer is perhaps the most user-friendly apparatus on which to perform leg work, as it places the body in a comfortable, non-weigh bearing supine position and recruits the muscles in a balanced fashion.
  • The stretches performed, i.e. the hip flexor and hamstrings and adductor muscles – cannot be duplicated as effectively on any other apparatus.


What is the Wunda Chair?

Though pilates in its original form was developed as a mat-based collection of routines, equipment was soon introduced to build better and greater resistance for the body.  One of those pieces of equipment was the Wunda Chair.

The Wunda Chair was originally for people who wanted an apparatus they could use at home. The exercises performed on the Wunda chair are considered to be very challenging as it highlights both the body’s imbalances and weaknesses.  Allowing for upright positions during many of the exercises the Wunda chair requires more trunk stabilization than most other pieces of Pilates equipment.  This apparatus activates the lower back, buttocks, shoulder, transversus abdominals and pelvic region and heightens neuromuscular co-ordination.  It is extremely effective for clients that are pregnant and those dealing with any type of vertigo or for stretching and rebalancing muscles that have been strained or injured.

What are the benefits of the Wunda Chair?

  • Your upper body, especially areas like the neck, arms and shoulders, as well as the lower body will benefit greatly from the chair.
  • It can help you rehabilitate after an injury faster than mat-based Pilates ever could
  • It can help relieve the body of knots and muscle aches.
  • It is perfect for anyone who loses focus very easily. The Wunda Chair demands absolute attention and offers a variety of workouts. If you love having your behind kicked hard each session, then you will love the Wunda chair’s very challenging weighted springs.
  • The chair will help you find your back muscles very easily and the support of the chair on the back gives you a chance to feel what muscles should be working when raising your arms.
  • The Wunda Chair offers many upright exercises for the pregnant client who is no longer able to lie down for long periods of time, or those people dealing with vertigo.
  • People with knee problems can benefit greatly from the unique alignment opportunities that many of the chair exercises demand.
  • The pilates Wunda chair is particularly effective for stretching and rebalancing muscles that have been strained or injured
  • It will help you improve your balance – an extremely important component of overall fitness – especially as we age!


What is the Cadillac machine?

The pilates Cadillac was designed by Joseph Pilates to help rehabilitate injuries.  It is widely used to provide a stable base of support for the pilates exercises, while assisting in finding range of motion, increased flexibility and core strength.  It is said that it was named the Cadillac to portray all the luxury of the car, which at the time signified the best of the best.

The pilates Cadillac machine provides the most diverse Pilates experience.  Exercises can be done standing, kneeling, sitting, lying down (prone, supine & side-lying), hanging and upside down.  The Cadillac has a mat, poles/bars, springs and a trapeze to challenge the body in multiple planes of motion.

What are the benefits of the Cadillac?

  • The Cadillac supports all levels of fitness and is great for rehabilitation and sports specific training.
  • It provides a stable base to perform more advanced exercises.
  • Provides balance through the use of spring tension designed to work both sides of the body. It allows for single leg work on each leg, which is an advantage as it addresses any imbalance that may exist in the leg, directly.
  • The Cadillac provides an opportunity to do exercises for the client that has limited movement , balance issues, or difficulty getting up and down from the floor.
  • Exercises can be done from basic to intermediate to advanced movements.
  • The Cadillac differs from the Reformer in that it highlights the hamstrings during leg work – both in terms of flexibility as well as strength.
  • The Cadillac offers unique stretches for the upper body that can only be performed on the Cadillac.
  • On the Cadillac legwork involves that the legs move in a vertical line with a hip flexion of 90 degrees, whereas on the Reformer the legs move horizontally on the same plane as the trunk.
  • A big advantage of the legwork on the Cadillac is that it minimizes the possibility of hyper-lordosis and stretches the lower back.                                                                                                              


What is a Ladder Barrel?

The Ladder barrel is a Pilates apparatus that is comprised of 2 sections joined together.  The Barrel and Ladder makes up the 2 pieces of this piece of equipment.  The unique shape makes it perfect to assist clients in gaining abdominal strength and increased flexibility in the spine.  It can be adjusted for varying body lengths and sizes.

Joseph Pilates emphasized the importance of flexibility in the spine and therefore this important piece of pilates equipment is a good addition to the repertoire and can provide great benefit to the Pilates practitioner.

What are the benefits of the Ladder Barrel & ARC Barrels?

  • Trunk extension is important for developing back strength and good posture and barrels are great tools for strengthening the back extensors and for passively relaxing in spinal extension, thereby stretching the trunk flexors.
  • During forward flexion abdominal exercises, the barrel supports the lower back in a neutral position, which is important if flexion of the lumbar spine is contra-indicated.
  • Barrels also supports the body during lateral flexion exercises (side-lifting and lowering) and this facilitates both strength and flexibility.
  • Barrels utilize body weight (gravity) rather than springs for resistance. One can add weights to make exercises more challenging when working on strength or to increase deeper stretches with doing flexibility stretches.
  • Smaller barrels (ARC barrels) can be used to add to other pieces of equipment like the Reformer or Cadillac to use in conjunction with those machines.
  • Barrels have endless potential to work the body in every range of motion.
  • Barrels are great to use as an “assist” with mat work to facilitate more advanced movements and to get a client towards doing more advanced work in time to come.

Ending a session by lying supine over the spine barrel or arc barrel with support for the head, leaves one with an “open” feeling.