pilates reformer header
Uncover the mystery of Pilates equipment

Walking into a Pilates studio can look a bit like walking into a medieval torture chamber. But believe me when I say, this equipment was created to rehabilitate your body, not tear it apart!

Let me walk you through our studio at True Pilates Miami, and give you a little background on Pilates, and the equipment, so you feel confident booking your first Pilates session. At True Pilates Miami, we are a classical Pilates studio, meaning that we teach the work as Joseph Pilates, the inventor of all the exercises and the equipment, intended it to be taught, and as he passed it on to his protege, Romana Kryzanowska. If you want to find a classical Pilates studio in your area, check out www.romanaspilates.com. All Pilates exercises were created to strengthen the “powerhouse” – your abs, back, hips and buttocks. All of the equipment in our studio is manufactured by Gratz, who is the original manufacturer of Pilates equipment, as hired by Joseph Pilates to create his original designs.

Let me also take this opportunity to remind you that private sessions, while more expensive, are also going to be more beneficial to your exercise regimen and body. As we go through the work, I think you will see why Joseph Pilates  intended his work to be taught privately.

1. The Universal Reformer

pilates reformer

Most private lessons start on the Reformer. The Reformer, with it’s shoulder blocks, flat surface, and footbar, help align the body and give the teacher and student feedback on how the body is working – if one side is overcompensating, if the the body is misaligned, if the powerhouse (your stomach, bottom, back and hips) is engaged. The Reformer is powered by the client’s body, and resistance comes from the four springs underneath, as well as the straps on pulleys.

Pictured exercise: Push-ups, front and back. These are advanced exercises that build strength in your powerhouse, as well as your upper body.

2. The Mat

pilates mat

Often called the “Heart and Soul of the Pilates Work,” the Mat is the piece of equipment that most people are familiar with.

Pictured exercise: Double leg stretch. A basic exercise to strengthen the powerhouse and lengthen the whole body. There is also a focus on the breath.

3. The Cadillac


The Cadillac is named for the car because, at its time, it was the biggest and best in the industry. The work on the Cadillac can be a bit more targeted than the work on the Reformer. It features arm springs and leg springs to strengthen those areas (while keeping your powerhouse engaged, of course!). It includes the push-thru and roll back bars, which particularly help clients articulate and stretch their spines, and strengthen their centers. Matwork can also be performed here, as well as pre-Pilates exercises, for clients who cannot get down to the floor. Resistance on the Cadillac comes from a series of springs attached to the handles, loops, and bars, and are specific for each exercise.

Pictured exercise: The roll back bar. This exercise strengthens the powerhouse while stretching and massaging the spine. It also opens the hips and shoulders. It’s delicious.

4. The Chairs

pilates chairs

There are a several chairs in Pilates: The High/Electric Chair, The Wunda Chair and the Baby Chair. The High/Electric Chair is great for posture and alignment.

Pictured exercise: Going up front. This intermediate level exercise is specifically for alignment and balance. It strengthens the powerhouse, and stretches the hip flexors. You stand taller after this exercise!

wunda chair

The Wunda Chair is the most advanced piece of equipment. Almost all of the Reformer work can be done here in a similar way, but the surface is smaller, and the resistance change requires the client to use their own strength and control much more.

Pictured exercise: The twist. Of course, this too strengthens the powerhouse. It specifically builds strength in the obliques, while lengthening the spine. It also wrings out the lungs. It is considered an intermediate exercise, but requires a serious amount of strength and coordination to perform.

baby chair hug

The Baby Chair was created to help women and girls build their upper body strength. The springs here are a bit lighter than the arm springs. Plus, the vertical seated position makes the client work her powerhouse to stay aligned and upright.

Pictured exercise: The hug. This basic exercise strengthens the arms and opens the low back.

5. The Pedi-Pole

pedi pole centering

This is sort of the opposite of the Baby Chair. This is made for men or strong women to increase their upper body strength. The springs are heavier, plus the client must remain entirely upright, using the pole as a second spine. The piece of equipment also works alignment and balance.

Pictured exercise: Centering, 1-leg. An advanced exercise to maintain posture and alignment. Great for people with imbalances to teach the body to work evenly.

6. The Barrels


There is the Large or Ladder Barrel, and also the Spine Corrector and Baby Barrel. These pieces of equipment were especially made for spine extension exercises. The story goes that the original Ladder Barrel was a beer barrel with a ladder!

Pictured Exercise: Tree on the ladder barrel. This intermediate exercise is for alignment, as the body must be held evenly, which requires strength in the powerhouse. It also extends the spine.

7. Small Apparati

There are many other pieces of Pilates equipment that most people don’t even know exist – the Breath-isizer, the Neck Stretcher, the Toe Stretch, the Magic Circle, the Foot Corrector. All of these target specific body areas, many of them obvious by their name. (Mr. Pilates wasn’t big on the flowery names!)

I hope this walk through our studio has shown you that Pilates has a lot to offer. It is great cross training for runners, boxers, dancers, tennis players and football players. It can be rehab for those with spinal issues, knee problems, or breathing difficulties. And with such extensive offerings in both equipment and exercises, a Pilates program can be tailor-made to your issues and goals, making the work more effective. Please feel free to leave a comment with your questions about the exercises, the equipment or Pilates in general. I’d love to help you!

Check out a video tour with Nicole at the True Pilates Miami studio >>

All photos by Valerie D. Perry. Pictured: Jackie Bachor and Nicole LaBonde

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  1. dramamamafive@gmail.com'

    You’re right, Nicole, this does look a bit like a medieval torture chamber! I’ve never seen a studio like this. I’d love to have access to one!

  2. broadcastpink@outlook.com'

    Wow, this studio is amazing! I wish I could find a decent pilates studio where I’m at. I would love to get back into it. Thanks for sharing such great information.

  3. fitnessmom2895@gmail.com'

    I loved doing Pilates and using all of this same equipment…I went to the studio and had a trainer come to my home for mat workouts after our daughter was born…Awesome workout…I am know loving Pure Barre which reminds me somewhat of this 🙂

    • Thanks FitnessMom! Yes, barre and Pilates are definitely complimentary! I actually created my own barre class as well that is running in Miami and Philly called CABARRET!

  4. onlycys@hotmail.com'

    I can’t find a studio with a reformer anywhere in my area! I would love to own one(in my dreams). I absolutely love Pilate’s and wish someone would open a studio near me!!

  5. Pingback: All you need to know about Pilates Equipment! « Pilates « Full Circle Studio « East Vancouver Pilates, Yoga & Teacher Training

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