You’ve Peaked my Pinterest! 6 Indispensable Pilates Apparatus

You've Peaked my Pinterest! 6 Indispensable Pilates Apparatus

Thank you, lovely Pinterest followers for making the above image into my most popular pin.

Pinned 206 times as of this writing, it's the mantra I use to improve my teaching skills.

Every. Day.

Let's throw down the gauntlet and aspire to greatness.

Choose Wisely

When skill-building in the Pilates system we are faced with a never-ending series of choices.

It's a Pilates choose-your-own-adventure! The choices you'll make will lead you and your clients along the Pilates path in as direct a manner as possible.

OMG this is the Holy Grail for Pilates instructors.

It's a tall order, I know.

But time is on our side and they tell me Rome was not built in a day. We'll move toward our goal incrementally each day.

Success in the Pilates method is more marathon than sprint. Keep this in mind.

  • Day 1: you will plant the apple seed.
  • Day 2: you will not yet be enjoying a juicy apple!

Patience, grasshopper.

I choo-choo-choo- choose you

Joe Pilates has given us numerous opportunities to choose wisely.

Take a look around the studio.

In addition to our old standbys the Reformer and the Mat, we've got a trio of chairs and of barrels.

It's the collection of exercises on these 6 pieces of ofttimes peripheral apparatus that we can turn into one of our greatest assets. Within this grouping of chairs and barrels lies the perfect spot to work on a variety of connections for lots of different folks.

The Spring Remains the Same

At first blush, the work you'll do on the Chairs and Barrels may feel different from the Reformer and Mat exercises. But remember they are all part of a larger system.

All Systems Go

When viewed through the lens of the entire Pilates system the 3 Pilates Chairs and 3 Pilates Barrels become remarkably similar to our old friends the Reformer and the Mat:

For example, on the Chairs the springs are familiar.

  • They assist us.
  • They offer us support.
  • They remind us with a bang when we've gotten out of control.

We must use our lift and always aspire to close the spring with control.

This is the main objective of any apparatus with springs.

In Elephant on the Reformer you will close the spring.

Same for the Pull Up on the Wunda Chair.

I think I'm gonna like it here.

In comparison, the Barrels are bereft of springs and therefore more similar to the Mat. Like the Mat, they require you to fasten some of you into the apparatus while other parts of you reach long and away. The round shape of the barrel apparatuses allows gravity to work in our favor for a change.

The upper body reaches over the fastened in lower body in the Roll Up.

Arm Circles on the Spine Corrector again fasten you into a seated position while the upper body reaches back over the barrel.

We can get even more support here, and a template upon which to correct our upper backs, chest and shoulders.

Quite a nice little bonus.

Scrubbing Bubbles

I have found several exercises on the Chairs and Barrels that fall into the category of exercises I call “The Scrubbing Bubbles.”


Yes, I'm always on the lookout for an exercise I can use to do my work for me.

Get ready for the Chairs and Barrels, friends…

We only have one exercise!

Arm yourself with the premise of the Pilates method and you are all set for a Chairs and Barrels choose-your-own-adventure!

Our mission:

To find the 2-way stretch at its most advantageous.

The Arm Chair

You've Peaked my Pinterest! 6 Indispensable Pilates Apparatus

One of my favorite go-to exercises on the Arm Chair is simply the Arm Circles.

Small or big circles, the Arm Chair with its light springs really teaches people how to use their back muscles instead of their arms and shoulders.

And make no mistake, it is the Chair that is teaching the exercise. I am merely a guide. At first, this apparatus will be unfamiliar to the student. With repeated practice and time, you'll watch these exercises greatly improve, magically, before your eyes.

The Rowing Series (#3,4,5,6) is a frickin' dream here. The back of the Arm Chair is supportive and communicative.

The Rowing exercises on the Reformer will reap the benefits of diligent Arm Chair practice.

You've Peaked my Pinterest! 6 Indispensable Pilates Apparatus

Photo courtesy of Fredrik Prag of Pilates Scandinavia

The High Chair

Going Up Front is an amazingly valuable exercise and the High Chair is a safe and sturdy place to work it.

Talk about lift!

The vertical orientation of the Chair communicates the 2-way stretch clearly.

The springs provide strong support and assistance to lift the pedal.

What goes up…

Must come down…


In opposition of the lift upward, here students can discover their lower body.

Now with a new awareness of the lower body, the student can begin to find their seat and sort out their hips.

Weaker sides rejoice!

And for those of us who are a bit unbalanced, uh… who have imbalances… (like moi) Going Up Front will provide years of challenge and entertainment.

Give it a go. Use your 2-way stretch to pull yourself apart at the waistline.

Reach begets lift.

The Wunda Chair

On the Wunda Chair you'll find one of the most effective tools for perfecting Footwork on the Reformer.


It's quite a Scrubbing Bubbles exercise for me.

Footwork on the Wunda Chair

A combination of being upright plus the action of closing the springs as much as possible – and it is possible – greatly improves the work of the seat and the entire lower body.

You've Peaked my Pinterest! 6 Indispensable Pilates ApparatusYou've Peaked my Pinterest! 6 Indispensable Pilates ApparatusYou've Peaked my Pinterest! 6 Indispensable Pilates Apparatus

And your Footwork on the Reformer will be the better for it.

Especially for the folks that overuse their legs in the Footwork on the Reformer and have a hard time finding length in the back (guilty), being vertical is amazingly helpful.

And you haven't really felt your scoop in Footwork on the Wunda until that pedal closes.

Oh, scoop…right…

Use your seat to get a smidge more lift upon pressing the pedal down and then really push that pedal away – resist it – as your stomach lifts in and up to close the spring.

Holy opposition!

I'm telling you, this exercise is golden.

The 3 Pilates Barrels

You've Peaked my Pinterest! 6 Indispensable Pilates Apparatus

Yes. There are many kinds of exercises that can be done on these round apparatus, but I take my cue from the name of one of them: Spine Corrector.

Why are we here?

The answer to this question is very important. The name ‘spine corrector' is the key to understanding the purpose of working on all the barrels. They are all about opening: opening the spine, the chest, the hips, the shoulders. Correcting imbalances in the back.

Get ready for gravity to be your best friend.

The Barrels, especially the Small Barrel and Spine Corrector, pair beautifully with the Mat, which is also bereft of springs. In Joe Pilates' studio the Mat and the Spine Corrector/Small Barrel were constant companions.

Jay Grimes refers to the Spine Corrector exercises as a kind of coda to the Mat exercises.

They go together,
Like rama lamma lamma ka dinga da dinga dong
Remembered forever
As shoobop sha wadda wadda yippity boom de boom
Chang chang changitty chang shoobop
That's the way it should be, wha ooohhh

Just for the record, Jay did not sing this to me…

The Small Barrel

I simply adore this little guy.

Both the Small Barrel and the Spine Corrector (depending on the body) are my favorite exercises to use to alleviate tension in the arms and shoulders.

You've Peaked my Pinterest! 6 Indispensable Pilates Apparatus

The Arm Circles Series (including Breathing, pictured above) is a wonderful way to introduce students to their backs. They must have a powerhouse first of course, just look at that position.

How easy it would be to just lie back and let it all hang out, no bueno.

I love this series of exercises. It is simply brilliant at communicating (over time) that we should use our arms and shoulders less and find more lift and connection to the trunk of the body.

The waistline must lift as the arms reach – almost as though you could stretch yourself all the way over to the other side of the Barrel. Not just your arms, YOU. Lifted up. And over there.

The Arm Circles get my Scrubbing Bubbles vote!

The Spine Corrector

The series of 3 Mat exercises that are done on the Small Barrel and Spine Corrector are just wonderfully delicious.

You've Peaked my Pinterest! 6 Indispensable Pilates Apparatus

Scissors, Bicycle and Shoulder Bridge are brilliant for teaching the long reach of the lower body. Men with tight thighs, hips and lower backs benefit so much from these 3 exercises.

I love this series for whittling away at those who cannot sit up in Spine Stretch Forward without being all bunched up in the hip flexors. Gradually the Spine Corrector will do all of your work for you.

Plus you've got the Thigh Stretch on the Mat for those peeps and the Tree!

Sigh…what was life like before the Tree?

The Ladder Barrel

The Mack Daddy of the Barrels, the Ladder Barrel does all the Spine Correcting of the other 2 smaller barrels by upping the challenge and being part jungle gym as well.

Here's another place to do the Tree as well as a challenging Backbend series that takes your Roll Up to a whole new level.

You've Peaked my Pinterest! 6 Indispensable Pilates ApparatusConnection to the back? Check!

Lower Body Reach and your seat? You'd better get that together before approaching the Ladder Barrel.

The Ladder Barrel is truly the go-to place for success in the Swan. Gravity is your friend to find length in the back you never knew you had.

This is not an easy exercise and often it's no one's favorite. However, love for Swan on the Ladder Barrel is often found in perhaps the unlikeliest of places.

You've Peaked my Pionterest! 6 Indispensable Apparatus

Male client. 6'8″. Gratz Ladder Barrel. His fingertips literally touch the ceiling and he spans every inch of the Barrel. And. He. Loves. It.

It lights him up. He's got a lot of back to lift and lengthen as well. And he does it beautifully. Check out his Teaser here.

His Swan photo forthcoming…

Want to learn more?

Join me October 1-4 at Everybody Pilates, Portsmouth, UK and – poof! – this post will turn into a workshop!

You'll enjoy 4 jam-packed days of Pilates with me and Karen Frischmann who'll be debuting her new Masterclass format – exciting!! And of course, Amy Kellow and her amazing staff.


Register today.

The Universal Reformer: The Spring Remains the Same

The Universal Reformer: The Spring Remains the Same

I was fortunate to be in the inaugural class of The Work, a wonderful, thorough and humbling program of study under the direction of Jay Grimes offered by Vintage Pilates in Los Angeles.

Jay, Karen Frischmann and Sandy Shimoda helped me to understand and utilize all that the Reformer and the other springed apparatus have to offer as you make your way along your Pilates path.

The support, muscular action and connection you'll discover with the apparatus will be your best friend enabling you to take your workout to the Mat, bereft of springs, straps, handles, sans everything but you and your Mat.


The Premise of the Pilates Method

What can take years to correct on the Mat alone, you can address more directly and successfully through the use of the entire Pilates system.

OMG this just in from Benjamin Degenhardt:

In an interview from 1946 Joe Pilates discloses the purpose of the apparatus. He explains: “Of course you can exercise without machines. But it’s not as efficient – would take longer. With them, three or four hours work a week is enough.”

In the same interview, he further implies that one of the many purposes of his apparatus was to provide tactile feedback, much like a teacher’s hand:

“I invented all these machines. I thought, why use my strength? So I made a machine to do it for me. Look, you see it resists your movement in just the right way so those long inner muscles really have to work against it. That is why you can concentrate on movement.” (Read the full article here.)

Use it or Lose it

Recently I sat down with Karen Frischmann. Karen teaches an amazing workshop with the above title. Sadly I cannot claim that one…

The purpose of the apparatus is to offer support and resistance so that you can get deeper into the body.

You can find the connections more readily if you are reaching into something that offers you support or resistance: the spring and the straps and the handles.

The classical Reformer has a very solid wooden handle to offer you secure and supportive connection to the apparatus.

The Universal Reformer: The Spring Remains the Same

The footbar is a solid and unforgiving piece of metal. Sometimes it is covered with a pad. But I believe a firmer connection is gained when you ride bareback.

The Universal Reformer: The Spring Remains the Same

Everything about the Reformer, despite its moving platform, is stable, solid, giving you assistance and resistance.

You are being reformed!

The Reformer allows you to get deeper into the body with that kind of support so that when you do go to the Mat and we take that support away, you can still access the depth that you are getting on the apparatus.


The Reformer is there to offer you both assistance and resistance and if you are not fully using it, then why bother, just do the Mat.

We also discussed the value of Reformer work and how its effects can be found all around the studio, notably on the Mat.

The apparatus offers you opportunity for correct placement of the hands and the feet.

There's a lot of information that you can receive from how you hold the handles, how the feet are placed on the bar, how the foot gets placed on the carriage.

Whereas on the Mat there could be variances in the way the arms work, the Reformer helps to correct imbalances just by the nature in which you use the apparatus.

The Reformer can give you great information about your position in the exercise. Generally if a strap or handle is in your way (Frog and Circles) or you have slammed into the little wooden block at the back end of the Reformer, the Reformer is sending you a message:

Hey. Don't do that.

Karen Frischmann maintains that “you can learn from the Reformer, but it's not a replacement for a teacher. You need the eyes of the teacher and you need the understanding of how to correctly use the apparatus in order to allow it to teach you. It will inform the body, it will not teach you.”

The brilliance of the Reformer

The Universal Reformer: The Spring Remains the Same

What goes into the design and construction of this amazing apparatus?

Gratz Industries continues to make all the Pilates apparatus according to Joe Pilates' specific designs.

Comparable equipment is currently being manufactured by Pilates Designs by Basil, Tirado apparatus and Pilates Scandinavia.

I spoke recently with Fredrik and Elisabet Prag of Pilates Scandinavia. Fredrik and Elisabet, both Pilates teachers and beautiful practitioners, have operated their Stockholm studio for the past 40 years.

Pilates Scandinavia initially endeavored to create their own classical apparatus to offset the extreme cost of importing equipment from the US.

Fredrik Prag: 

We are Scandinavians and artists. I did 4 years in art school and became a graphic designer and artist. For some years I made my living as a painting artist. So this is of course a big influence in the process.

Elisabet is all about movement as a former dancer and has 3 decades of experience in Pilates and movement. All these experiences manifest in our line of equipment and of course we are also deeply inspired by the simplicity of the complex and powerful work of Joseph Pilates.

As a Pilates purist, it's hard for me to wrap my brain around the process of constructing a Reformer: to find the right mix of craftsmanship and humility to replicate this brilliant apparatus. 


The Reformer was the first apparatus we started on. We also did Mats, Wall units and the Wunda Chair. It was very, very difficult to put the reformer together! It felt like building a cello or something, it took years.

If you change 2 mm in one place it could completely change something else in a totally different place and/or exercise. Joe truly created a masterpiece in the Reformer. It is very complex and again extremely difficult to create one.

I believe from the experience of trying many different Reformers that the thought behind the Reformer is crucial. From all the information we gathered, in our opinion a Reformer that truly reflects the method does not exist today. Now it does.

Our Reformer, as we see it, is the only ‘old new' one on the market and absolutely one of a kind.  It took us around 10 years from the first idea to actually get it materialized.

I was excited to speak with Fredrik about the springs: how he selected them, where one finds them, etc… They are a crucial aspect of the Reformer's perfection.

And it's fun to nerd out and talk about springs, yes?


The springs we have made in Sweden and throughout the years we gained considerable experience. I remember a Reformer Elisabet got from England, a homemade one and the springs where so tough you did 10 repetitions of the first Footwork and your legs were burning.  

Today we are working more with the intention of the spring and what does it do? Today I know that due to the design of the spring I can bring life into the Reformer. The spring does not just pull the carriage back hard or soft. The spring gives space and time to the body and mind.

Yeah, that's what I'm talking about.

The spring gives the mind time to reflect upon what is happening. It's a very subtle but true sensation. So we have made the springs in this way to invite the body to move. 

But the spring all alone can’t do anything. This kind of spring needs the support of the wheels and the carriage. There is a fine-tuning aspect of all the aspects of the Reformer carriage that makes the spring ” sing” and the body can ”follow” into a new experience of resistance and support. 

In my opinion and experience the apparatus exists to bring a higher sense of presence into the body.

It enhances the vectors and directions and can bring more power into the body and break up the weakness of the body. One of our customers said after buying our Reformer “Its great! Now I don't need to explain everything they have to do, this Reformer teaches it to them and I can save my voice.”

For more information, visit

A big thank you to Karen Frischmann and Fredrik Prag for their contributions to this post.

Reformer word cloud created at

Read Alycea Ungaro's 3 Pilates Blogs to Follow.

Guess who made the list?

3 Essential Pilates Tips to Use in your Next Workout

3 Essential Pilates Tips to Use in your Next Workout


1. The IN: A positive spin on ‘suck'

I strive to be clear and concise with the words I choose. Experienced teachers are brilliant communicators and develop a knack for using words and concepts that speak to us universally.

In my first Pilates class, the action of the stomach, the scoop, as it was explained to me, is a pulling or “scooping” in of the belly while simultaneously lifting up. It is in this way that I would properly sculpt the stomach muscles. However, if I fail to pull inward and let my stomach push out, then a pushed-out-stomach aesthetic is what I would create. Eeek!

It is possible this is just my paranoid memory of wanting to do everything right, but I do often see clients tightening and bracing their abs outward instead of pulling in and up.

“No, in.”


“Suck it IN!”

I say let’s put a positive spin on ‘suck’. It is clearly communicative, but usually reserved for put downs. Sadly, it is often deep in negative land. ‘You suck,’ ‘That sucks,’ ‘Suck it.’ Yeah, not so positive.

But Suck it IN and you feel lifted and light and tall. Which brings me to #2…

Photo courtesy of Fredrik Prag of Pilates Scandinavia

Photo courtesy of Fredrik Prag of Pilates Scandinavia

2. The UP: Lift!

Pilates is positive. Everything is up and forward. Lift is inherent in all the Pilates exercises as you urge your muscles to to defy gravity. You can never go wrong if you get busy lifting.

However, in exercises like the Roll Up on the Mat, the lift can get lost. When rolling down, the ‘unrolling' part, in Rolling Back on the Cadillac and in the Hug (Round) on the Short Box it's easy to be distracted by what appears to be ‘down and backward' movement.

Let's examine what's going on on the inside: the Round shape of the body must have lift in there and it must not go away as you unroll your body. The lift must be in there to stretch and decompress the back as well as work your stomach.

3. The Springs: “How can we help?”

Joe Pilates designed his full complement of apparatus as a help to improve your Mat exercises. Much has been said about Joe Pilates' temperament, but it sure was swell of him to give us those springs. What a nice guy.

Proficient use of the spring(s) can make a huge difference in the exercise. The Springs can give you greater access to your Lift (Remember #2?) as well as good information.

The springs answer these questions and so many more:

  1. Are you in control?
  2. Are you working evenly on both sides?
  3. Are you pooping out before the exercise has finished?

Your primary objective on every apparatus is to control the closing of the spring(s). Yes, every apparatus! This is why we must practice. Keep in mind that the springs are a direct reflection of what's going on in the Suck/Lift of your Stomach.

So for example, let's take a look at lovely Fredrik up there on the Electric Chair in Going Up Front. His Lift is controlling the close of the springs and bringing the pedal up. This is an action shot. Bravo!

Do you have any favorite Pilates tips that you use in your workouts? I hope you'll consider sharing them by commenting below. I would love to hear from you. Thanks so much!

Inside the Pilates Studio: Fredrik Prag

Fredrik and Elisabet Prag are the owners of Pilates Scandinavia, Stockholm.

Inside the Pilates Studio: Fredrik Prag

Okay this installation of the Inside the Pilates Studio is quite exciting…By now you have grasped the great love I have for the Pilates Method and all its trappings. So let's talk about Sweden.

I love films in general but if it is foreign film, oh boy, if I can read subtitles and watch a movie I can barely contain my enthusiasm. Make it a foreign documentary and I nearly have to peel myself off the ceiling. My love affair with Sweden began in perhaps a cliché sort of way: the Steig Larrson trilogy. Movies first, and by accident really. I had no idea what the Girl with the Dragon Tattoo was about, but *you guessed it* it did have subtitles. A couple hours later I staggered out of the theatre. Mind. Blown. I would go on to watch all three Swedish films so many times I was convinced I could understand the dialogue without even reading. These proved to be a gateway drug to Larrson's novels, countless cups of coffee and also the works of Henning Mankell. Mostly the Wallander series but also some one-offs, most notably The Man from Beijing and The Depths. In my mind I traveled all over southern Sweden with Kurt Wallander, Mankell's famous Everyman inspector, and ferried across to Copenhagen. Mankell wrote the first book in the Wallander series in 1991. Evidently now one can train/drive to Copenhagen since the completion of the transnational Øresund Bridge in 2000. All this I learned while I contemplated purchasing a Volvo, mostly for the overseas delivery option and complimentary trip to Göteborg.

Okay, wait, where was I. Oh yes, the lovely man in the photo with the champagne, right! Sweden, Pilates and a bottle of champagne. Romana would be so happy 🙂 For the next studio party you must bring the champagne and Elisabet.

Just watch this short video. Warning: you are about to see some fantastic Pilates, Scandinavian-style. Make some coffee first.

Fredrik, Standing Arm Springs and the Guillotine

1. What is your favorite Pilates exercise and why?

Fredrik Prag: It varies. Right now it´s The Roll Over. It is such a great dynamic in this exercise. For me it gives power to the arms and with a stiff lower back and short hamstrings it is a release.

2. What exercise is your least favorite? Pick only one.

FP: It used to be the Roll Over:-)!

3. What turns you on creatively, mentally or physically about the Pilates method?

FP: The never ending challenge and gradually changing focus from the outer challenge into a more mental challenge that stays in the body and does not go to the head. Be out of your mind and in your body:-)!

4. What is your idea of earthly happiness?

FP: Truth, Love & a good Pilates mat session!

5. What to your mind would be the greatest misfortune?

FP: A bad Pilates mat session with 2 words “loose glutes” and “neutral spine.”

6. What is your favorite Pilates word?

FP: Squeeze your butt!

7. What is your least favorite Pilates word?

FP: Neutral Spine (makes me sick)

8. What profession other than your own would you like to attempt?

FP: I have had plenty in the past, I’m ok now!

9. If Heaven exists, and by some chance when you arrive at the pearly gates Joseph Pilates is also there, what would you like to hear him say to you?

FP: Do Mat!! Do Reformer!!

10. What did you learn today?

FP: Be easy!


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