Pilates is much more than sit ups done on a mat. Joseph Pilates's method of exercise was first developed as method of rehabilitation during World War I. Pilates drew from the principles of many exercise disciplines as wide ranging as gymnastics and yoga to create what he called Contrology, now known by his eponym, Pilates.

Contrology was a series of 34 mat exercises which were outlined in one of two books he published. This mat exercises were challenging so Pilates  developed to include a range of apparatus, the most common of which is the Reformer to help his clients develop the strength and coordination needed to do the mat exercises. The concepts taught in Pilates build solid foundation for any movement, exercise or sport by improving  basic control and stability of the body.

Pilates in Rehabilitation

Echoing much of the same concepts that form the basis of most orthopedic rehabilitation and therapy (proper alignment, correct muscle activation patterns, etc), Pilates can is used to successfully treat many common orthopedic conditions and injuries. Pilates has been shown to be especially beneficial for back pain. The variety and novelty of exercising on Pilates Apparatus like the Reformer, Trapeze Table, Wunda Chair, and Ladder Barrel keep physical therapy fun and interesting for patients.

The power of utilizing the Pilates apparatus lies in its ability to provide mechanical advantage. Imagine, if you will, putting a screw into a wall using just your fingers. Now imagine putting that same screw into a wall using a screwdriver. This is mechanical advantage. The assistance or resistance that the Pilates apparatus provides allows the patient to work their body in a range of motions that that otherwise would be difficult effectively or safely maintain. 

What Pilates is like at FVPT

Our physical therapists integrate these Pilates' unique machines into physical therapy for challenging and fun therapeutic exercise. Most patients start exercising on either the Trapeze Table or Reformer. The goal with both machines is to gain range of motion with control so exercises are done slowly against progressively increasing resistance. 

There are five primary pieces of apparatus upon which Pilates exercises can be performed - the Reformer, Trapeze Table (also known as the Pilates Cadillac), Chair, Ladder Barrel and Spine Corrector/Arc Barrel. All pieces require a trained therapist instructor to lead the participant through a series of exercises beneficial to the patients rehabilitation needs.

The Trapeze Table

The Trapeze Table, also known as the Cadillac was originally created by Joseph Pilates as a way for soldiers in Europe to rehabilitate their bodies while still recuperating from their hospital beds. Joseph began hooking up ropes, pulleys and springs to the beds, which he termed the Bednasium, which later became the Trapeze Table. The Trapeze Table is a large apparatus with vertical poles placed at the corners of a large, elevated mat, with springs, a push-thru bar and roll-down bar, and a trapeze bar attached to the poles. This piece of equipment was created to address specific rehabilitative and alignment needs as well as enable deep stretching and symmetrical movement such as rehabilitation exercises.

Almost every muscle group can be isolated, trained, and strengthened on this machine - it is an excellent tool for breaking down motion into small pieces to restore correct motion patterns. For example, using the leg springs is one of the best ways to get people to fully use their hamstrings, a muscle group that when properly conditioned can both improve walking and protect the knees from injury.

The Reformer

The Reformer evolved after the Trapeze, utilizing spring resistance like in the Cadillac, but also incorporating a moving base (carriage) to increase the range and variety of exercises available. The Reformers used today are modeled closely after Joseph's first pieces used in his New York studio, and are designed with a moving carriage, springs, straps to control the carriage, and an adjustable footbar, allowing clients to perform exercises in a variety of positions. The resistance of the springs and straps is what enables most of the strengthening and lengthening benefits of the Reformer exercises.

The crux of this machine is in the gliding platform on which one can sit, kneel, stand or lie on their front, back or side. The user pushes and pulls off the footbar using either the arms or legs to slide back and forth along the rails in a controlled manner while the tension in the springs gently works muscles.

The Wunda Chair

The Wunda Chair was developed in the 1940s as the original portable home gym. The chair was developed to assure correct symmetry while developing and toning the body at the same time. The exercises performed on the Wunda chair are considered to be very challenging, as the Wunda Chair requires balance and stabilization of the body as well as huge recruitment of the neuromuscular system. The Chair consists of a box-like seat with an spring loaded pedal attached to the base. There are also optional handles for support on either side.  Many exercises on the chair are performed while seated or standing and then pressing down on the step/pedal with your feet. Variations of lunges, supported push ups or pull ups, and core work can be done on Pilates' Chair. Adjustable springs allow for wide variation in tension and difficulty. 

The Ladder Barrel

Like the name says, this piece of Pilates equipment consists of ladder-like rungs and a rounded barrel-like surface on which many stretching, strengthening and flexibility exercises can be performed. The barrel is separated from the ladder by a sliding base that can adjust to accommodate different torso sizes and leg lengths in a range of Pilates exercises. The ladder rungs - four to six in total - are also adjustable to facilitate varying levels of fitness.

The Pilates Ladder Barrel helps isolate deep postural muscles and challenges the body on all planes of movement. For example, one exercise has you sitting on the barrel facing the ladder with your feet secured in the rungs, then you arch back over the barrel with your vertebrae following its contour and activate the core abdominals to return to the starting position in a controlled manner. Other exercises have you facing the other way, with your belly on the barrel, giving you a supported spinal stretch that helps to release tension.

The Spine Corrector and Arc Barrels

The Spine Corrector, or Hump Barrel, is one of the smaller barrel apparatus, and is designed to do just what its name indicates - correct imbalances and weaknesses in the spine. Most exercises are performed by lying with your back arched over the barrel portion. The design includes a "V" shape where the barrel and seat connect, simulating the same shape in space as many Pilates exercises such as the Teaser and Hip Circles. The arc barrel is smaller than the spine corrector and has a gentler curve.


"I invented all these machines. Began back in Germany, was there until 1925, used to exercise rheumatic patients. I thought, why use my strength? So I made a machine to do it for me. Look, you see it resists your movements in just the right way so those inner muscles really have to work against it. That way you can concentrate on movement."

~Joseph H. Pilates