Pilates Plus: Accessories to Help You Go the Distance

Most people with even just a passing acquaintance with Pilates are familiar with the popular Ab Series from mat classes, and the Reformer is easily recognizable after a few sessions at a classical Pilates studio. But there’s a whole other closet that’s waiting to be opened. It’s full of toys, gadgets, and other accessories that are designed to give you that deeper stretch or extra push. Let’s take a peek inside!

Magic CircleMagic Circle – The late Pilates elder Romana Kryzanowska suggested that Joseph Pilates’ fondness for beer led to the development of the Magic Circle. The springy hoop that we use to enhance leg and arm exercises may have been inspired from the metal hoops encircling the kegs of Joe’s favorite brew. Fitness fact, or Pilates legend? Ponder on that while the Magic Circle goes to work on your hip adductors!



SandbagsSandbag – Attached to a short bar or held directly in the hands, the sandbag adds a little extra heft to Pilates exercise. Working with a sandbag can strengthen the wrists, helping to relieve symptoms of carpal tunnel. They can also deepen stretches and make gravity work in your favor to get even more out of reps (which, in comparison to other forms of exercise, the Pilates method keeps low). Most sandbags come with adjustable weight, so you can tailor them to fit to your comfort level with different exercises.


Jump BoardJump Board – In its inception, this extension of the Reformer had nothing to do with exercise; it was actually prototyped in the late ’80s by NASA scientists to simulate the effects of weightlessness on astronauts-in-training. However, the Pilates method has a history of being popular among professional dancers and gymnasts. For these athletes, practicing and strengthening their jump is a critical exercise. The original manufacturer of Pilates equipment, Gratz Design, modified NASA’s prototype to fit the Reformer, and the Jump Board was born.


PinwheelPinwheel – Now for something completely different. In the Pilates method, everything originates from the core, and that’s not just the abdominal muscles. The core also includes the diaphragm, which controls the breath — and the breath is an essential part of Pilates practice. Yes, it’s all too easy to forget about the breath as you’re fighting to support the perfect Teaser, and that’s why the Pinwheel (also called the “Breath-a-cizer”) has been part of the method from the beginning. Making it spin with your exhale provides valuable visual feedback that brings focus back to the breath and trains you to empty the lungs completely. Joseph Pilates invented this handheld device to increase his students’ lung capacity, flush all stale air from the respiratory system, and help the body eliminate atmospheric pollutants.

That’s not all you’ll find in the Pilates toy chest! Whether you need a little assistance in accessing a certain exercise, you want to improve your form, or you’re eager to challenge your body to reach the next level, just ask your Pilates instructor about incorporating Pilates accessories into your regular method.

Photos of Pilates accessories courtesy of Peak Pilates® (http://www.peakpilates.com/ and Pilatesology (https://pilatesology.com/.

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Pilates Apocrypha: The "Lost" Apparatus Joseph Pilates was the mad scientist of fitness. As a teenager, he experimented on his own sickly body to achieve the physical transformation promised by his fitness method. Studying a global spectrum of exercise techniques (including gymnastics, boxing, and martial arts), he worked for decades to perfect his exercise techniques and the equipment to achieve them. In his adulthood, Joe was like a massively productive, well-oiled machine. He opened a studio devoted to his method and gained the following that would perpetuate the Pilates method for decades to come. He published books on integrated fitness and built his original workout machines by hand. But for all that creativity and energy, Joe was only human, after all. If you dig into his history, a couple of harebrained schemes and experiments gone awry are bound to emerge from the dust of his most famous accomplishments.In earlier blogs, we looked back on the Pilates system's origins in the British internment camps of World War I. (More reading: "What's in a Name? Funny Pilates Terms Explained," www.pilates-sarasota.com/blog/funny-pilates-terms-explained/)  In an effort to keep his fellow inmates healthy and strong under sometimes deadly conditions, Joe began to develop both the exercises and the equipment of his fitness method. Before the Cadillac, there was the "bednasium," which is exactly what it sounds like -- a barracks bunk or hospital bed outfitted with mattress springs for resistance. This earliest incarnation of the traditional Pilates apparatus enabled someone to get exercise in spite of his situation or physical condition.Fitness journalists have described Joe as being on a "fervent mission" to refine his inventions and create the perfect fitness equipment. Not content to settle with just an exercise bed, after the war Joe went on to work on a whole apartment of fitness furniture in his Manhattan studio, even going on to file patent applications for a line of "Pilates Automated Balanced Health Furniture." Now, that's a mouthful. The original Health Furniture line was never patented, although a certain "stiff-backed high chair" included in the collection sounds very familiar to anyone who's worked out on a modern Electric Chair (we have one in our studio!).Joe's legacy is the classical fitness method that bears his name, along with the suite of apparatus that he perfected in his lifetime. (More reading: "The Dynamic Fitness Guide to Classical Pilates Apparatus," www.pilates-sarasota.com/blog/dynamic-fitness-guide-to-classical-pilates-apparatus)  Classical Pilates has proven to be no fad or flash in the pan, nor did it follow Joe out when he left this world in 1967. Beginning with the Pilates "elders," new generations of Pilates instructors have taken Joe's magnum opus to the next level. With the creativity and expertise of each new instructor, the Pilates method grows with adaptations for different levels of physical ability, in special considerations for bodies recovering from surgery or injury (More reading: "The 'Return to Life': Pilates after an Injury," www.pilates-sarasota.com/blog/Pilates-after-injury),  and in discovering new ways to challenge oneself to achieve maximum, holistic wellbeing. In our next article, we'll review some of these "extensions" to the method and how they work. Sources:Regina Joseph. "The Father of Invention." Pilates Style September/October 2006.What Is the Most Essential Pilates Apparatus? Lately we've been talking a lot about apparatus in the Dynamic Fitness blog -- the cornerstones of the classical Pilates studio, accessories to amplify your practice, and even some crazy gadgets that never made it off the drawing board -- but it's time that we acknowledge the single most important apparatus in the whole Pilates method. It doesn't demand an expensive purchase or a lot of extra workout space. It's completely portable and even washable (although we don't recommend dry cleaning).  It's used in every single Pilates exercise, from footwork to breathwork and everything in between. Figured it out yet? ... It's your body.Perhaps this is best exemplified in the famous Pilates "mat class," which in some studios takes the spotlight over the apparatus themselves.  Pilatesology (https://pilatesology.com ), one of our favorite wellsprings of Pilates knowledge, describes mat-work as "the purest form of Pilates," since it was developed by founder Joseph Pilates long before the Cadillac and Reformer emerged from his imagination. Stretched out on the mat, you feel gravity's full effects on every muscle in your body. Using the weight of your own limbs to work against a literal force of nature helps your muscles develop strength holistically. That is, you're not focused on "shredding" vanity muscles; instead, your muscle groups work together in an integrated way. When you raise your arms or extend the legs, you're training the deep muscles that align the spine. And of course, every exercise goes back to the core, with an intent focus on quality of movement over quantity of motions. Yes, the mechanical apparatus get a lot of attention, and that's because they are pretty amazing examples of fitness design. Joseph Pilates developed most of them specifically for his method, and they've remained virtually unchanged for 80 years or so. At Dynamic Fitness, our goal is to offer the Sarasota community an unparalleled resource for classical Pilates. To that end, we have developed a studio space that showcases the apparatus, and our instructors are certified with hundreds of hours of training in how to use these machines at every experience level and for each unique body. But the Pilates method is not all about machines. Let's not forget that they have no motors or electrical parts; the energy to put them in motion comes from you! Maybe you're curious about Pilates, but aren't sure about how a Reformer would ever fit in your living room. Maybe you already train regularly in a Pilates studio, but you're starting to feel like once a week just isn't enough. Rest assured that wherever you go, Pilates will go with you. Our instructors can work with you one-on-one to develop an exercise routine tailored to your needs that you can practice at home, in your favorite gym, or on the beach. Contact us to schedule a private session and discover that the Pilates environment is all around you.