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,”) 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,”) 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,”) 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.

Regina Joseph. “The Father of Invention.” Pilates Style September/October 2006.

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The "Return to Life": Pilates after an Injury Recently the studio has received a lot of inquiries from people who are at their wits' end with fitness: "Nothing works." "I'm in pain every day." "I've tried everything I can think of.""Will Pilates help me?"For someone who suffers an injury or undergoes an operation, rehabilitating the body is critical to the healing process, which is still ongoing after physical therapy concludes. We meet many people who have been signed off as "all better" by their healthcare providers, but now are unsure what the next step is. The fact is, they don't feel all better. There's still a lot of work to be done. But after physical therapy, getting a gym membership isn't a solution. A lot of these people are wondering, "Where can I go?"We're so glad you asked! At Dynamic Fitness, we understand that someone recovering from an injury or surgery needs an exercise regimen that is careful, personal, and adaptable. A classical Pilates studio provides just such an environment. It's important that your physician has first cleared you for exercise before beginning a Pilates regimen. At Dynamic Fitness, we can only start working with new clients who are recuperating from surgery or an injury once their doctors can recommend physical exercise. Once you've passed this milestone, however, you're ready to discover a fitness method that can be just as gentle and safe as it is effective. The classical Pilates method includes over 300 motions, and this already broad vocabulary has the potential to explode when you work with an experienced, certified instructor. The instructors at Dynamic Fitness are deeply knowledgeable about modifications to each exercise that can accommodate the places that are still healing, while you continue to reap the benefits of a full-body workout.The Pilates apparatus are also designed for accessibility and refined control. Take, for example, the springs of the Reformer and Tower, with different weights to support or challenge the muscles depending on your needs. You can also get a lot of work done on the Cadillac, which in many ways resembles a traditional physical therapy or massage table. It's just the right height to make mounting and dismounting easy, and you can work out the entire body on its strong, stable frame. When you're going through physical rehab, all your energy and focus goes to the part of the body that you're trying to fix. In Pilates, we don't focus on the problem. Instead, we work with you to condition the body whole. Instead of thinking in terms of what is broken, we think in terms of what really works. Our clients tell us this makes a dramatic difference in achieving physical restoration and a feeling of radiant wellbeing.Have you reached your wits' end with fitness? Don't give up! Call or email Dynamic Fitness to discuss the challenges you're currently facing, and learn more about the power of Pilates to restore your body and rejuvenate your life.Contact us: https://www.pilates-sarasota.com/contactPilates 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 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! Sandbag - 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 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.Pinwheel - 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/).