What piece of Pilates equipment is your favorite, and why? For this issue, we asked instructors to share their equipment preferences, along with teaching tips and equipment mistakes to avoid.
Multitasking on the Chair
“One of my favorite pieces of Pilates equipment is the chair. It facilitates functional exercises and emphasizes stability. It can be used as a rehabilitative tool, and it also provides a very challenging, athletic workout. Utilizing the chair is a great way to teach balance, leg alignment and whole-body integration. With standing footwork, for instance, you can cue excellent alignment on the standing leg, which is the stabilizer, while the moving leg is working just as hard. During this, the client is breathing, stabilizing the pelvis, lengthening the spine and activating the deep core muscles. It’s multitasking at its finest!
“There’s a lot of emphasis on eccentric control on the chair, in part because the springs are so heavy. Teaching clients to move with control in both directions at the same pace trains their muscles to be smart. For example, if you want to work the hamstrings, start with supine leg pumps. Most people have better success with the pedal on the way down, but slowly raising it back up takes a lot more control. Often, the hamstrings get worked concentrically; however, focusing on the eccentric part of the contraction can build a lot of strength.
“The chair also shows imbalances. On other pieces of equipment, the body can be so supported that it’s hard to see muscular imbalances. So much can shine through on the chair. You can use it as a tool to learn about your clients’ strengths and weaknesses and also to allow the clients to feel what’s shifting in their bodies. Be creative and add single-arm or single-leg movements, and you’ll be able to see where a client is stronger or weaker or has less control.
“Springs are everything; the same spring setting isn’t right for everyone. It’s crucial to offer the right amount of resistance or assistance for a client’s size, strength and ability. If you’re doing lunges on top of the chair, [heavy] spring[s] will assist clients too much, and [assisting them] too little may cause them to struggle, overly recruit the quadriceps and hike their hip. Give just enough support to maintain excellent alignment and at the same time challenge strength.”
—Karin Twigg, owner/instructor, Awaken Pilates, Minneapolis
Keeping Core Focus on the Tower
“My favorite Pilates apparatus is the tower, also referred to as the wall unit. However, I think it’s underutilized in many studios and ignored in many trainings. Many instructors are not well versed in its function or do not feel confident to teach on it.
“The tower allows for great versatility, and you can seamlessly weave in mat work. I think of it as mat work with props. The props include a combination of springs and all the cadillac attachments, mixed with small, portable props such as magic circles, balls and bands. This creates a versatile, challenging and fun class. It’s also a powerful combination for promoting core strength, muscle toning and excellent mind-body coordination.
“I find [that the tower also offers] a safer, more controlled environment [than the reformer] for teaching group classes. Because the main platform doesn’t move, it’s less complicated. In a sense, fewer things can go wrong, allowing participants to put more focus on the core connection and less on equipment setup. Fewer moving parts can mean a more intense, core-focused workout. Being able to stretch your muscles while strengthening your core, without being confined to a ‘moving bed,’ means you have to use more of your own balance and overall core strength, just as in mat work. This creates a strong mind-body fusion and allows the body to move with more efficiency, grace and balance.
“The most common mistake instructors make when using Pilates equipment is forgetting what the work is truly about. Instructors can get so creative—especially when using the reformer—that the work becomes more about the limbs or the periphery and less about the core. It’s also easy to just throw out exercise names and count reps as a client flails about without making any deep core connection. Many people put together jazzy sequences only to then aimlessly cue movement. How you cue can mean the difference between transforming a client’s body and that same client feeling she didn’t get a real workout. It’s the details that make the work outstanding.”
—Noelle Rox, owner, Noelle Rox Pilates, Pacific Palisades, California
What’s your favorite equipment, and how do you make the most of it for each client’s unique needs? We look forward to hearing from you!