Classical Pilates Apparatus

Classical Pilates & The Apparatus

Joseph Pilates was a pioneer in exercise theory long before familiar terms like sports science and movement analysis were coined. Born in 1883, he suffered from asthma, rickets and rheumatic fever as a child but overcame these ailments through a range of exercise regimes. He devoted his life to studying and collating the exercise regimes, which he tested and explored himself and through working with patients during his internment in the UK during World War I.

The exercise method that Pilates developed was originally called ‘Contrology’. It involved a series of mat-based exercises that “develops the body uniformly, corrects wrong postures, restores physical vitality, invigorates the mind & elevates the spirit.” At the core of the Contrology method is a focus on the core postural muscles, spinal alignment and awareness of the breath. The exercises develop stability and poise through controlled motions, utilising oppositional forces to lengthen and strengthen the body. His book, ‘Return to Life through Contrology’, made these exercises available to the general public in 1945 and they have since gone on to form the core of the mat exercises that are taught in Classical Pilates classes around the world.

Joseph Pilates’ ingenious use of springs, pulleys and straps within the Contrology apparatus provides gentle resistance, ensures greater precision and more control in the execution of the movements. The Classical Pilates apparatus that emerged from his years of research include the Universal Reformer, the Cadillac and the Wunda Chair.

The Universal Reformer

The Universal Reformer was one of the first full pieces of apparatus designed and used by Joseph Pilates, with its initial inspiration coming from the bedsprings of the internment camp in which he spent years in during World War I. The reformer consists of a moving carriage on which you can lie, sit or kneel to perform exercises which involve controlled movements against gentle resistance. The carriage provides a supportive platform for the body but the level of difficultly can be varied through adjusting the spring tension.

The Cadillac

The Pilates Cadillac is reported to have been named by Joseph after its automobile counterpart during his time in America. This large and supportive piece of apparatus is ideal for rehabilitation work, but the Cadillac repertoire also stretches and strengthens bodies of all ages and ability. This hugely versatile piece of equipment can be used for simple spring-assisted sit ups through to more complex motions, like advanced acrobatics.


Designed by Master Pilates Teacher Ellie Herman, this piece of apparatus provides an invigorating full-body workout using the same spring-loaded mechanisms as the reformer and Cadillac. We have six Springboards within our mat studio, which enable us to include techniques that usually only possible on the Cadillac, like a spring-assisted sit up, within our studio apparatus classes.