Reformer, Mat, Tower: How to Find Your Perfect Pilates Class
When it comes to models getting toned and lithe, a lot of them turn to Pilates. Karlie Kloss and Miranda Kerr are both fans. But what if you have never set foot in a Pilates studio let alone know your Tower from your Wunda? Here we have called on London-based bePilates's founder Dawne Likhodedova to give us a handy Pilates for Beginners guide. This is the perfect tool to help you know what's involved, what type of class to book and where to start. Keep scrolling for Dawne Likhodedova's model-approved advice and expertise.
Joseph Pilates created many pieces of equipment to be used with his method of body conditioning. The most common pieces of apparatus in studios around the world include the reformer, the trapeze table, specialised chairs and a mat. Usually, when we get asked to compare different types of Pilates, what is often considered different types of Pilates is really a comparison of the different types of Pilates equipment. So to get us started, here is a brief introduction of the most common types of equipment that makes the Pilates system so unique.
Joseph Pilates's Wunda Chair was originally designed for home practice. Keeping in mind the small sizes of many New York City apartments, it would double as a functional piece of furniture you could sit on and use in your home. With a focus on lower body strength and power, upper body strength and core stability, it's easy to see why many of our athletic clients enjoy a programme that includes exercises on the Wunda Chair.
Ever notice how a Pilates mat is a bit thicker than a yoga mat or perhaps that it's even raised with a dowel on one end and a strap on the other? Joseph Pilates's method involves many exercises for spinal strength and mobility and the thicker mat provides better protection for the spine.
The Pilates mat is a great environment for challenging the strength of the muscles of the hips, back, abdominals and glutes (aka the "powerhouse") as well as upper body strength and mobility. Without the assistance of spring tension that is available on other pieces of Pilates apparatus, the Pilates mat work may not be a suitable starting point for many clients.
The imposing structure of a stable platform surrounded by four poles and an overhead trapeze gives all new clients visions of a medieval torture device; however, the gains in spinal and hip mobility and strength and the upper and lower body strength provided by including this apparatus in a balanced Pilates workout quickly forgive any poor first impressions.
As a great alternative to a Pilates mat practice, beginners will be able to enjoy exercises otherwise not available to them on the mat or reformer and expert movers will find challenges they can't get anywhere else. As part of a well-rounded Pilates programme, it is an essential piece of the kit.
The Pilates reformer, otherwise known as the universal reformer, provides a great, full-body workout. Using your arms and legs you will push and pull against spring resistance on a moving carriage. Exercises range from simple to super-advanced and can easily be modified, making a reformer workout suitable for most clients and an attractive option for group fitness.
The tower can be attached to the reformer or in some cases used against a wall with a mat. It allows you to try some of the moves you would usually perform on the cadillac. The tower can also be used to isolate muscles through the movements performed on it and it's a great aid to a really good stretch!
Finding the right class for you.
Anyone who has been to more than one Pilates studio knows, that even if studios are using the same exact equipment, workouts can be very different and so it is difficult to know what to expect. You may notice differences not just from studio to studio, but also from teacher to teacher, depending on how they were trained and their past experiences (or possible lack thereof) of Pilates as a method.
So how can you figure out what type of Pilates workout is for you? Here are some descriptions of generally accepted styles to help you identify teachers and studios who may help you achieve your fitness and wellness goals. This is by no means an exhaustive list of Pilates class out there, but these are some of the most common.
Classical Pilates describes the style of Joseph Pilates's protégé Romana Kryzanowska and passed on to those trained by her and so forth. Classical Pilates follows a strict repertoire, training protocols and specific apparatus. You can expect that there will be only slight variation between teachers who are classically trained. Expect classic Pilates moves like The Hundred, The Bicycle and The Jack Knife.
Traditional Pilates is a term meant to be inclusive of the Pilates method taught to all of the "Pilates elders," including: Romana Kryzanowska, Kathy Grant, Mary Bowen, Ron Fletcher, Eve Gentry, Lolita San Miguel, Carola Trier, Jay Grimes, Bruce King, Rob Fitzgerald and others) by Joseph Pilates and his partner Clara, and includes many of the same exercises, protocols and apparatus of the classical Pilates method with additional variations/modifications that were provided to each of these "elders", based on their strengths and limitations who carried on Joseph Pilates work, either in his name or their own.
You can expect that there will be slight to moderate variation between teachers who are traditionally trained via each of these different lineages but that teachers trained within each lineage have more similarities than differences.
Contemporary Pilates describes a style of Pilates that may include some traditional Pilates exercises and allows for greater modification and variation. It may be influenced by other modalities (for example, Feldenkrais, fitness training, yoga or physiotherapy, depending on the teacher's prior training and experience). It may or may not include props like foam rollers, balls or bands. Contemporary workouts do not usually follow the same training protocol as traditional or classical. A contemporary workout may be apparatus biased, for example, a Pilates mat or a Pilates reformer class. Sequencing is generally up to the teacher or studio and can vary in style moderately from teacher to teacher.
Dynamic Pilates could be considered a subcategory of contemporary Pilates and may or may not include any traditional pilates exercises. Dynamic Pilates is often influenced by group fitness or personal training protocols, using the Pilates reformer, or similar, to provide the resistance for the workout. Sessions may focus heavily on one muscle group (for example, legs and glutes), whereas a traditional or classical pilates session focuses more on the whole body.
Pilates Hybrids could also be considered a subcategory of contemporary Pilates. In addition to all of the styles I've included above, these hybrids are commonly influenced in more obvious ways by modalities such as boxing, barre or yoga.
While all styles aim to give you a great workout, it's fair to say that just like any other fitness modality, there is no one-size-fits-all option. Keep an open mind and don't be afraid to ask teachers about their training. Take advantage of introductory offers at different studios until you find the right fit for you.