Learn the Correct Nomenclature for Pilates Equipment

The Truth About "Pilates Machines"

Three women sitting on the exercising mat and doing abdominal exercises with a Pilates Power Ring.
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Every exercise system has a backdoor culture, things that insiders know and do that allow them to band together as a community and identify with other like-minded souls. Pilates nomenclature is one such social more among those who are "in the know." So if you get an eye roll or a wide-eyed expression when you use the term Pilates "machine," you'll know why. The use of the term "machine" in the Pilates studio is classified as a Pilates faux pas, something that reveals a beginner's status as a newcomer.

The History of Pilates Terms

Pilates terms have changed over time, but let's dial back in time to find the origins of this labeling methodology. Joseph Pilates, the inventor of Pilates, called Pilates equipment simply "the apparatus." Seasoned Pilates exercisers and instructors also eschew the word "machine," opting instead for the more elegant "apparatus." The term "equipment" is also suitable, but when you're referring to the signature Pilates piece known as the Reformer, the term "apparatus" is the favored name. Pilates elder Romana Kryznanowska, who trained many of the Pilates luminaries including Mari Winsor, used to say that "Machines have engines. This isn't a machine, it's an apparatus."

Pilates Studio Equipment

Pilates equipment can be grouped into two general categories, separated both by size and where you can expect to find them and use them. These categories include:

  • Small, portable equipment pieces like the magic circles, weights, and resistance bands. Of these, the magic circle and weights were traditionally used by the inventor Joseph Pilates. Resistance bands came later and are sometimes substituted for the heavy metal springs commonly used in a proper Pilates studio. These smaller equipment pieces are popular in some studios, in many gyms, and are ideal for the home Pilates practitioner.  
  • Larger pieces of equipment (apparatus) that include things like the Pilates Reformer, Pilates chairs, barrels, the tower, and the cadillac. This is the equipment you would expect to find at a fully operational Pilates studio. You may find just Reformers at boutique group class studios, but a complete Pilates studio that delivers one-on-one training incorporates the entire suite of Pilates devices.

    Specific Pieces of Pilates Equipment and Apparatus

    Here's more information on different Pilates equipment:

    • Before you buy a Pilates mat: Explore the differences between yoga mats and Pilates mats. Learn whether you want thick or thin, soft or hard, and what size is best. 
    • Before you buy a magic circle: Invented by Joseph Pilates himself, see the different choices you have in how magic circles are designed today. They're quite different from the original that was made from the barrel ring of a keg. (You can use that factoid so you don't sound like a beginner.) Options for various resistance levels are now included by some manufacturers.
    • Pilates and exercise bands: Pilates resistance bands come in different lengths and tensions. Find out the advantages and disadvantages of tubing bands compared with ribbon bands for your at-home Pilates practice.
    • The anatomy of a Pilates Reformer: Joseph Pilates invented the Reformer, one of the primary pieces of Pilates apparatus. He started with a bed and machinery springs attached to bedposts to exercise infirm prisoners of war at an internment camp on the Isle of Man. This evolved into his Universal Reformer and today's variations of the Reformer. Were he alive today, who knows what other types of equipment he might have created?
    • Introduction to the Pilates chair: Also known as the wunda chair or low chair, it was also invented by Joseph Pilates. Nowadays you can even find entire group classes devoted to exercises on the chair.

    Whatever type of Pilates you enjoy, knowing the roots of the equipment and the proper names will serve you well. The full history and syllabus of Pilates is rich. It's no wonder that it works so well on the body.