The Correct Terms for Pilates Equipment

Woman is stretching on a reformer in pilates studio.
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Every exercise system has its own culture. Using the same language and following traditional practices helps insiders band together as a community. Pilates is no exception, and terms for Pilates equipment are a big part of the culture.

The use of the term "machine" in the Pilates studio is considered a faux pas. To paraphrase Pilates elder Romana Kryznanowska, who trained many Pilates luminaries, Pilates equipment is not a machine, but rather, an apparatus.

Joseph Pilates, the inventor of Pilates who took Kryznaowska under his wing, referred to Pilates equipment simply as "the apparatus." Seasoned Pilates exercisers and instructors also eschew the word "machine," opting instead for "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.

Types of Pilates Equipment

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

  • Small, portable equipment pieces include magic circles, weights, and resistance bands. Joseph Pilates used the magic circle and weights. Resistance bands came later, followed by heavy metal springs, which are commonly used on a Reformer in a fully equipped Pilates studio. These smaller equipment pieces are popular in some studios and gyms and most are ideal for practicing Pilates at home
  • Larger pieces of equipment (apparatus) include the Pilates Reformer, Pilates chairs, barrels, tower, and the Cadillac. This is the equipment you would expect to find at a fully operational Pilates studio. Boutique group class studios may just have Reformers, but a complete Pilates studio that delivers one-on-one training incorporates the entire suite of Pilates devices.

Using Pilates Equipment

Whether you are practicing at home or taking classes, familiarize yourself with the equipment you will be using.

  • Pilates mats: There are several differences between a yoga mat and a Pilates mat, in terms of thickness, firmness, and size.
  • Magic circles: As the story goes, the inspiration from Joseph Pilates' original magic circles came from the rings that surround large barrels of beer. Magic circles have since evolved. For example, some manufacturers now make them with options for various resistance levels.
  • Pilates bands: Pilates resistance bands come in different lengths and tensions. Ribbon-style bands usually work better than tubing bands for at-home Pilates practice.
  • Weights: With care and caution, you can incorporate small, light weights (either dumbbells or ankle weights) into many Pilates exercises.
  • Pilates Reformer: Joseph Pilates invented the Reformer, one of the primary pieces of Pilates apparatus. He reportedly started with hospital beds with machinery springs attached to the bedposts, and offered exercises to prisoners of war at an internment camp on the British Isle on Man where he was also being interned during the First World War. This evolved into his Universal Reformer and today's variations of the Reformer.
  • Pilates chair: Joseph Pilates also developed the chair, sometimes known as the "Wunda Chair" or low chair. Some studios offer group classes devoted to exercises on the chair.

A Word From Verywell

Whatever type of Pilates you enjoy—mat, reformer, chair, or more—knowing the origins of the equipment and its proper names will serve you well. The full history of Pilates is rich. It's no wonder that it works so well on the body.

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Article Sources
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  1. Pilates Method Alliance. The History of Pilates. 2019.

  2. Di Lorenzo CE. Pilates: What Is It? Should It Be Used in Rehabilitation? Sports Health. 2011;3(4):352-361. doi:10.1177/1941738111410285