A Pilates Wall Unit
What is the Pilates Wall Unit?
The wall unit, sometimes (though incorrectly according to the Gratz website) called the “tower”, is a metal frame which attaches to the wall and enables you to do most of the exercises that can be done on the Cadillac. Some of the most commonly used and important exercises apart from the reformer are found on the cadillac/wall unit.
What Does the Wall Unit Do For You?
Within the classical Pilates system, all the apparatuses have a different focus and help you to develop different aspects of the Pilates body.
The wall unit, like the Cadillac which it is based on, does at least two main things. Firstly, it deepens the powerhouse through direct spring tension. With the chairs and much of the work on the reformer, contact with the spring is made through a pedal or a foot bar. These “open” springs on the wall unit give more immediate and obvious feedback. You can see if you are doing it right or not. I
Second, the special focus of the wall unit, as with the Cadillac, is on stretching and lengthening the body. Some of the deepest flexibility work is found on these apparatuses, which makes them ideal for people who are stiff from sitting or exercise.
Using Equipment to Deepen Your Pilates
Some of the basic exercises which we use on the wall unit from the start can help move your pilates training up to the next level
The Roll down bar is valuable to help you to learn to articulate your back with control whether your problem with the roll down is more to do with the articulation part (ie you are stiff) or the control (if you are flexible).
The leg spring exercises are extremely useful to help you to deepen the connection between the stomach and the legs as well as being one of the easiest exercises in which to engage the inside and back of your legs.
The arm springs and especially the “push thru” bar have their own challenges and benefits and at a more advanced level there are a number of very challenging standing arm springs exercises, including one legged squats.
Pilates Wall Unit Sessions
The wall unit is rarely used for an entire session on its own, but it works extremely well in a session combined with mat exercises. It is perhaps the apparatus which is most accessible to people familiar with mat work and there are a number of mat exercises which can be done in near identical wall unit versions, only with the added challenge of springs.
The mat work focuses a great deal on the stomach and as a result gets you very deep in that part of the power house. Many of the exercises on the wall unit get you deeper into the rest of the power house (the inner legs and wings) and this fact, combined with the greater emphasis on lengthening and stretching, makes a wall unit-mat session very balanced and enjoyable.
Here is another video of Classical pilates, this time the advanced reformer workout, done by Jean Claude Nelson in the studio in Holland where James trained.
Here is a great video of the full advanced classical matwork that we teach. Normally the exercises have more repetitions, but here there is just one to demonstrate. James trained in the same studio as Jean Claude.
Working with Pilates Apparatus
One of the marks of the classical Pilates method is the use of the equipment (traditionally called “apparatus”) that Joseph Pilates designed. He first developed the mat work and then later the use of apparatus to supplement it; mat work can be difficult to do correctly and so you use apparatus to increase the strength, flexibility and control of your body.
If you need that extra bit of help the springs act as extra muscles enabling your body to absorb the pilates way of using the body ("the method") more quickly. Then you can return to the mat and are able to do it more deeply.
Why Work With Pilates Equipment?
The apparatus gives shape to the body as well as supporting and strengthening the work of the power house which helps you progress faster. Only apparatus built according to the original designs of Joseph Pilates will do exactly what he wanted it to do, because he designed both the exercises and the apparatus together and therefore all substantial changes to the apparatus change the exercises to some degree.
These modified machines may still be used for physiotherapy, but whenever a major change is made to the apparatus some element of the original system is lost. Many of the “improvements” made by some manufacturers make it impossible to do the exercises Joe Pilates invented in the way that he taught them: you can´t do Pilates on them.
How to Work With Pilates Equipment
The most import thing to understand about how to work with pilates apparatus is that the emphasis is always on what the body is doing, not what the apparatus is doing. The apparatus does not do the work of increasing the strength, flexibility and control of the body for you: it helps you do it by encouraging correct body position through the shape of the apparatus and by encouraging correct use of the power house through the resistance of the springs.
However, if your body is not working correctly within the apparatus then very little is gained and the Pilates method is not being taught. The apparatus gives shape and structure to the body as it moves by providing strategic support for the body, encouraging correct alignment and helping develop particular muscle groups and patterns of movement. Unless these things are taught with precision, nothing is gained from using apparatus.
Classical Pilates is a system which uses equipment, but it is also possible to study it with mat based exercises, and indeed, in the UK, this is what most people think of when you talk about pilates. What can you get from doing mat alone and what do you miss out on?
What You Can Get from Mat Exercises
Any good Pilates teacher will use the exercises to teach you the principles and priorities of how to use your body which we call the “Pilates Method”. The idea is not simply to go through the movements so you feel a little out of breath or a little stretched, but to start to change your body in a more fundamental way.
Studying mat alone with a good teacher will give you much of the benefit of the method: you will start to even out your “box”, you will find your powerhouse and you will begin to get control of your body.
Mat is especially excellent for strengthening the stomach and it’s portable. Just doing mat alone will make a real difference to most people’s bodies.
What is Missing If You Only Do Mat Exercises?
However, if Joe Pilates thought that the mat was all that people needed he would never have invented the rest. Exactly what else you need depends on your body type, but almost everyone can benefit from using the apparatus, even if it is only a shorter term exposure.
One of the senior teachers who trained me in Holland is a short ex dancer and her training of choice is to do mat 3 or 4 times a week. The apparatus doesn’t help her that much as it is too large for her and she has a loose body that needs to stay strong. For some people just doing mat is ideal.
The Advantage of the Equipment
However, for most people the apparatus has a number of solid advantages. It was invented by Pilates to get the movement in the body faster, and helps you to feel your box and your power house in a deeper way.
If you are stiff you also need the apparatus more, as it helps stretch you out more than is easily possible with the mat work. If you have special needs (a very bad back, pregnancy, etc) then mat classes are not the thing for you either as so much has to be omitted that you may as well not bother.
There are parts of the body which are worked less thoroughly with the mat – the legs and upper body are more systematically trained using equipment – and there are also certain movement patters which don´t happen on the mat.
Group and Private Classes
Studying the mat alone is not the same as only taking group classes, though for most people the two things are linked. Group classes often involve the use of small bits of apparatus, so the work is not exclusively mat: wall exercises, hand weights and the magic circle are easily incorporated. A group class is not simply mat work only.