By Aspasia P. Simeone
Gazing upon the modern Pilates Trapeze with its open canopy frame design, keep in mind what is known of Joseph Pilates’ early chronicle years performing as a circus acrobat and bear witness to transformation. Still the fascinating truth inspiring these accomplishments is reflected in the simplicity of the earlier prototypes and aesthetics, making them evolutionary. It was during his WWI internment in England, when his resourceful notions manifested and clearly laid the foundation for the modern marvels forthcoming. As the Reformer stands alone, the Trapeze and Tower are close counterparts in mechanical functionality.
Historical references exhibit these earlier devices with his usage of bed head-boards and/or bed foot-boards, acting as spring anchor positions. Already we can see the Tower developing. The most remarkable function of these earlier concepts is how they translate into modern forms not far from the originals. Although the equipment function between Reformer, Trapeze and Tower are different, the muscle function response in all forms, remains true to the Pilates Method for lengthening and strengthening through opposing efforts.
Conceptually, remove the canopy from the Trapeze and we have the Tower. Tower extension springs can intentionally work the muscles unilaterally as two individual springs designating equivalent strengths are fixed to eyebolts equally positioned from a central point on either the Tower Arch, Cadillac Frame or SpringBoard, working independently from one another on a non-mobile platform. Pairs of eyebolts are secured at predetermined intervals offering multi height levels for exercise options. In comparison to the Reformers’ tension springs that secure the mobile carriage to the frame and are driven by one set of rope-cables unintended for independent action, unless deliberately set up to do so. Clearly from a Reformer perspective, the weight of the users’ body is applied to the spring expansion tension when the carriage is in motion and in order to work the muscles unilaterally, one anatomical side must execute the movement unaccompanied by the mirrored side. This requires great attention to unilateral stabilization from this stationary unyielding side. Whereas, from the Tower arrangement, the task from both anatomical sides can be performed concurrently yet independently, requiring attention to bilateral stabilization, on a fixed platform. Both apparatus offer immense benefits in Pilates training and when available should greatly be considered.
The noted difference with respect to executing the exercises from either the Tower or the Reformer is that the Reformer carriage always moves away from the base frame during tension spring-expansion and is not directly in line with the user, but always parallel to the carriage. The carriage acts as a sled moving the user in the direction of the resistance and adding the users’ weight to the load. On the Reformer the rope-cables of a predetermined adjustable length are independently attached on either side of one end to the Reformer which glide over a fixed pulley system driving the sled (the fixed pulley system is variable in height on some models). Reformer ropes move opposite in direction to the spring resistance and are proportional to the bilateral muscle force applied.
The Tower extension-springs on the other hand, almost always follow the angle and direction of motion of the user when the springs are separately attached to individual eyebolts and not joined via a Roll-Bar or Push-Through-Bar, where directional restrictions do apply. In both systems, Tower and Reformer, execution of motion is driven by the expansion and recoiling of the springs and controlled by the user but unilateral and bilateral muscle activation is an important variance between the two apparatus. (From this perspective both types of apparatus offer “open-chain-kinetic (pseudo-closed-chain)” exercise but also can perform “complete-closed-chain-kinetic” activities which will be clarified in a later posting.)
Both Apparatus’ usage of tension springs function on the expansion and compression properties of the springs. Applying the positive forces needed to expand the spring length, or resist the recoil force to slow the return (counterbalance), Tower and Reformer offer a great variety. The physical laws that apply to tension springs simulate the compression forces of gravity and therefore offer productive-strengthening ways to exercise without overloading the joints.
We know the human body is not completely symmetrical in terms of the internal organs, skeletal structure and muscles anatomy and as result not exactly proportioned in strength and size. Anatomically it is the Sagittal (also known as the Longitudinal) plane of movement that sections the body into a right and left side respectively and the Frontal plane that designates the front-body from the back-body. The Core by definition as a whole is included in the Horizontal plane (ones cross section), while the complete spinal progression, Core stabilization and skeletal/muscle actions incorporate all three dimensional planes. Each plane has a midline that intersect at a common point, and we use this to orient an imagery of lengthening in Pilates. In an attempt to counteract and neutralize some of these unsymmetrical disparities we have in the human anatomy, correcting the muscle imbalances can help achieve optimal equilibrium throughout the body as a whole. Working 360 degrees through all the planes of movement, together and independently, the Pilates Method aims to fulfill this objective by coupling natural motion with the 6 Pilates principles: Centering, Concentration, Control, Precision, Breath and Flow. Both the Reformer and Tower offer equal significance in all aspects of Pilates performance, and therefore selection becomes goal oriented and definitely encouraged!
About the Author
Aspasia P. Simeone is a certified Pilates instructor through the Pilates Institute of America (PIA) as well as a Personal Trainer & Weight Management Consultant through the American Council on Exercise (ACE.) She has an engineering background spanning almost twenty years in the aerospace and telecommunications industry. Her degree in applied physics lends itself to her highly technical and analytical approach to composing kinesiology, exercise, and nutrition documents. Aspasia has maintained an active Pilates and /or fitness business for over 20 years, and designed, created, and copyrighted a comprehensive weight management program called Absolute Fitness & Weight Management which is registered with the Department of State to create caloric deficits through exercise and diet. She currently teaches Pilates at Pilates by the Sea and blogs about Pilates and Fitness on Absolute Fitness Blog.
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