Photography by Weston Carls
A single machine with springs, straps and pulleys—torture device or fitness apparatus? Depending on how much you like exercising, it could qualify as both. Austin has long been a city that welcomes innovation and progressive ideas, as evidenced by our booming startup culture and liberal politics, and now, demonstrated by the Pilates scene.
A Short History
The Pilates workout we are familiar with today originated from the practice of contrology, meaning “the science of control.” In the early 20th century, a man named Joseph Pilates took a keen interest in physical training. He was a sickly child, battling asthma and rickets among many other ailments. As he grew older, he spent much of his time boxing, doing gymnastics, body building—anything that would help him build strength. Through his personal journey, he was able to publish the book Return to Life Through Contrology, in which the fundamental exercises and movements of Pilates basic principles were detailed.
Many of these principles were applied to soldier rehabilitation and training during World War I. The original apparatus he used was built out of springs rigged to hospital beds to keep the spines of his patients stabilized while performing the exercises. Joseph Pilates worked closely with many dancers as well, which contributed to the technicality and grace of classical Pilates.
Fast-forward to the 21st century, where Frenchman Sebastien Lagree has taken over the Pilates scene. The classical Pilates workout wasn’t challenging enough for the fitness buff, so he restructured not only the machine—known as the reformer—but also the methodology. Lagree’s revision of the traditional reformer produced a sleeker, advanced model, which he renamed the Proformer. Since then, his continual improvements to the machine foster an effort to make transitions more convenient and expand the limitations of the training regimen.
Lagree’s empire has taken hold of the Pilates community. The franchise has made big bucks off of licensing the Lagree Fitness name and certifications, as well as machines. The Proformer evolved into the Megaformer (with M2, M2S, M3, M3S models), then the Supraformer, and Lagree Fitness has plans to sell a machine called the Isoformer in the near future.
PURE PILATES MEGAFORMER
Austin-grown Pilates studio, Pure Pilates, runs their sculpt classes on a Megaformer M3 machine. Owner Allison Slapnicka is pleased with the amenities of the updated version.
“By changing how the bars move and the placement of the bars, it allows us to perform a larger number of exercises with minimal transition time. This, in turn, leads to clients keeping their heart rate up, burning more calories, and increasing strength in a more efficient way than on other reformer machines,” she said.
A standard Pilates workout is characterized by low-impact, anaerobic movement. Strengthening and toning, while increasing flexibility is something that’s expected regardless of if the workout is performed on a reformer or floor mat. However, Pure Pilates has upgrades that workout with the help of the Megaformer.
“By minimizing the transition time we can keep the muscle engaged and the heart rate elevated to an aerobic level. This level of cardio in where you develop endurance and burn fat. So while, we do not run during class, our clients are getting a cardio workout in addition to the strength training that is inherent in a spring resistance workout,” said Slapnicka.
VBodies Pilates and Fitness is a cozy, yet comfortable studio that harbors only three reformers. They’re not the sexiest pieces of equipment, but they’re industrial in a way to make you think that if Arnold Schwarzenegger practiced Pilates, he’d likely be doing it on Matthew Ryan Carney’s Powerformer. Carney recognized many of the elite athletes he trained wanted something more demanding from the Pilates workout, so he attached a weight stack to a reformer. After building two prototypes in his dad’s garage, Carney was finally satisfied with the third generation.
The Powerformer will make you sweat and tremble, but it’s actually also a very gentle alternative to a regular weight room workout. The springs are tempering the weight stack, streamlining the weight training, keeping students stable and attuned proper body alignment while bearing heavy weight. Carney stresses the importance of safety while upholding the roots of Pilates as a rehabilitation method.
“Four people have come in with surgery recommendations, and all four are surgery free,” he said of his clientele. Through low-impact strength training, Carney helps students build the muscle needed to heal chronic pain (and avoid going under the knife).
Maja Kermath, founder of kor180, didn’t just want to make small tweaks to the reformer; she wanted to build her own. “I wanted the machine to feel like it was a Maserati. Formidable, beautiful, and sleek,” she said.
Kermath had a vision for what the perfect reformer—what she would name the korFormer—and although it took about 20 design plans, a deep dig into her network to find someone who understood engineering and design, plus a trip to China to manufacture the machine, Kermath finally created it. The korFormer is gray and white, with orange and green springs to perfectly fit the brand. The initial model had six springs, but Kermath has already made some revisions by adding two more springs. She plans to keep updates minimal so the equipment isn’t always changing.
The kor180 reform class adds innovation to classical Pilates—partially due to the unique split carriage on the equipment. All reformers have a carriage (the part that glides back and forth on the rails), but the korFormer allows students to split it for unilateral movements and to create instability for more diverse strength building exercises. Additionally, on the backside of the machine, it has straps, a strength handle, and a foot bar.
Kermath’s own Pilates methodology added a little more fun to the workout. “That’s just not life—I don’t believe in being perfect, I believe in being safe. We believe in those [classical Pilates] foundational principles but people will get bored if it’s about being perfect,” she said. The kor180 Pilates workout is a certainly one way to loosen up a bit, both figuratively and literally.