Let's be reasonable... equipment MADNESS!

by Wade Edwell

I’ve fielded a lot of questions recently about equipment, especially with leading brands now bringing products to market that are promoted as being ‘Archival,’ closer to Joe’s originals, or linked to/supported by industry heavyweights. In the past few years the classical equipment landscape has grown immensely, and we’re no longer living in a world of just one product line as our only go to option.

In many ways this isn’t a bad thing, as competition can lead to improvements in build quality, delivery periods, and in some cases pricing. As producers pop up further afield from the traditional US production base it also means that consumers around the world have options closer to home, reducing delivery charges and in some cases allowing for purchase in local currency.

I’ve been fortunate to have experienced many brands and product lines in my travels, and you know what, generally they’ve all been pretty good. Over the last few years in my training in LA I’ve been able to work across older Gratz, their new Archival Reformer, the new BB Contrology Reformer, and Pilates Designs offerings also. I’ve also watched people train on them, listened to their thoughts and opinions of their experiences, both teachers and regular participants alike. Interestingly, not one model has particularly stood out as a favourite- different bodies and mindsets have led to different reviews.

Now, overall I am in agreement with, and always respectful of, my teacher Jay Grimes, and I adore the product that has come about from his work with BB, including the work Karen Frischmann has also undertaken with them to produce a line of brilliant springs. When I work on this apparatus I can absolutely feel how it links to what Jay has taught me, and allows me to extend my practice in this context. It’s an awesome product. But I suspect that it’s effective for me because I am very familiar with Jay’s teachings, specificially what he looks for with respect to using the equipment.

But there’s also many seriously incredible, and experienced trainers who are linked to and recommending other lines, and I can see how for them these products fit to their practice. Similarly, I trained at a colleagues’ studio recently on her old Gratz, with new Gratz springs, and I really enjoyed how it felt. Likewise a colleague of mine in LA is now using Legacy springs on his Gratz Reformer and is really happy with them… and I will say that my most favourite Reformer I’ve ever worked on is the one James Crane developed for Vintage Pilates. Every time I was at VP this was the piece that I would always try to get on, it felt so right for my practice.

In a way this is just an extension to the debate about whether we should be using 80 or 86 inch pieces… I’m 6 foot 3 inches and I adore my 80’ Reformer, and so that is what I use for the most part in my teaching because I am very familiar with it. But we also have 86’ pieces and I have no issue with them.

My feelings are thus: so much needs to be considered when purchasing. How hard it is going to be to get the product to you; cost; do you have local servicing options available for that line/brand; customer service, because what if something isn’t right?; and most importantly, what are you used to and what fits your knowledge of the work?

Another thing I’ll say is this… if you’ve just purchased a standard line Reformer from one of the leading brands but now, only a few months later, there’s a NEW and IMPROVED version retailing, you’re entitled to be a little pissed off. You’ve made a purchase thinking that this was the industry standard, and that you’ve bought something that Joe would have approved of, only to find out that now there’s something more authentic, more ‘traditional.’ Most Pilates studios spend big on equipment knowing that it’ll last a lifetime, but now we’re being told that, well actually, it wasn’t really correct, and here’s this new and more accurate item we should be using instead… unsettling to say the least.

My personal feeling is that you can teach amazing Pilates on anything, including a patch of grass or a wall. You just have to really know your shit. There is a concerning trend in Australia that I’m witnessing where a lot of money is being spent on equipment, but (beyond certification) not on training. I would expect this occurs elsewhere also.

You can have all the latest products, in all the brightest colours, and still do shit Pilates. If your Reformer work is crappy on Peak or Gratz, it’ll probably still be crappy on Pilates Designs or BB. If you buy a manual sports car, but only know how to drive auto, you’re going to make a mess of your new gearbox; similarly if you still can’t connect your shoulders into your back in the Long Stretch series, no new piece is going to magically do that for you, in fact it’ll possibly make it more difficult.

The point is this- Pilates equipment pieces are NOT appliances, they are apparatus. Appliances are designed to do the work for you, to allow the novice to be a master. Our tools are the exact opposite, you have to have exceptional education in your body, FOR YOUR BODY, to get the best out of your equipment.

So before the world goes crazy buying the new and shiny, consider your context thoroughly, and remember that it is YOU that gets the best or worst out of a Pilates tool, and ensure that whatever you choose to spend on, you learn how to properly work it for your body, and can therefore use it effectively in your teaching.

Above all, ALWAYS prioritise your training.

As a side note, our studio uses Pilates Designs and Gratz, BB Contrology Springs, and will at some point purchase the BB Contrology Reformer.