Open Up

Although the mat and Reformer are a quintessential part of the Pilates repertoire, the auxiliary apparatus are just as essential. When it comes to opening the body, the Ladder Barrel might just be ahead of the curve.

By Katie Yip • Edited by Amanda Altman

“Teach the body in front of you” was a concept instilled in me early on by my teacher Kathryn Ross-Nash. She would tell me to look at Pilates as a system, which she coined “The Red Thread of Pilates,” where the exercises from the mat and the Reformer echo those on the auxiliary apparatus (e.g., the Wunda Chair, Ladder Barrel, etc.). And more importantly, that this system is the key to changing bodies.

The auxiliary apparatus, specifically, build, challenge or replace an exercise from the mat and the Reformer so that the student can better achieve the benefits of that exercise. Have a student who cannot fully open their hips in Front Splits on the Reformer? Why struggle to accomplish it there, when they can optimally execute the same exercise on another piece of apparatus better suited for their body?

Through precise and thoughtful exercise and apparatus selection, we can help the student feel confident in the work—and the teacher can feel more successful, too! Pilates is not a cookie-cutter workout, and to truly change bodies we need to always consider the student’s individual needs and goals, using more than just the mat and
the Reformer.

When it comes to creating more openness in the body, I view the Ladder Barrel as an essential tool (though the other auxiliary apparatus work, too). The Ladder Barrel can be used in more ways than just for the traditional Swan or Leg-Stretch exercises, so let’s explore the assortment of fun “Pilates torture” on this versatile apparatus!

Sneak Peak of the Exercises:


AHEAD OF THE CURVE Helps to achieve a better opening of the hips, lower back and chest while facilitating full spinal articulation and deep front-body opening.

START Sit tall on top of the barrel with your feet parallel, hip-width apart and hooked under the top rung of the ladder. Place your hands behind your head with your elbows open.

MOVE Pressing your feet into the rungs, evenly roll down along the contour of the barrel; roll up. Do 3–5 reps.

TIPS Actively pressing your feet into the rungs helps to engage and anchor the backs of your legs. (Having a strong and stable base will aid in a clean articulation of the spine. The increased back-body connection from the closed chain of the heels increases the front-body opening.) To maintain an open chest, imagine that your elbows are opening behind you. Press your head into your hands to
stretch your neck.

MODIFICATIONS Either reach your arms forward, or wrap your arms around your waist. If there are large gaps between your spine and the barrel, add a pillow, or move to another apparatus with a curve that better suits your body (such as the Small Barrel or Spine Corrector).

Get the rest of this story and so much more in our July/August 2019 issue. Or better yet, subscribe and save. 

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