How many things can that thing do? It’s a question with which many an as-seen-on-TV exercise machine has attempted to dazzle you. The Bowflex can do what? The Soloflex has how many different configurations?
The Pilates Tower, however, is a machine that genuinely impresses with its versatility and adaptability. Essentially a tall rack attached to a long bench, the Tower is outfitted with plenty of other bells and whistles, like a variety of springs, straps, pull-down bars and more, to create a seemingly infinite number of possible exercises and stretches. I recently took a small group Tower class at CORE Pilates Mind/Body Studio on the East Side. By my count we performed roughly 30 different exercises and variations over the course of an hour – and I can only assume we had just scratched the surface.
Of course, Pilates is already a practice that’s heavy on iteration and variation. Like its cousin in movement, yoga, it builds on basic movements and poses, layering them with additional twists and tweaks to increase both the challenge and benefits. It was described perhaps most succinctly by the late Romana Kryzanowska, one of America’s foremost Pilates instructors and a protege of Joseph Pilates: “Stretch with strength and control.”
The result is a workout that strengthens and stretches the muscles without the impact or stress of more traditional strength training regimens. This is achieved through precise control of movements ranging from simple to complex, each one designed to challenge the body without taxing it. Never has building strength been more relaxing.
The Tower provides an opportunity to see just how much ground Pilates can cover. Under the attentive tutelage of instructor Jen McWalters, we were able to work every major muscle group in the body, integrate stretching and focus on breathing, all on a single piece of equipment.
One of the things that keeps the workout interesting is the constant variation. One moment you might find yourself lying on the bench pulling handles attached to springs, the next you may be kneeling towards the Tower pushing down on a bar. At each stop along the way, you’re adjusting the machine: unhooking this spring from here and attaching it to this instead, hooking this strap onto that bar, sliding down the head rest, etc. It’s not exactly American Ninja Warrior, but it’s just enough variation to avoid “pick things up and put them down” monotony. As I progressed through the class, I found myself curious not only about what I was going to do next, but what the Tower could do next.
Another benefit of Pilates is that it seems like your core is constantly engaged. The smart design of the equipment along with the precise control built into the movements gives you no way to really cheat a particular exercise. You’re not going to lean against anything, let the weights do the work, or push off the bench for an extra little oomph; your only option is to focus on proper execution with your whole body. And in Pilates, you don’t add reps or weight to increase the challenge – you add movement and control instead. Okay, you’ve got the hang of this pose? Now try lifting your back heel while you do it.
If you’re looking to pack on bulk, pour sweat and grunt loudly, Pilates may not be the class for you. But if you want to challenge your body and relax it at the same time, you may want to visit the Tower. You’ll be amazed by how many things it – and you – can do.
CORE Pilates Mind/Body Studio
208 Governor Street