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The Pilates method seeks to develop controlled movement from a strong core and it does this using a range of apparatuses to guide and train the body. Joe Pilates originally developed his method as mat exercises (his 1945 "Return to Life" teaches 34 of these), but, in common with many other physical culture systems from the first part of the twentieth century, he used several pieces of apparatus to help people "get the method in their bodies". Each piece of apparatus has its own repertoire of exercises and most of the exercises done on the various pieces of Pilates apparatus are resistance training since they make use of springs to provide additional resistance. Using springs results in "progressive resistance", meaning the resistance increases as the spring is stretched. The most widely used piece of apparatus, and probably the most important, is the Reformer, but other apparatus used in a traditional Pilates studio include the Cadillac (also called the Trapeze Table), the high (or electric) chair, the Wunda Chair, the baby Chair, and the Ladder Barrel, the Spine Corrector (Step Barrel) and small barrel. Lesser used apparatus includes the Magic Circle, Guillotine Tower, the Pedi-Pole, and the Foot Corrector.

In contemporary Pilates other props are used, including small weighted balls, foam rollers, large exercise balls, rotating disks, and resistance bands. Some of the traditional apparatuses have been adapted for use in contemporary pilates (e.g splitting the pedal on the wunda chair). Some contemporary schools, such as the British Body Control Pilates, work primarily on the mat with these smaller props, enabling people to study the method without a full studio.