Written by MeJo Wiggin
“It’s not a machine, it’s an apparatus! A machine works you….. an apparatus, you have to work it.”
- Romana Kryzanowska
Throughout my years of study with Romana, I can still recall her being so adamant about teaching and practicing exclusively on Gratz™ apparatus. Her studio was filled with Joe Pilates’ original equipment or replicas made by Gratz™ Industries. Whenever Romana would teach at another studio that used a variety of equipment, she would insist on only teaching on the Gratz™ apparatus. In fact, the other equipment was often moved off to the side of the studio. Regardless of how many students she had in her seminar, she wanted each student to experience Joe’s work strictly on the Gratz™ apparatus, as she said it was an integral part of Joes’ work. After my certification from Romana in 1996, I opened one of the first Classical Pilates studios in Connecticut. It was here, through my own teaching where I began to understand Romana’s dedication and unswerving commitment to teaching Pilates strictly on Gratz™ apparatus.
For thirteen years my busy studio downtown Greenwich, CT employed up to thirteen instructors. At first my challenge was to educate the community about the rarely heard Pilates Method. By 2000, just after the Pilates trademark was judged as void, every gym was offering Pilates classes. Other studios had opened, and still, my studio was thriving with over 400 private lessons booked a week. My students ranged from fitness minded professionals, professional athletes, celebrities, and supermodels, to people suffering from back pain and other physical ailments, to those who had never exercised a day in their life. Their ages ranged from seven to ninety years old. I saw hundreds of people just beginning their study of the Method completely transform themselves through Classical Pilates. To this day, now working with Pilates Instructors throughout the world, I continue to marvel at the students who tell me they had been studying Pilates for years, yet their bodies did not change until they started using the Gratz™ apparatus.
When students who had studied Pilates elsewhere came to my studio and used the Gratz™ equipment for the first time, they immediately felt a difference. They often mentioned (and complained) how much harder they had to work. Exercises they had done with ease felt different, and suddenly became a whole new challenge for them. They told me about the deep connections they felt in muscles they had never felt before; and they enjoyed the slight feeling of soreness the next day. While I was teaching them and learning about their bodies through their movement, I was careful not to introduce too many new exercises. Instead, knowing that my equipment was much different than they were accustomed to, I wanted them to experience exercises they were familiar with, while getting use to the distinctive Gratz™ apparatus. Within a few sessions, their bodies started to change. Within a few months their bodies dramatically changed, and I wasn’t even teaching them anything new! Students became more engaged in their powerhouse, waistlines suddenly reappeared, arms and legs became more defined, postures improved, physical ailments vanished, and overall their bodies became much, much stronger.
In 2003, I was certified again by Romana as one of her Teacher Trainers for her new school Romana’s Pilates (now True Pilates). As I started teaching seminars on her behalf, it quickly became apparent to me which teachers were using the Gratz™ apparatus. I noticed that the teachers using Gratz™ apparatus regularly were not just stronger, they were much stronger. They had better muscle tone and a more balanced physique. After 23 years of personally witnessing such dramatic results in the body, I decided to investigate what exactly was so unique about the Gratz™ apparatus, particularly the Reformer and the Cadillac.
To begin with, Gratz™ Industries has been involved in the Pilates industry longer than any other manufacturer that builds Pilates equipment today. The relationship between Joseph Pilates and Gratz™ Industries began in the early 1940’s. At that time, Joe and his brother (a wood craftsman) were building Joe’s equipment. One day Joe contacted Mr. Frank Gratz, who owned a local metal design and fabrication facility, to see if he could help build something in Joe’s studio. Over the years, Mr. Gratz remained friends with Joe and his wife Clara, and he continued to develop random metal work for Joe’s studio. In the late 60’s when Joe passed away, Clara contacted Frank Gratz to see if he would collaborate with Romana, in an attempt to replicate and manufacture more of Joe’s apparatus. After much research and development, Gratz was able to replicate Joes’ equipment with the same dimensions, weights, resistance and feel, which Gratz™ still manufactures today.
When comparing the Gratz™ reformer to other reformers being sold today, the first thing you notice is a difference in the size. The reformer frame is made in two lengths, 80 or 86 inches. That’s it! It wasn’t until later, when Romana started using the jump board that a longer frame was required. That’s why Gratz™ developed a longer 89 inch frame. You need a longer reformer to accommodate the exercises on the jump board. At Romanas’ studio, we used the 80 and 86 inch frames for most students. The 89” reformers were reserved for men over 6’ tall or for those using the jump board. You will also notice that there are no retractable ropes used on a classical reformer. Instead, the straps are made of leather and are bound to the underside of the carriage. This way, you do not have to disrupt your workout by having to adjust the length of the straps for each exercise. The handles are sturdy, made of wood, and rotate with ease. Romana often spoke about the importance of moving with “minimum of motion”. Part of the work on the reformer is to strive for smooth transitions between each exercise. As you do so, you find that connecting one exercise to the next smoothly, becomes an exercise in itself. Your body never gets a rest. The leather straps and wooden handles on the Gratz™ reformer are intended to facilitate minimal adjusting for seamless transitions when using the reformer.
Joes’ original reformers were quite small and made of wood. The frame and legs were ornately carved, mimicking the style of furniture in the 1940’s. It wasn’t until the early 60’s that Joe started using a more durable aluminum frame. The average frame he built was 80” long. (Contemporary reformers being made today are up to 100” long.) The shorter the reformer frame is, the shorter the leather straps are needed. However, what most people don’t realize is that with a shorter frame, not only are the the leather straps shorter, but the angle of the straps become much greater as you reach up. The greater this angle, the more challenging an exercise becomes because the straps not only pull you back, they pull you back and down to the floor! This is quite noticeable when doing exercises as the Teaser, Backstroke, Horseback, Kneeling Arm Circles, Rowing, Short Spine, Swockety, and many others. Regardless of your height, you will find it more difficult to do these exercises on an 80” reformer than on an 89” reformer, because the angle of the straps is so much greater. That angle creates much more resistance for you.
The shorter the frame, the greater the angle of the straps as you reach up. This creates even more resistance.
Today many of the contemporary manufacturers are not only building the frames longer, but they are raising the attachment of the straps to the frame by using pulleys on risers. When you lengthen the frame and raise the attachment to the frame, you completely lose the angle of the straps. Losing that angle, dramatically changes the dynamics and integrity of each exercise because it is so much less resistant and you are being pulled in a different manor. With less of an angle, and less resistance, every exercise on these contemporary reformers that require the straps, becomes significantly easier.
In addition to the frame, the dimensions on the Gratz™ reformer are much different compared to most of the contemporary versions. When the carriage closes, the carriage on a Gratz reformer comes in much closer to the footbar. In fact, the length between the shoulder rests and the upright foot bar on a Gratz™ reformer is up to 3” shorter than most contemporary reformers being sold today. This is a vital measurement. Shortening or lengthening this measurement by a mere half inch will change the feel of every exercise. Most of the contemporary reformer carriages can be adjusted away from the foot bar in order to accommodate taller people, but they are unable to come closer in to the foot bar for the rest of the population!
By having the Gratz™ carriage come in closer, you gain a greater range of motion and are forced to work harder on every exercise regardless of your skill level. You are forced to work deeper in your powerhouse to maintain your composure when doing the simplest exercises like Footwork, Long Stretch, Knee Stretches, and Elephant. Even a beginner student can recognize and feel this difference. In addition, as you become more proficient in the Method and start doing more difficult exercises, you will find that trying to pull the carriage fully shut can be the most challenging part of the whole exercise! Closing the carriage on advanced exercises like the Long Stretch, Up Stretch, Snake/Twist and Tendon Stretch require a tremendous amount of core strength and control. If you change the dimensions so that the carriage stops 3” further from the foot bar, the most difficult and intense part of these exercises are omitted. It becomes physically unattainable due to the changes in measure. You never experience the intense strength building challenge the apparatus is meant to have on your body.
As the carriage on a Gratz™ reformer comes in closer to the foot bar, the final inch to fully close the carriage is not facilitated by the springs. The last inch on a Gratz™ reformer, there is barely (if at all any) tension on the springs to assist pulling the carriage fully shut. Instead, you have to work harder and deeper in your powerhouse to close the carriage yourself. Although it may only be an inch, it is a difference that can be felt in even the most basic exercises. That is a significant difference in the Gratz™ reformer that has yet to be replicated.
In advanced exercises like the Star, Snake, Twist, and Side Splits, which are all done on one spring, the final inch to close the carriage is the most challenging. On the contemporary reformers you can actually feel the springs pulling you back in. They over assist you. On these contemporary reformers, since the carriage does not come in as close to the foot bar and the springs facilitate you during the most challenging part of the exercise; you completely omit the most intense part of each exercise! It is just unattainable.
The vital dimensions and resistance changes that were made to the contemporary reformers, dramatically altered the intensity and integrity of each exercise to be done on them. Those changes show in the body. That’s why I often tell my students when they travel if they want to do Pilates and Gratz™ equipment is not available; they are better off doing the Mat than wasting their time on ineffective apparatus.
The dimensions, weight, wheels, and leather straps, are designed to create resistance on the reformer.
I’ve had the privilege to personally workout on a few of Joe’s original reformers. Kathy Grant had me work on Joe’s original reformer at her studio in New York. Throughout the fourteen years that I trained with Romana, we worked on Joe’s original apparatus, and I continue to work out at SUNY Purchase College (The Art of Control) which still has several pieces of Joe’s original apparatus. All of the original reformers I’ve been on have a smaller carriage and footbar than the revised editions. The carriage on a Gratz™ reformer is only 21½” wide and the footbar a mere 20” wide. It is designed to be small to help keep you in the frame of your body. The contemporary reformers that are built wider, longer, with 27” footbars, defeat the integrity of the Classical Pilates exercises to be done on them. The original footbar is narrower in circumference, making it easy to grip. It was not padded until the mid 90’s when Romana asked Gratz™ to lightly pad the footbar. Most of the footbars on contemporary reformers are not only wider and higher up off the carriage, but they are much thicker. The circumference of the bar is greater and then they are heavily padded, which makes them much bulkier than Joe’s original. Having such a thick footbar is more difficult to grip (particularly for those with small hands) and puts unnecessary strain on the hands, wrists, and forearms.
The wheels on Joe’s original reformers are also considerably different. Joe used industrial grade wheels when building his reformers. They do not spin with nearly the ease you see today. You have to manually turn them, and the second you stop turning them, the wheels come to a stop. Today many manufacturers take pride in their ball bearing wheel systems that offer an “ultra smooth carriage ride”. Not only is this wheel system completely different than Joe’s original specifications, but it defeats the integrity of his work on his apparatus. Wheels with ball bearings were designed to spin with as little resistance as possible. In doing so, you are able to obtain a higher speed. This type of wheel is beneficial for in-line skating, skateboarding, etc. The Gratz™ reformer uses larger, heavier, industrial wheels most congruent to Joe’s original specifications. They are made of hard rubber, which help create more resistance when moving the carriage. This way, not only do you have to move your own body weight on the carriage, but you have to move your own body weight, on a weighted carriage, with wheels that are resistant to move! Now that’s work! Remember, as Romana said, “It’s not a machine, it’s an apparatus, and you have to work it”. Moving the carriage against the resistance of the springs, the wheels, the weighted carriage, and angled straps strengthens the body and is an integral part of the workout. It makes every exercise on the Gratz™ reformer more challenging, and that shows in the body. The difference is extraordinary.
Another difference in the Gratz™ reformer is that the rails on Joe’s original reformers were not anodized. Many manufacturers today anodize or plate the aluminum rails to reduce the friction. As opposed to a quick and easy gliding carriage, the Gratz™ carriage, just like Joe’s, is not designed to move freely. In fact, each rail on the Gratz™ reformer is hand sanded with different grits to most replicate Joe’s original. They sand each rail to create more friction. The more friction you have in the equipment, the more resistance your body has to work against. If you try to push the carriage out with your finger when no springs are attached, you will notice on Joe’s original reformer and the Gratz™ reformer, carriage will not move very far. However, if you push out a carriage with anodized rails and ball bearing wheels, (one finger, and no springs) the carriage will glide all the way to the end of the frame. This lack of resistance on most contemporary reformers is felt in every single exercise. Although it may be visually appealing, feel smoother, and be more cost effective to anodize the rails, it is contrary to Joe’s original design and defeats the integrity of the Classical Pilates exercises to be done on them.
I can assure you that these unique features on the Gratz™ reformer may appear obsolete or faulty to a novice, but they are an integral part of the workout on the reformer. The difference in frame size, wheels, heavier carriage, sanded rails, and leather straps, are meant to contribute to the workout by adding resistance. This is an important part of the reformer design and is something that can only be felt on a Gratz™ reformer. That’s why Romana and many teachers still consider the Gratz™ apparatus an indispensable part of Joe’s Method. It is designed to challenge you. The more resistance you have, the more it challenges your body. You are forced to work harder and deeper. Every exercise, including the basics, are much more difficult to accomplish and that’s why the Gratz™ reformer changes your body so dramatically and quickly.
Romana and MeJo in Romana on Pilates: The Legacy Edition
The push thru bar on Joes’ original Cadillac, when it hangs down, is only 6 inches from the mat. Today many manufacturers raise the attachment of the bar so when the bar is down, it is much higher from mat. As the Gratz™ reformer carriage is built closer to the footbar, the push thru bar on the classical Cadillac is meant to be close to the mat. It makes you work much harder and deeper in your powerhouse, and enables you to stretch further than a raised bar. For example, exercises like the Teaser or the Eagle, you are forced to work deeper in your upper body when bringing the bar down or up over your head. It opens up your shoulders, chest, and upper back much more than if the bar were higher from the mat. The Tower, Monkey, and Hip Stretches are also much more difficult with a lower push thru bar because it enables you to have a greater range of motion. You have more tension on the spring and therefore, receive much more of a stretch than if the bar were raised. This difference in the distance the bar is from the mat may be minimal, but I can assure you, it makes a significant difference in all of the exercises done on the push thru bar.
The Push Thru Bar is only 6” from the Mat to allow for a greater stretch.
The poles on Joe’s original Cadillac were galvanized. Today’s chrome poles may look nicer, but as you workout your hands slip easily. It makes it very difficult to do any of the inverted exercises in the air. You will also notice on Joe’s later Cadillac that there is a rail around the base. As Joe continued to revise and improve his apparatus, he ergonomically designed his Cadillac with the teacher in mind. Reaching over and assisting students on the Cadillac can cause strain on the instructors’ body. Joe added a foot rail, about 6 inches from the floor, for teachers to place their foot when leaning over the Cadillac. As an instructor, this foot rail helps tremendously. I use it for leverage in stretching students and for support when leaning over to assist in side leg springs or mat work. It helps relieve the repetitive strain of leaning over while pulling and pushing. This is an important feature that is often missing on the contemporary apparatus.
As the Pilates Method is becoming a global regimen, new manufacturers are emerging all over the world. In an attempt to capitalize on the Pilates name and introduce Pilates apparatus in a quickly growing market, many companies have changed the specifications so much that they have introduced ineffective equipment that looks and feels nothing like Joes’ original. I have taught seminars throughout the US, Europe, Australia, and Russia and I become so disappointed when I see apparatus that Joe never invented or even used in his studio, labeled as Pilates apparatus. I think it’s a poor way to have new students experience Joe’s work. As those who have little interest, if at all any understanding in Joe’s method, continue to revise and invent new apparatus, it steers us further away from Joes’ intentions and principles of movement, and is outright misleading to the public. It may be tempting to purchase from these companies, but in my opinion, you are better off ordering from a reputable manufacturer in the US and importing it to a new country. The benefits will significantly outweigh the cost.
I’ve been using Gratz™ equipment, personally and teaching students on it since 1990. The difference is outstanding. If I were to stop using the Gratz™ apparatus and instead use some of the contemporary versions, my body would actually become de-conditioned. I advise my students that they would be better off doing Joes’ mat work with no equipment, than exercising on new and improved apparatus that is completely ineffective. I can still hear Romana say, “Joe was a genius, why change the work of a genius?” With all her years of teaching and proven results in transforming thousands of bodies on Gratz™ apparatus, no wonder she was so dedicated and emphatic about it. She knew it was an indispensable part of the Method. Gratz™ Industries continues to replicate and produce apparatus with the same dimensions, weights, resistance, feel and integrity of Joe’s original. After all, as Joe mentioned in his own advertising, and is so frequently quoted today:
“In 10 lessons you will feel a difference, in 20 lessons you will see a difference, in 30 lessons you will have a whole new body,”
... he was referring to his own apparatus.
Romana would often refer to her work as "poetry in motion" and gave MeJo a Gold Card in recognition of her advanced abilities. She was one of three female artists Romana selected to film Romana's Pilates Mat DVD series and Romana on Pilates: The Legacy Edition. MeJo is featured in Pilates Revealed with Jay Grimes and she hosted/produced her own videos 20 Minutes, Twice a Week and The Gratz Arm Chair.
MeJo taught full time at her own Pilates studio in central Greenwich Connecticut for over 13 years. She quickly became recognized by doctors and chiropractors for her ability to rehabilitate injuries through the Pilates Method. It was not uncommon for doctors from the prestigious New York Hospital for Special Surgery to refer their patients to MeJo. Often, it was used to help the ailments of patients in attempt to avoid surgery.. In addition, many professional athletes, celebrities, actresses and supermodels continue to seek MeJo's hands-on sessions to keep their bodies in peak performance.
MeJo is still a strong advocate and example of the Classical Pilates Method. She is an ambassador of Gratz Industries – Joe Pilates original equipment manufacturer, teaches at three Pilates Training Schools in the U.S., and have developed a Continuing Education course "The Classical Syllabus", for pilates instructors worldwide looking for a better understanding and application of the Classical Pilates Method. MeJo still teaches private sessions, but her mission is to continue teaching seminars and educating Pilates instructors worldwide in the many benefits of the Classical Pilates Method.