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The Ladder Barrel And The Spine Corrector – What Are They And How Do They Work?

Complete Pilates always use the equipment in their classes and 1-2-1 sessions.

Why? Because we agree with Joseph Pilates when he said that while “you can exercise without machines” it’s just “not as efficient.”

Reformer classes are pretty popular these days, and so many you will have tried this piece of apparatus and know how amazing it is for toning your body, increasing your flexibility and for rehabbing after an injury.

Few of you will have been into a Pilates studio to experience a full equipment session, however. And this means you won’t be familiar with how effective the rest of the equipment – the trapeze table, the chair and the ladder barrel – is.

So, to introduce you to the studio machines (and encourage you to start practising Pilates on them) we’ve been posting each week on the uses and benefits of the different pieces of equipment.

This week we’re turning our attention to the ladder barrel and spine corrector. These are two pieces of equipment that don’t get much press, but they really are amazing when it comes to building a balanced and healthy body.

But how exactly do the ladder barrel and spine corrector work? And why is using them so beneficial?

Keep scrolling to find out the answers to these questions – and much more!

Ladder barrel


What is it?

Like the trapeze table and chair, the ladder barrel is one of the original pieces of equipment and it was designed by the inventor of Pilates, Joseph Pilates. But unlike those pieces of apparatus, which he made by adapting pieces of furniture, Joe made the Pilates barrel out of something much more surprising: an empty beer keg!

The ladder barrel in Pilates studios today is a far cry from the humble beer keg. In fact, it is now quite a large and imposing piece of equipment made from wood and leather.

The ladder barrel has retained its curved, barrel-like form though, and this makes it stand out against the rest of the boxy and rigid-looking studio equipment.

Given the shape of the ladder barrel, it won’t surprise you to learn that it supports very different types of movement to the trapeze table, reformer and chair.

Ladder barrel – the specifics

As its name suggests, the ladder barrel is made up of two parts: a wooden ladder with rungs and the barrel, which is padded and leather-clad for comfort.

The two component parts of the ladder barrel are attached to one another by a sliding frame base. This frame can be adjusted to make it work for different heights and builds.

A female laying side on, atop a pilates barrel with her arms folded behind her head

The spine corrector

As mentioned in the introduction, you probably won’t have come across a ladder barrel outside of the Pilates studio environment. You may, however, have seen or even used a spine corrector in a reformer or mat class.

This is for obvious reasons: in contrast to the large ladder barrel, the spine corrector is compact and so a studio can fit a lot more of these in at once!

The spine corrector has similar properties to the barrel, with a large curved surface being its main feature. This means you can perform most of the ladder barrel exercises on it.

There are obvious differences between these two pieces of kit, though. Aside from missing the “ladder” aspect of the ladder barrel, the spine corrector also has a less dramatic curve than the barrel. This reduces the possible range for the body to move in and can be viewed as a limitation of the spine corrector.

At the same time, the gentle curve of the spine corrector can be a good thing when it is used on a beginner or someone with an injury.

The spine corrector: the specifics

The spine corrector is made from either wood and leather for the sturdier studio version, or from foam for a light-weight alternative.

Ladder barrel - This is an overhead shot of the spine corrector in use by pilates students

Students using the spine corrector.

How does it work?

The ladder barrel

You’ll probably want to drape yourself over the ladder barrel as soon as you see it.

And this is exactly what it is designed for. The barrel’s rounded surface is there to encourage the spine to move into extension and flexion (to backbend and forward bend) in a supported way.

Aside from extension and flexion exercises, the barrel can also be used for ab exercises and oblique movements. The barrel forces the spine to move through a greater range of motion than on the mat or on the other equipment and this makes these exercises some of the most challenging in the Pilates repertoire.

The “side sit up” is a great example of an oblique exercise that can be performed on the barrel. It involves perching on the padded arc sideways, putting your feet on the ladder rungs, and then lowering and lifting your spine in an arc over the curve of the barrel.

Exercises like the “side sit up” show that the ladder rungs are used for supporting the feet during exercises. The rungs can also be grasped by hands if the barrel is being used the other way around.

Holding on to the rungs usually reduces the challenge of ladder barrel exercises as it adds an element of stability. The different rung settings also mean that the barrel can be used by people of different heights.

The ladder barrel can also be used from a seated position for dynamic, full-body exercises like “horseback”. This is an exercise that looks like “rising trot” in riding and is an effective exercise for strengthening the legs, pelvic floor and improving coordination.

The spine corrector

Like the ladder barrel, the spine corrector is primarily used to assist spinal movements and for abdominal exercises.

Because of the spine corrector’s compact design, it can easily be placed on top of the trapeze table and reformer. This means it can be used with other pieces of equipment to increase the range of movement (and therefore the challenge) of certain exercises.

In exercises like “roll down”, for instance, introducing the spine corrector to the trapeze table means that the body has to go from flexed (a rounded) spine all the way through to an extended (back bending) spine. This is a more difficult version of the original “roll down” exercise that requires you to move from a rounded spine to only a flat back.

Ladder barrel - A female pilates student sitting on a ladder barrel with one leg raised above her head supported by both hands

The benefits of the barrel and spine corrector

Unless you’re an acrobat or paint a lot of ceilings, you probably don’t spend much time rotating or extending your spine.

This might not seem like a big deal, but it is actually really problematic when it comes to our spine.

Modern life forces us to spend hours slumped forward over a computer, which results in hunched postures, sore backs and a whole host of other health problems. To counter this – and keep our spine healthy – we need to be moving the body in all directions.

This is where the barrel and spine corrector comes in. Their rounded surfaces support these extension and side-bending movements and through this help to improve the mobility, flexibility and strength of the spine.

Supporting and challenging the body

Of course, side bending, spine extension, spine flexion and rotation are possible without the ladder barrel and spine corrector – if you’ve tried mat Pilates you’ll know this is the case.

But these curved surfaces support the spine and encourage it to move more evenly when creating these shapes. This make these exercises safer and more attainable, which is especially helpful when it comes to teaching Pilates to pregnant women, people with injuries or beginners.

This is why Complete Pilates think the ladder barrel and spine corrector are essential for practising Pilates, and why we love including exercises on these pieces of equipment in our sessions.

Want to see what all the fuss is about when it comes to the ladder barrel and spine corrector? Then why not come and try a studio class or 1-2-1 session with Complete Pilates. Click here for more details about our group classes and here for 1-2-1’s.

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2018-07-07T14:23:50+00:00