Springs, Springs, What’s the Deal with Springs? The Simplicity of Four.
What if Joseph Pilates invented a huge awkward machine with piles of free weights? You’d have to stop and start for every exercise to adjust the thing. Thankfully, he created this incredibly versatile and sleek apparatus called the Universal Reformer with four uniform springs. There’s so much genius in Pilates’ inventions, and a big part of that lies in his use of springs. And the fact that there’s just four of them.
Springs are coils that stretch. They’re shorter at rest and longer as they extend. We can’t say precisely how much weight you’re pressing on the Reformer, but the spring load adjusts to how tall the person is. For example, a man who is 6’4″ will have approximately 175 lbs. of load when the carriage is out. And a 5-foot 4-inch woman will have about a 120 lbs load. So anyone, of any size, within reason, can use the same apparatus with the same springs. I’m no scientist, but that’s pretty cool!
A scientist did make this formula, though, called Hooke’s Law (Fs = Kx) to figure out the approximate weight of the springs. The theory of elasticity says the extension of the spring is proportional to the load applied to it. See? I didn’t make it up.
Pilates called his method, Contrology, so control is the name of the game. When all four springs are attached, the carriage is heavy and will slam back unless you use the power to resist the springs. The spring system stretches and strengthens your muscles without adding bulk, and the resistance changes as you move, unlike static weights. Genius.
Exercises in other methods get harder as the weight increases, while in Pilates, activities require more control the lighter the spring is.
I see the value in having a bunch of options in spring resistance if you’re a PT, for example, but the number of choices when going to a group Reformer class can sometimes leave one’s head spinning! The teacher said, “Okay, class, put on two reds for this, but for some people, it will be better to add a blue…or you might want to take it to a yellow to feel this or take off a blue to feel that.” I didn’t know what to do! The great news is that we are all different and get to choose what works for us.
I don’t want that many choices.
I couldn’t help but think of Barry Schwartz’s book The Paradox of Choice, voluntary simplicity, and how too much consumer choice leads to not so happy campers. Less is more. Joseph Pilates designed his Reformers with four uniform springs to take out all the decision making. You start at 4 springs. You go down to two when you go overhead and one when you pull straps.
No matter how many springs you choose to use, we’re lucky as teachers and practitioners to get to work on these cool apparatuses with springs. Thanks, Mr. Pilates!