What is a Pilates Barrel?

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  • Written By: Dee S.
  • Edited By: Jenn Walker
  • Last Modified Date: 08 February 2020
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The Pilates barrel is a barrel-shaped exercise device. A common addition to many Pilates studios and home gyms, the Pilates barrel is available in three distinct styles and sizes. The largest style is the Pilates ladder barrel, which sits about 3 feet (.9 meters) off the floor; the step barrel is a bit smaller and is also called the spine corrector. The smallest is the Pilates barrel arc, which has a half-moon shape and sits directly on the floor. Developed by Joseph Pilates, each one plays a unique role and gives people additional ways to exercise using Pilates techniques.

There are some similarities among the three barrels. For example, they all have a curved, barrel-like shape. The shape is designed to isolate the muscles that people use to maintain good posture. In addition, the barrel-like shape challenges the muscles of the body across several movement planes.

The Pilates ladder barrel has rungs, similar to those of a ladder, and a curved surface. The barrel portion of the apparatus sits about 3 feet (.9 m) above the floor. The ladder is typically the same height. The ladder and the barrel are usually connected via a curved base that is adjustable, allowing people to have the barrel fit the size of their bodies. In most cases, the curved base is adjustable, allowing people to fit the barrel to their bodies and their ability levels.


The surface of the Pilates ladder barrel is used to stretch the body and perform exercises that help users increase their flexibility, stability, and strength. For example, the user can put her feet through the ladder rungs for stability, then lean back across the curved barrel. The result will be a back stretch and a full extension of the spine.

The Pilates step barrel, or spine corrector, has a half-circle arc design with a step that is angled. Typically, there are handles to grip onto the sides for people who need a little extra stability. It mainly focuses on the abdominal, shoulder, and back muscles, but it works the pelvic muscles and legs, as well. It is unique from the other Pilates barrels in that it works to reinforce the shape of the spine and works the muscles that are used in maintaining proper posture. In addition, if used properly, this Pilates barrel can help correct spinal deformities, such as those associated with osteoporosis, scoliosis, and arthritis.

The smallest of the barrels is the Pilates barrel arc. It is both lightweight and smaller than the rest, perfect for storing in a small closet or under the bed. It is comprised of a semi-circle or half-moon shaped barrel. The curved portion of this Pilates barrel is used to support the shoulders and back. It also opens up the hips, neck, and thighs. Many people use the arc barrel as a complement to a Pilates mat exercise routine.

With all three pieces of Pilates equipment, caution should be used. Although they are effective tools for stretching, stabilizing, and strengthening key muscles, they can also be quite injurious if they are used improperly. Most people should be taught how to use the Pilates barrel by a skilled Pilatesinstructor before attempting to exercise on their own.


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