Pilates Back Posture Correctors

Joseph Pilates, founder of the Pilates exercise method, which he called “Contrology,” believed strongly in the critical role that spinal alignment holds in good health. In fact, Pilates so believed in his methods that he worried very little about cultivating other healthy habits. He was well-known for drinking and smoking cigars while he taught his unique fitness techniques in his New York City gym. Despite these unhealthy habits, he lived until the age of 86, perhaps proving his point. 

Although by today’s standards Joseph Pilates might not have made the best lifestyle choices for a healthy body, the effectiveness of his methodology is difficult to dispute. For many Pilates enthusiasts, there is nothing better than the benefits of the Pilates system for muscle tone and balance. Regardless of your current physical conditioning, age or body type, these exercises can be excellent additions to any health regimen. 

Pilates focuses on strengthening muscles and on breathing and flexibility. Due to its focus on achieving spinal health and musculature balance, this methodology can have myriad health benefits. A regular Pilates routine can correct poor posture, relieve back and neck pain and improve overall fitness.

AeroPilates Spine Corrector Barrel
AeroPilates Precision Series Spine Corrector
STOTT PILATES Merrithew Spine Corrector
AeroPilates Spine Corrector Barrel | Used to Open The Chest | Correct and Restore The Curve of The...
AeroPilates Precision Series Spine Corrector | Two Free Online Expert-Guided Workouts Included |...
STOTT PILATES Merrithew Spine Corrector
AeroPilates Spine Corrector Barrel
AeroPilates Spine Corrector Barrel | Used to Open The Chest | Correct and Restore The Curve of The...
AeroPilates Precision Series Spine Corrector
AeroPilates Precision Series Spine Corrector | Two Free Online Expert-Guided Workouts Included |...
STOTT PILATES Merrithew Spine Corrector
STOTT PILATES Merrithew Spine Corrector

What is the Origin of the Posture Corrector?

Considering the colorful reputation of Joseph Pilates, the prevailing backstory surrounding the invention of the posture corrector doesn’t seem completely unbelievable, though it is unproven. The anecdote, often repeated in Pilates circles, is that he invented the step barrel by cutting a beer barrel in half and covering it with upholstery. He is said to have then used the remaining metal rings to create the magic circle, another Pilates staple still used with regularity today. Whether the story is true or not, today’s posture correctors, often known as step barrels, arc barrels or Pilates arcs, remain largely like Pilate’s original invention. 

Making exercise equipment out of everyday objects was nothing new for Joseph Pilates. Raised in Germany in the late 1800s, he was often sickly and began bodybuilding to improve his health and physique. Through a combination of boxing, weightlifting and martial arts, Pilates improved his health and strength, leading to a lifelong belief in the benefits of exercise. 

At the beginning of World War I, Pilates was living in Great Britain, where he and other German citizens were placed in internment camps. It was here that Pilates perfected his “Contrology” method, leading his fellow internees in daily calisthenics. He credited this ongoing routine with keeping them healthy, even as the Spanish flu spread throughout Europe. 

During the latter part of his internment, Pilates worked as an orderly in a hospital, where he built the first Pilates reformer out of bedsprings. His methods were tested on returning veterans, who used the bedsprings as resistance coils while exercising their healthy limbs. Because they were able to begin an exercise regimen while still bed-bound, the recovery time for Joseph’s patients was significantly reduced. 

After the war, Joseph returned to Germany, where he taught his methods to police officers. When pressured to train the German army, he refused, choosing instead to leave his home country due to the ongoing political climate. During his journey across the Atlantic, he met his wife, Clara, who later became an enthusiastic advocate for his exercise methods. 

In the early 1920s, Pilates immigrated to the United States, where along with his new wife he set up the very first Pilates studio in New York City. As their reputation and success grew, Joseph continued to invent contraptions to support his training methodology. Some of the most well-known apparatus include the Pilates Chair, the Cadillac, the Wunda Chair, the Guillotine and the Tower. 

In spite of Pilate’s reputation and marketing, his “Contrology” system failed to reach peak popularity during his lifetime. However, the Pilates method endured through longtime practitioners who strongly believed in its benefits. In the 1990s, the technique exploded onto the market with force. Today, Pilates is a mainstay at fitness centers, rehabilitation centers and private studios alike. 

History aside, the step barrel is an outstanding piece of equipment for any Pilates practitioner or anyone wanting to improve their physical conditioning and their quality of life. This piece of equipment might appear simplistic, but the results you will attain will make the investment worthwhile. Working out on an arc will allow you to contort your body and work muscles you would otherwise be unable to target. 

Pilates Posture Corrector Specifications

So, what exactly does a Pilates posture corrector barrel do? Although its name suggests it is merely an apparatus for correcting poor posture, there are many benefits to a posture corrector. In fact, since all Pilates exercises are meant to induce good posture and spinal alignment, the posture corrector can be considered just another tool in the Pilates arsenal. 

Using the posture corrector can help restore your spine’s natural curve, alleviate back pain and improve your balance. In addition, it can aid you in stretching the muscles of the back to increase flexibility and provide a structure on which to perform specific strengthening exercises for core strength and overall fitness. It can also be used as a tool in yoga practice, rehabilitation and personal training. All in all, a step barrel is an excellent addition to your Pilates routine. 

Step barrels are known as such because the barrel has an attached step on which you can sit while performing specific movements. The barrels themselves come in differing heights and sizes, and some consumers may have particular preferences depending on the exercise and the practitioner’s body type. Generally, a barrel will also have something to grasp on each side, either handles, slots or a grab bar. In addition, you can choose between a wooden and leather model or a foam model. 

Technically, there is very little difference between the various arcs, handle options and materials as far as your workout is concerned. However, you will likely have a preference for a specific arc that most easily matches the natural curvature of your back. When buying an arc barrel, you will want to consider its durability, appropriateness for your body, and your personalized preferences for manufacturing materials and handles. Be sure to research before you buy. If possible, you may want to try different models at a local Pilates studio to figure out which type of barrel best meets your needs. 

The Step Barrel Versus the Ladder Barrel

For those who are just getting familiar with the practice of Pilates, it is helpful to compare the different barrels used in the methodology. There are two types of barrels that Pilates practitioners use to support their practice. These two devices are the step barrel as described above and the ladder barrel. 

True to its name, the ladder barrel consists of a raised half-barrel mounted on a frame, close to a ladder made up of several rungs. Like the step-barrel, the ladder barrel’s shape allows for stretching and strengthening of the back, neck and core muscles. The rungs of the ladder are designed to stabilize the body while doing a prescribed set of movements. This stabilization is achieved by either holding the rungs with your hands or interlacing your feet, depending on which part of the body you are working. 

Ladder Barrel

This piece of equipment is adjustable to practitioners of differing heights and builds and should provide a solid workout to just about anyone. If you are buying equipment for your home, you would be unlikely to mix the two products up. The ladder barrel is much larger than a step barrel and is usually found only in Pilates studios. 

AeroPilates Spine Corrector Barrel

A basic model, the AeroPilates Spine Corrector Barrel is designed to open the chest, strengthen the abdominals and restore the curve of the spine. This arc-barrel is made of wood and leather and is one of the more affordable options for Pilates barrels. Consumers who use the product appreciate the curve and the pain relief they get from regular use. The unit features a handle on either side of the barrel and comes with an instructional DVD. Check the latest price

AeroPilates Precision Series Spine Corrector

The entire surface of the AeroPilates Precision Series Spine Corrector step barrel is padded and upholstered for comfort, and it features cutout handles on each side. It is designed to improve your posture and tone your core and abdominal muscles but can also be used for thigh muscle toning. This barrel comes with two instructional lessons, which you can stream for free on any device you own. Check the latest price.

Stott Pilates Merrithew Spine Corrector

A trusted name for Pilates enthusiasts, the Stott Pilates Merrithew Spine Corrector promises to align and mobilize the spine, improving posture. The unit features a sturdy wooden barrel with thick foam padding for comfort and grab bars on either side. The manufacturer claims it can strengthen the legs, back, torso and shoulders. Although this unit carries a higher price tag than the others, it is the only one with consistent five-star reviews on Amazon and, as such, may be worth the additional cost. Check the latest price

Best Step Barrel Exercises for Posture Improvement

If you want to improve your posture, supercharge your fitness and maintain good health, using a Pilates posture correcting barrel is an excellent addition to your Pilates routine. Working with a barrel strengthens your postural muscles, builds your core strength and contributes to good posture. But how should you get started? 

First and foremost, you will need to check in with your physician before starting any new workout, especially if you suffer from chronic neck or back pain or are recovering from a recent surgery. You may also want to seek the support of your physical therapist, personal trainer or Pilates instructor. Once you are clear to begin the process, you can start with some fundamental movements:

Spinal Extension – True to its name, the purpose of this exercise is spinal lengthening and stretching. 

  • Begin by sitting on the step of the barrel with your back straight. 
  • Reach your arms out in front of you, then pull them up and back over your head while rolling your back on the barrel, taking its shape. 
  • Inhale as you stretch back. 
  • Once fully extended, sweep your arms to the sides as you roll back up to a sitting position. 
  • Repeat for up to eight reps.

Lip Abdominals – This exercise focuses on the lower back. 

  • Begin by sitting at the edge of the step with your knees bent and feet hip-width apart.
  • With palms facing inward, extend your arms in front of your chest, keeping them at shoulder height. 
  • Exhale and round your spine to the back by pulling your abdominal muscles inward. Inhale and return to the starting position. 
  • Repeat for up to eight reps. 

Well Abdominals – This movement increases spinal mobility and strengthens abdominal muscles. 

  • Begin by sitting on the step, with your hips and back against the arc of the barrel. 
  • Keep your knees bent and your heels together. 
  • With your hands behind your head, exhale and roll back slowly, keeping your back in contact with the curve of the barrel. 
  • Begin your inhale as your back begins to extend along the downward curve of the arc. 
  • Exhale as you slowly return to a sitting position, peeling your back away from the barrel one vertebra at a time. 
  • Repeat for up to 10 reps. 

Side Bend – The side bend movement stabilizes the pelvis and promotes spinal flexibility. 

  • Sit sideways on the step, with the barrel on your right side and your right leg hooked on the step. 
  • Your left leg will remain straight. 
  • Inhale and pull your body into spinal alignment by sitting tall with your arms extended. 
  • Exhale, slowly bending your right flank over the barrel while reaching your right arm above your head. 
  • Inhale to come back to sitting by peeling yourself from the barrel, starting with the upper ribs, then your chest and side abdominals. 
  • Repeat for up to six reps, then repeat on your left side. 

Side Sit-Ups – This movement corrects imbalances and boosts thoracic flexibility. 

  • Sit sideways on the step with the barrel on your right side and your right leg hooked on the step and your left leg straight. 
  • Place your hands behind your head and inhale, lowering your torso along the arc of the barrel. Your bottom elbow should point forward. 
  • Exhale, while pushing your lower ribs into the barrel, then lift your torso until your spine is straight. 
  • Inhale and return your torso to the barrel. 
  • Repeat for up to six reps, then repeat on your left side. 

Step Barrel Roll-Over – This exercise strengthens your gluteal muscles and mobilizes the lower back. 

  • You will want to get into position by sitting at the tip of the arc and then sliding your bottom about halfway down the side of the barrel (toward your legs, not your head). 
  • Lower your torso onto the barrel, pushing up with your feet, so your knees are at a 90-degree angle and your shoulders are touching the ground at the top end of the arc. Your hands should press into the sides of the barrel. 
  • Take a deep breath, relaxing on the exhale. Inhale, lifting the right leg to a 90-degree angle with your torso, then exhale, lifting the left leg to match. The legs should be together. 
  • Hold for an inhale, then exhale, extending the legs at an angle. 
  • Keeping your legs straight, inhale, pulling them up, then exhale as they arc over your head. Your back should pull off of the arc, one vertebra at a time, so you are resting on the shoulder blades.
  • Exhale then inhale, separating the feet to shoulder-width apart.
  • Exhale, rolling the spine back down one vertebra at a time, onto the arc, and allowing the legs to stay shoulder-width apart. Your legs will be outstretched at an angle when your back is completely resting on the arc. 
  • Inhale again, closing your thighs. 
  • You can start from this position, repeating the steps above for additional reps, up to 15.

Reverse Step Barrel Roll-Over

  • Reverse the process by starting from the last rep, where your feet are at an angle, shoulder-width apart, and your back is resting on the arc. 
  • Hold for an inhale then exhale, extending the legs at an angle. 
  • Keeping your legs straight, inhale, pulling them up, then exhale as they arc over your head. Your back should pull off of the arc, one vertebra at a time, so you are resting on the shoulder blades.
  • Exhale then inhale, pulling your legs together.
  • Exhale, rolling the spine back down one vertebra at a time, onto the arc, and allowing the legs to stay shoulder-width apart. Your legs will be outstretched at an angle when your back is completely resting on the arc. 
  • Inhale again, moving your legs apart to the starting position. 
  • You can start from this position, repeating the steps above for additional reps, up to 15 reps.