Pilates Workout: The Magic Circle
Inner IDEA: Coming “full circle” with Pilates programming.
First created and named by Joseph Pilates himself, the “magic circle” remains a versatile and highly effective tool for today’s Pilates practitioners. Space-efficient and transportable, it is an ideal small-equipment option for personal trainers and group instructors alike. By thinking imaginatively, you can use it successfully with any of your clients, from injured Baby Boomers to well-trained athletes.
Over the years the magic circle has come to be known by many names, including the exercise or fitness ring, the power ring or power circle, and the STOTT PILATES® Fitness Circle® resistance ring. Materials used to make the various models available range from sprung steel to flexible plastic, and the substance determines the degree of tension or resistance: the stronger the material, the greater the resistance. Models vary in size, and many are made with comfortable foam grips that provide a cushion for the hands and ankles. Before purchasing a magic circle, do your homework and be sure the model you choose suits your needs and will be long-lasting.
The full-body workout that follows consists of 14 exercises using the magic circle.
Note that while the circle is often used to isolate or target a specific area of the body—like the inner and outer thighs, or the arm, chest or shoulder girdle muscles—it is also ideal for other purposes:
1. To Relieve Tension in the Neck. During trunk flexion exercises in which the head and shoulders are lifted off the mat for extended periods of time, many clients are unable to focus on their core muscles owing to the tension they experience in their necks. The magic circle can help eliminate this unnecessary tension by acting as a cradle for the head. Simply placing the head inside the bottom cushion of the circle and holding the top cushion with the hands enables clients to keep the head and shoulders lifted using the abdominals and arms rather than relying on overworked or tense neck muscles (see Ab Prep).
2. To Avoid Gripping or Overworking the Hip Flexors. Commonly in Pilates mat routines the legs are extended or held in tabletop position while the core is being worked. This type of open-chain exercise can be stressful for those who are tight in their hip flexors or weak in their core muscles and have difficulty supporting the weight of the legs. It makes a nice assist for the legs when one or both ankles are placed against the top of the circle for support (see Monkey Roll-Up Combo). Also, gently pressing down on the circle with the ankle(s) engages the hip extensors and keeps the hip flexors more relaxed (see the Hundred intensification exercise). Both the leg support and the increased hip extensor engagement enable clients to bring their focus back to the core.
Start Position. Lie supine with bent legs hip distance apart, pelvis and spine in neutral. Place head inside magic circle, resting on bottom cushion. Place hands inside circle, palms up, pressing against top cushion. Wrists can cross if pad is too small for hands, but keep palms facing up.
Exercise. Inhale to prepare. As you exhale, flex upper trunk off mat. Inhale, staying flexed. As you exhale, lower back down to start position. Repeat 8–10 times. To increase the challenge, stay up in flexion and pulse 3–5 times.
Start Position. Lie prone with pelvis and spine in neutral. Have both legs bent, abducted and laterally rotated with heels together. Reach arms overhead, holding magic circle with heels (palms) of both hands, elbows softly bent.
Exercise. Inhale to prepare. As you exhale, squeeze heels together while simultaneously pressing heels of hands into pads of magic circle. Repeat 8–10 times.
Start Position. Lie supine with pelvis and spine in neutral. Have one leg bent with foot flat on mat, other leg fully extended with ankle resting on top pad of magic circle. Rest extended arms by sides of body.
Exercise. Inhale to prepare. As you exhale, flex upper body off mat, maintaining neutral pelvis. Inhale for a count of 5 while pumping arms up and down. Exhale for a count of 5 while pumping arms up and down and simultaneously pressing ankle down into circle. Repeat for 10 full breaths. For more intensity, bring one leg to tabletop position while letting circle support other leg at ankle. Spine can be imprinted to help support weight of leg in tabletop position.
Start Position. Lie supine with both legs bent and balls of feet resting against inside top pad of magic circle. Ankles are dorsiflexed. Hold bottom pad of magic circle with both hands. Flex lumbar spine.
Exercise. Inhale as you flex upper body off mat, plantar-flex ankles and extend legs. As you exhale, dorsiflex ankles. Inhale as you plantar-flex ankles. As you exhale, lower back to start position. Repeat 8–10 times. To make this exercise easier, do it unilaterally with spine in neutral.
Start Position. Lie supine with pelvis and spine in neutral. Extend one leg, with ankle resting on top pad of magic circle. Extend other leg, or bend it in tabletop position. Rest arms by sides of body.
Exercise. Inhale as you cross midline of body with leg that is not resting on circle. Exhale as you circle leg all the way around, simultaneously pressing ankle of other leg gently down into circle. Repeat 5 times in each direction, and then switch legs.
Start Position. Sit just back of sit bones with entire spine in flexion, legs adducted and bent with ankles plantar-flexed. Place head inside magic circle, resting on bottom pad. Place hands inside circle, pressing up against top pad.
Exercise. Inhale as you roll back off sit bones, maintaining ball shape. Exhale as you roll back up to start position. Repeat 8–10 times.
Start Position. Lie supine with entire spine in flexion. Bend both legs in tabletop position, adducted with ankles plantar-flexed. Place head inside magic circle, resting on bottom pad. Place hands inside circle, pressing against top pad.
Exercise. Inhale to prepare. As you exhale, extend one leg out, maintaining flexion of spine. Inhale as you bring extended leg back to tabletop position. As you exhale, extend other leg out, maintaining flexion of spine. Repeat 8–10 times for each leg, alternating.
Start Position. Lie supine with entire spine in flexion. Bend both legs in tabletop position, adducted with ankles plantar-flexed. Place head inside magic circle, resting on bottom pad. Place one hand inside circle, pressing against top pad. Rest upper part of other arm by side of body; elbow is bent, and forearm is raised toward ceiling.
Exercise. Inhale to prepare. As you exhale, extend one leg out, maintaining flexion of spine and simultaneously reaching free arm across body, past opposite knee. Inhale as you return to start position. Repeat 5 times on that side and then switch sides.
Start Position. See the Hundred.
Exercise. Inhale to prepare. As you exhale, extend hips, lifting them off mat while maintaining neutral spine. Inhale while staying in this position. As you exhale, press ankle into circle 3 times. Inhale again, holding this position. As you exhale, lower hips back to start position. Repeat 3–5 times on each side.
Start Position. Lie on one side with spine in neutral and both ankles inside magic circle, touching its smooth areas, not the pads. Let legs hover just off mat.
Exercise. As you inhale, circle top leg forward and down. As you exhale, circle top leg up and back. Repeat 8–10 times for each leg.
Start Position Lie prone with pelvis and spine in neutral. Legs are extended, slightly laterally rotated and abducted. Hold pads on outside of magic circle with both hands, keeping elbows slightly bent.
Exercise. Inhale to prepare. Exhale to extend upper body and legs slightly off mat. As you inhale, lift and lower legs in swimming pattern for 5 counts. As you exhale, repeat leg pattern for 5 counts while simultaneously pressing hands in to circle. Repeat for 4 full sets.
Start Position. Begin on your knees with ankles plantar-flexed and magic circle lightly held in place between them. Walk hands out till they are directly under shoulders, and come to long plank position with entire spine in neutral.
Exercise. Inhale to prepare. As you exhale, press ankles into magic circle pulsing 3 times. Inhaling, bend elbows, lowering body into push-up position. As you exhale, press up to start position. Repeat for 3–5 full sets. To modify this exercise, keep knees on mat with ankles lifted off mat.
Start Position. Stand with one knee bent, ball of foot pressed into bottom pad of magic circle behind back, both hands holding top pad of circle with underhand grip.
Exercise. Inhale to prepare. Exhale as you lift leg, extending at hip for a stretch. As you inhale, return to start position. Repeat 3–5 times on each side.
Start Position. Stand with one knee bent, ball of foot pressed into bottom pad of magic circle behind back, same hand holding circle with overhand grip, other arm resting by side.
Exercise. Inhale to prepare. Exhale as you lift leg, extending and hinging at hip. Simultaneously extend spine and reach other arm forward for balance. Repeat 3–5 times on each side.
- provides resistance for muscular strength and endurance
- assists in the isolation and activation of specific muscle groups
- supports the weight of the limbs
- provides proprioception cues for the neuromuscular system
- is ideal for isometric training to increase strength at varying joint angles
- adds additional resistance when held between ankles or hands, increasing overall challenge of exercise
- is a great tool for dynamic stability for both the hip and shoulder joints
- guides the placement of the body
- is light-weight, affordable and versatile
- is easy to store and transport
- is fun—like an adult toy
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© 2009 by IDEA Health & Fitness Inc. All rights reserved. Reproduction without permission is strictly prohibited.
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