Props for a Great Pilates Workout

by Cathie Ericson on Feb 24, 2014

Uniting the Industry

Instructors share their favorite “toys” for the reformer.

Pilates instructors know that the key to a stimulating workout is to challenge students by mixing things up, and small props are effective tools for injecting variety. We asked instructors to share the small props they most enjoy using on the reformer—and why.

The Right Activation

Denis H Image

“My first go-to props are balls of almost any size, from the size of a tennis ball to a basketball. Balls bring attention to muscle groups that are not participating as much as they should be; for example, clients can hold a ball between their legs to activate the inner thigh muscles.

“I also use balls to modify [exercises] or to assist in joint alignment. In the case of modification, I place the ball under the client’s sacrum in supine position, with feet on the foot bar. As the client presses, the hips move into extension. Clients with tight hip flexors can open up the front of their hips with this modification. With respect to alignment, placing a ball between the feet can keep the lower legs in a parallel position and either reduce or remove the potential for supination.

“Second, I recommend the VersaDisc or any air-filled balance training disk. I place it on the floor and use it with Eve’s lunges. Clients either stand or kneel on [the disk] from the carriage. I also place it under the knee for clients who have knee issues. Another way to incorporate a disk is by sitting on it when doing arm work. This requires the client to engage her core more fully, increasing effort without changing the load on the arms.

“I also like to incorporate hand weights or medicine balls. I use ones that are very light, 2–3 pounds. When you add arm work to the leg work, it requires more focus. Finally, I recommend a Pilates magic circle, for short-box exercises only. It allows clients with mobility issues to reach their feet or to support the leg and complete exercises that would otherwise be unavailable to them.”

Denise Houriet, Espiral Pilates & Fitness, Doylestown, Pennsylvania


Versatility and Connection

Elizabeth Payne Image

“My favorite prop for the reformer is a 7- to 9-inch small ball. It’s extremely versatile and challenges those who would like a ‘little extra.’ When I work with a new client who is fit but lacks the ability to perform functional movement patterns, I place the ball behind her low back as she imprints during ‘stomach massage,’ and it helps her to engage her pelvis and lower abdominals rather than overuse her legs. When feet are in straps, I love to use the small ball under the sacrum for ‘bend and stretch’ and ‘lower and lift,’ to ensure quality and slower movement. It also makes clients more aware of their abdominals since the clients have to stabilize the pelvis on both the concentric and eccentric contractions. The addition of the ball quickly shows what muscles need to be fine-tuned. When clients realize something isn't quite right, the instructor’s cues make more sense.

“Adding the ball can make all the difference for clients who have limitations and need assistance with stability or proprioception. For example, when a ball is placed between the knees for footwork in parallel, clients become aware of proper tracking and inner thigh connection. For arms in straps, hip rolls, and exercises on the knees, the ball assists with core stability so clients can find success and proper movement more quickly. The ball also gives clients a sense of security by making the lower body seem more like a single unit.”

Elizabeth Payne, NW Core Balance and Private Instructor, Tualatin, Oregon


Fun and Flow

Kim Killway Image

“In reference to advanced training, my current favorite props are a soft, squishy ball, weighted toning balls (1-2 pounds) and the magic circle, which I use with the jumpboard.

“I enjoy tossing a squishy ball to my clients while they are jumping, to improve hand-eye coordination and balance. It’s fun, and they get a little extra cardio work.

“Next, I add the toning balls [to provide] resistance and challenge during jumpboard classes. Clients hold a ball in each hand and do the following exercises: ‘hug a tree,’ chest press, salute, triceps extension, oblique rotation and alternating arms. I have found that using toning balls while jumping reinforces body alignment and core strength. It also gives clients the ultimate cross-training feel.

“Finally, I add the magic circle. Clients place it between their ankles, in Pilates V, and we do the hundred. From there, we move the magic circle to the hands and, while pressing to engage the core, we move to single-leg stretch, double-leg stretch, single straight-leg stretch, double-straight-leg stretch and crisscross. Next, clients [move onto their side,] place the magic circle between the upper thighs and squeeze with the inner thighs (the clam). From there, we place the legs through the magic circle with knees bent and open to isolate and engage the outer thighs. We then use the magic circle to stretch the hamstrings, IT band and groin. I am also a big believer that music and choreography add to the fun, so they are an integral part of my classes as well.”

Kim Kilway, The Houstonian Hotel Club & Spa, Houston


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About the Author

Cathie Ericson

Cathie Ericson IDEA Author/Presenter