Pilates Props For Mat Classes
If you regularly attend Pilates Mat classes, you’ve probably used props. These are small items like balls and bands that studios provide to enhance your Pilates workout. By isolating or engaging specific muscles, props can foster "a-ha" moments even during the most familiar exercises. Like the springs on a Reformer, props can provide support and stability or offer more challenge, depending upon the movement being performed and how they are used. Creative instructors rely on props to add variety and a “secret sauce” to the traditional repertoire of Mat exercises.
Here are some of the most commonly used Pilates props and how and why we use them:
1. Foam Roller
This versatile prop, a mainstay of athletic training and rehab, is designed to smooth out the fascia. Its rounded shape, however, means that it can pinch-hit as a Spine Corrector. The wobbly surface challenges balance. Try performing Arm Circles, Knee Lifts, Toe Taps, or Dead Bug while your spine rests atop the Roller. Or turn it horizontally and rest your pelvis on the Roller while working up to the Shoulder Bridge, or performing a spring-less Leg Spring Series. Placed beneath the shoulder blades, the Foam Roller offers support in Abdominal Curls and facilitates spinal extension.
2. Hand Weights
In Pilates, we use light Hand Weights to keep the emphasis on the entire body. One- or two-pound weights add challenge to the Standing Arm Series and the Wall Exercises. They also make a good stand-in for the Arm Springs on the Cadillac and the handles on the Reformer. Many Reformer exercises, from Coordination to Rowing to Backstroke, can be done on the Mat using Hand Weights.
This long, stretchy band, available in varying levels of resistance, is great for stretching the hamstrings and lower back while lying on the Mat. The band can add resistance and challenge in the Side-Lying Leg Series, and it provides support and stability in exercises such as the Roll Up, Roll Back, and One Leg Circle.
This squishy inflated ball is one of the most versatile and commonly found props in a Pilates studio. When placed between the inner thighs, ankles, or palms, the Ball invites the engagement of the surrounding muscles. It’s also a great modification tool when placed under the spine or hips for extra support. Pregnant women can use a Ball behind the mid-back to avoid lying supine (flat on the back) for an extended period of time.
5. Magic Circle
Perhaps the most well known and versatile of all the Pilates props, this deceptively simple tool has endless uses. A Circle held between the ankles, thighs, or palms is a useful tool for finding the mid-line, an important Pilates principle (think of the phrase “drawing in and up”). The Magic Circle can also create instability (the same way an Overball does) when balanced on the floor beneath an outstretched hand in side lying series.
Just as there is something called “Chair Yoga,” many Pilates exercises can be modified so that they can be done in a seated position. Sitting upright is especially beneficial for beginners, as it encourages length in the spine (the same effect can be achieved by sitting on a Foam Roller or a Yoga Block).
Try adding props to your Mat work and see if it doesn’t challenge you in interesting ways and reveal new information about the exercises and your body!