No Equipment? No Problem! Five Different Props to Try Today

May 28, 2020
Author: Suzy Levi, NCPT, PMA Board of Directors

Many of us have transitioned to teaching our clients virtually. Luckily, we are living in a time when we can still work with them and share all of the benefits of Pilates at a distance.

Having said that, it is likely that you are teaching more on the mat than on equipment, as most of your clients probably do not have a Reformer, Chair, or Barrel in their homes. It can be challenging for both you and your client to simulate similar experiences to working on the large apparatus when you’re no longer in the studio together.

Using Pilates props in your private sessions and classes will not only add variety and fun, but will also add dimension to the workouts in the following ways:

• It can challenge and inspire the client. When a person masters an exercise, they may become complacent with how they perform it. Props can make the exercise more   difficult to perform, thus challenging them as well as inspiring the client to improve.

• Props also can support the client. When someone is starting out, the prop can offer support to prevent injury and aid in performing the exercise correctly.

• Using a prop can provide feedback for the client. It gives them direction to perform proper technique by providing a proprioceptive effect.

While there are many props available to add into your teaching repertoire, I am going to focus on what I call the “Fab Five”. They were my go-to props when I first opened my Pilates business and was on a tight budget. They allowed me to teach more people at a time with variety. I could integrate them easily and smoothly into a Pilates session and they were relatively portable and inexpensive. The “Fab Five” props include the Magic Circle, Foam Roller, Resistance Band, Mini Ball (8-inch squishy ball), and the Large Stability Ball.

The Magic Circle adds intensity and additional toning and challenge to the exercises. It offers tactile guidance to the exerciser stimulating proprioception and improving kinesthetic awareness of the muscles during a workout. The resistance of the Magic Circle provides a consistent challenge throughout the exercise, thus requiring more focus and effort to perform it.

When selecting one to purchase, pick one that has padded handles on the inside and outside as it will be easier to hold it in place and more comfortable on your skin. Choosing one with light resistance will help you engage and work the deep smaller muscles.

The Foam Roller is a perfect complement to Pilates. It creates additional awareness of how your body feels and moves and helps to improve posture and body symmetry while challenging core strength and balance. In this state of heightened awareness, the client will notice the movement of their muscles, position of their joints and bones, and learn to communicate with their body to fully experience the challenge and benefit of each exercise. The unstable surface of the Roller makes the exercises more challenging and recruits more muscles to execute them.

Rollers are made with a closed-cell structure and cross-linked foam technology. They are available in 3 different densities. The most firm is a bit easier to perform exercises on as opposed to the least firm that makes exercises more challenging because it requires more balance. The softer Roller, although it is more challenging to perform exercises on, feels better on a body that has sore and stiff joints and muscles.

You can use the Roller to perform Pilates exercises in a variety of positions - sitting, standing, lying supine, lying prone, side lying, kneeling, or on hands and knees.

Resistance Bands may be also be used to complement Pilates exercises. They can add resistance and challenge and can also assist in performing the exercises. They are great for simulating some Reformer exercises, using the bands like straps or springs to aid in lengthening and stretching the muscles.

Resistance bands are roughly 6 feet in length, and range in resistance from light to heavy. Each resistance is denoted by a different color of band. General guidelines for choosing band resistance: Knee/Leg Strengthening – heavy to extra heavy; Shoulder Strengthening- light to medium; Mat exercises - moderate to heavy. Bands are available in both Latex and Latex free versions as some people are sensitive to latex.

The 8-inch squishy balls, commonly referred to as a “Mini Balls” or “Overballs,” are a great prop to add to your Pilates mat workout. When you are using large apparatus, you can also use it with exercises on the Reformer, Barrel, Trapeze Table, or Chair to help clients engage the correct muscles. On the mat, it adds variation and fun to the exercises. You can use it to support your clients while performing the exercise or use it to add instability and more challenge. I like to use it to mimic Reformer exercises such as Mermaid, Stomach Massage series, Side Sit Ups and The Swan. The Mini Ball can be inflated or deflated to help enhance or assist the exercise.

The large stability balls made their way into mainstream American fitness after being used successfully in the therapeutic settings.

Learning to negotiate the instability of the ball can be a challenging and fun experience. The movements of the wobbly ball spontaneously challenge a person’s neuromuscular control and stimulates their kinesthetic sensitivity.

Performing Pilates exercises on the ball requires the exerciser to activate deep core muscles and integrate all of their muscles working through a strong center. Exercises on the ball challenge balance, pelvic placement, spine and shoulder girdle stability, and whole-body awareness.

When working on the ball, clients are using quite a few Pilates principles such as control, centering, concentration, and breath. Control to keep the body aligned and to keep the ball from rolling out from under. Concentration to imagine the exercise and focus on performance. Centering to be able to support the dynamic movements on the ball, and breath to link the body and mind to execute the exercises and continue to bring oxygen to the muscles.

Although Pilates was originally designed without using props (except the Magic Circle), it can be very effective and fun to add one or more props into a Pilates class. Remember: know your audience. Adding props requires more concentration, control, and coordination. A props class can create a challenging workout and may not be suited for all clients. When introducing props to your workouts, it is best to add them slowly, one prop at a time.

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