A Pilates practise is a dynamic and varied matwork practise, but the use of the small props can significantly modify your workout! Whether you want to make the exercises easier, harder, or just mix things up, the props can keep your mat time challenging, supported, and most importantly progressive! Let me break it down for you here!
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To begin your matwork journey you definitely need a decent mat! This is your foundation and it NEEDS to be comfortable. Aim for a mat that is around 5-6mm thick so that you have the support under your hips and knees when weight bearing. A non-slip material is best for working on your hands and knees too. Here is an old review I did of my mat that I’m still using 6 years on!
A head cushion is also one of my essentials in my Pilates practise. This allows correct alignment of your head and neck and reduced unnecessary tension within these muscles. You can get the perfect size here, or if you’re on a budget, use a folded up small hand towel.
Adding resistance & challenges:
Once you have an established practise and a bit more familiarity with the exercises, you can increase the challenge by using the resistance equipment. This allows progressive overload to your muscles, which is essential in order to gain more strength! Within the Pilates repertoire there are resistance bands, resistance loops, magic circles, & weighted balls,
The longer bands allow you to perform standing exercises, as well as being great for upper body exercises too. Band workout here. The loops provide a shorter, greater resistance and are best for glute and leg work like in this mini circuit. The magic circle can be squeezed within the hands, or pressed down on. This will cause more core engagement as well as resistance to the limbs that are using it! Try this magic circle workout here. The weighted balls act like small weights; but despite being small in size they are the perfect shape for holding and rolling for numerous repetitions and exercises to build muscle endurance!
Creating stability (or instability!) & activation:
In contrast to making exercises harder, there are also small props we can use to improve stability and muscle activation. This is essential to executing the exercise correctly, and may be necessary before progressing to harder exercises.
The soft ball is a favourite of mine! It is versatile in that we can place it under the pelvis in crook lying for a stability challenge whilst we perform most exercises, under one foot, or even between the ankles in side-lying! It allows development of the smaller, deeper muscles as they have to work harder to stabilise the movements too.
Pilates blocks are often under-used but can really improve your comfort. When doing seated roll ups for example the hip flexors can often feel tight and restricted. Sitting on the block can alleviate this discomfort and allow greater core activation rather than over-compensation by the hip flexors. These are especially useful in pregnancy too when the bump may make seated exercises difficult. In standing exercises, having the block for some support can help with balancing and any exercises that involve you reaching towards the floor, but you can’t quite make it to the floor! Th block will provide a stable support to reach for.
The gym ball is a great prop for sitting on whilst performing your Pilates exercises! Creating an unstable base, but also a functional position means you are exercising in a position we find ourselves in most of the day and therefore strengthening yourself for this task! The ball can also be used for deeper stretches as it provides lovely support to the body and you can really lean in to the stretches comfortably. It can also be useful for those who are less able to get on/off the floor frequently, suffer with dizziness/pains with too many positional changes, pregnancy, or as a fun addition to kids classes!
Finally, the spikey massage balls. The most forgotten about Pilates prop I think! These do wonders for awakening your senses and stimulating the muscles and fascia. Spikey ball release provides a self-massage to relieve tight areas and muscle soreness. They prepare you for exercise by improving circulation and muscle stimulation. Suitable for use by everyone they are a great addition to the start or end of your workout! Get some spikey ball workout ideas here, and you can read more about their benefits in this longer post.
Thanks for reading and I hope that’s sparked some benefit to your Pilates practise! Or brightened up some home workouts to keep it interesting!