Pilates can be as simple as you like. Whether you prefer to practice barefoot on the mat, or you’re building your very own collection of yoga and Pilates accessories, there’s no doubt that the Pilates method is easy to adapt to your surroundings and the equipment available to you.
The Pilates method, which was developed in the early 20th century as a rehabilitation method, is based on the idea that the mid-section of the body (the lower torso and pelvis) is the powerhouse of the whole body, and as such, exercising the body’s centre is a means of total body conditioning.
The founder of the Pilates fitness method, Joseph Pilates, started out as an athlete. After a childhood spent in ill-health left him weak, he sought ways to make his body strong and healthy.
Successful in his ambitions as a bodybuilder, gymnast, diver, skier and boxer, when the First World War broke out, Pilates began working as a nurse on the sickbay of an internment camp. He applied his own experience to others who had become weak due to illness or injury and by modifying their hospital beds, he built the first versions of the Pilates apparatus used in wellness studios today.
In addition to these original machines designed by Joseph Pilates himself, the way that Pilates has taken the West by storm has given rise to many other accessories used to enhance routines.
So, if you want to know more about the props you can buy to make your home workout even better, or you’re interested in the equipment found in Pilates studios, read on!
Pilates Accessories to Use at Home
Although the Pilates equipment developed by Joseph Pilates is often seen in studios, most of the apparatus is far too bulky and expensive for most people to have at home.
Thankfully, the nature of Pilates means that you can do it with or without this equipment and still enjoy the benefits of improving your core strength.
If you can’t get enough of Pilates, or it’s simply more convenient for you to exercise at home, there are several accessories which are both compact and affordable to maximise your total body workout.
Here are some of the most popular fitness props used for doing Pilates at home:
- Pilates Mat
Using a mat in Pilates is essential. Not only is it an anti-slip surface on which you can support yourself, but it also provides cushioning when placed on a hard floor.
You can use any type of exercise mat or yoga mat for Pilates – they all do the same job, so you can also use your mat for general stretching and yoga.
- Foam Roller
Foam rollers are utilised for a range of mat exercises. They assist in maintaining proper alignment of the body. While completing core exercises, foam rollers can add challenge to your practice and improve your sense of balance.
A foam roller is also great for giving your tired muscles some much-needed kneading.
- Pilates Bolster
A bolster provides additional support particularly during core strengthening exercises (like oblique twists), which can cause discomfort to your back. The bolster offers added stability and enables you to stay in good form.
- Resistance Band
If you’ve ever attended a Pilates class, it’s likely that you’ve been given these bands to use in your training before.
The resistance provided by the bands mimic the effects of lifting weight while allowing you to use your body’s full range of motion.
In addition, these elasticated bands are also used for improving flexibility. You may hook a band around your feet and use it to pull your body down if you’re working on being able to touch your toes, for example.
- Magic Circle
The Magic Circle is also known as the resistance ring. Just as it sounds, the magic circle is a ring made of a rubberised material or flexible metal and has a handle on each side.
Although it looks like something you’d want to squash together as a resistance exercise, the purpose of the magic circle is actually to help people find their centre during Pilates exercises. In addition, the ring also provides feedback about muscle use.
While a popular prop in studios, the size of the ring means that it can also be used at home.
- Exercise Ball
The exercise ball, also known as the balance ball, is most common in pregnancy Pilates and yoga classes as it is useful for weight support during a full body workout. Users can either use the ball to fully support themselves, or simply make an exercise or pose easier by supporting some of their full body weight.
Exercise balls encourage the practitioner to use their core to support themselves and promote good balance. They are used in yoga, too, and you will also find them in gyms.
- Hand Weights
Light hand weights can be used in Pilates to maintain emphasis on the whole body. Weights add challenge to standing routines and almost all of the mat repertoire. Many reformer routines can also be completed on the mat using hand weights.
Weights are great for toning the upper body and building strength in the core.
- Foot Corrector
Joseph Pilates invented several small accessories specifically to engage and work the feet, most famously the foot corrector. The foot corrector has a solid, weighted base with a curved saddle which has considerable spring tension. It is used for, you guessed it, foot-related exercises, while ensuring ample stability, support and feedback during use for practitioners of all levels.
The foot corrector is designed to strengthen arches, correct alignment issues, and ensure weight is evenly distributed throughout the whole foot. It encourages proper balance and creates a connection between the user’s lower body and core. If you don't have a foot corrector, you can also use a simple tennis ball!
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Pilates Machines in Studios
The results of Joseph Pilates’ modifications to hospital beds by adding spring-loaded contraptions to help the sick and injured enjoy the strengthening effects of total body conditioning can be seen today in many studios.
Each one of these pieces of equipment, or ‘apparatus’ as they were referred to by their inventor, has been designed to help users strengthen their core. While each one is very different from the next, the exercises that can be performed on each one contribute to a balanced body.
- Pilates Reformer
The reformer started life as a bed, and this is still evident in the modern reformers used today. Due to its size, this is a piece of equipment you wouldn't necessarily have at home. But reformer Pilates can give variety to your Pilates routine.
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While it may look a little intimidating, reformer training is not reserved for men or the strongest or most experienced practitioners of Pilates. In fact, the reformer comes with a range of attachments that you can add and remove to increase and decrease the level of resistance in the carriage.
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This machine is the biggest of the various apparatus invented by Joseph Pilates, and thus, you are likely to find it in studios rather than in homes. It features a flat, static bed which is supported by a large metal frame. This frame has attachments including a trapeze, roll-down bar and springs to work out the limbs.
The idea behind the Cadillac (also known as the trapeze table) is versatility. With its simple tabletop as well as its many simple yet effective attachments, it can be used in conjunction with mat Pilates or on its own.
- Pilates Chair
Taking up slightly less room than the reformer and Cadillac, the Pilates chair doesn’t really resemble a chair at all – it’s more like a stool which supports bodyweight without restricting movement. In fact, as the traditional design is becoming modernised, there are many varieties becoming available on the market.
Most chairs feature pedals which use springs to provide resistance to your arms or legs when using them. The springs can usually be adjusted to create more or less tension and vary the resistance on the pedal.
- Ladder Barrel
This is a simple yet versatile piece of equipment that can be used in many ways, but is more often used during one-on-one Pilates sessions rather than in a class. It is made up of a vault-like, curved box and a ladder which resembles a ballet barre in some ways.
The ladder barrel is particularly effective for targeting and strengthening the spine extensors, abdominal and oblique muscles, as well as helping users to improve their spine mobility.
The ladder barrel can also be beneficial for stretching and flexibility work. The curve of the barrel combined with the stability of the ladder offers the perfect structure to anchor one part of the body while moving the other way, resulting in a stretch.
- Step Barrel
A step barrel, otherwise known as a spine corrector, looks like a smaller version of the ladder barrel. However, the curve on the spine corrector is less pronounced than that on the ladder barrel. It also sits much lower to the ground.
Both of these features make it the best piece of apparatus for Pilates beginners, or those who have injuries or restrictions which mean that the range of extension at the spine must be limited.
The spine corrector can be used in isolation, or incorporated into your mat, reformer or Cadillac routine. It is mostly used for stretching and strengthening exercises that target the hips, spine and abdominals, but will also effect other areas of the body, particularly the neck and shoulders.
Traditionally, Pilates is performed barefoot. The benefits of going barefoot include a lower chance of slipping (and therefore injury) and more natural movements which are not restricted by footwear.
However, for some, it is not always possible to do practice barefoot. In the winter months, for instance, it may simply be too cold to go barefoot and the cold can make it more difficult to relax the muscles comfortably.
If you’d prefer to keep your feet covered during your Pilates or yoga classes, here are some options to consider:
- Non-Slip Yoga Socks
If you’re prone to getting cold during your strength training but wearing socks isn’t ideal, a pair of non-slip socks could do the trick.
They’re just what they sound like: socks which have a non-slip material on the soles to provide grip and prevent you from slipping while you exercise on the mat.
- Studio Wraps
Studio wraps are used in Pilates, yoga and barre exercises. Like yoga socks, they have a non-slip sole, however, their wrap-around design makes for a more snug fit than socks.
The purpose of studio wraps is to provide a non-slip cover for the soles (which may be essential for hygiene reasons in some studios) which feels like a second skin. This way, the range of mobility of the foot is not restricted and exercises can be performed as usual.
Studio shoes are usually made with breathable material and are shaped in a way that the top of the foot is not entirely covered to prevent feet from getting too hot.
- Rubber-Soled Pilates Shoes
Less common but still available are Pilates shoes. Upon first glance, these resemble the studio wrap. However, while they still allow full movement of the ball and arch of the foot, they do have a rubberised sole which makes them similar to a dance shoe.
So, if you're a Pilates beginner and are looking for help with your practice, don't hesitate to utilise some of these accessories. Or, if you're an intermediate or advanced practitioner, these accessories are also great for enhancing your training and pushing yourself that little bit further.
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