With a range of Pilates accessories available to buy online right now, why not quickly see which ones you're likely to want, or to use.
You will also see these referred to as a fitness circle, exercise ring and even magic circle. But what are they and how will they help you in your Pilates regime?
The Pilates ring is usually made from flexible metal or rubber and is 13 inches in diameter. It has small pads either side. It does provide some resistance but this is not really the point of the ring. It’s really a tool to help you find your centre and understand which muscles are being used. They are also very lightweight and easy to take with you if you are travelling and want to keep up with some Pilates exercises.
It can be used in a variety of exercises like the standing leg press and the arms back. The use of the ring will just add another dimension into your Pilates moves. For example the roll up with the ring adds in extra work for the arms and the abs and your back will have to work that little bit harder. But one of the greatest benefits of this accessory is that it will stop you getting bored. You can use it in your usual Pilates moves to add in variety. The key element is that the ring does not work with isolated muscles. To use it properly you will need to engage the whole body and really ensure that your posture is in the right position.
In terms of composition a Pilates ring can either come as a flexible metal or some are all rubber. This does depend on personal preference. If you want mild resistance then the rubber version could be right for you but some people find them too soft.
Try to source a ring that has pads on both the inside and the outside of the ring as that will make it more versatile. Some rings juts have pads on the outside.
Pilates weights are not used in the same way as you would in non Pilates exercise. They tend for example to be light. Why is this and why use weights at all?
The advice for women is to use hand weights that are between 1-3 lbs and for men the advice is to only go a little heavier. The reason you shouldn’t go as heavy as you would in a weights workout is that you could lose your alignment and end up focusing on the extremity rather than the core, which is what Pilates is all about.
Hand or wrist weights can help with muscle toning. Adding some weight will cause your muscles to work that bit harder. The key thing to remember is that resistance has to happen on both the exertion and release. Adding weight to an exercise will also help to increase the energy used and burn calories. We need to be honest, you are not going to see massive weight loss using Pilates weights but it will all help. Weights can also add in extra stability and give you a greater awareness of your core. And finally, as with all the Pilates accessories, one of the biggest benefits is that weights will add variety to your Pilates regime, keeping you involved and interested.
Hand weights can be used with most of the classical Pilates exercises including the hundred, roll up, double leg stretch and spine stretch.
Look for specialised Pilates weights which are made from a soft material which makes them safe. Many also come in a spherical shape which helps to create functional grip strength. Or a good pair of neoprene coated dumbbells can do the trick as the coating provides a really good grip. Another choice is to buy some Pilates hand weights which come with straps so they fit snugly in your hand. This ensures that, as we have said, you use the weights but don’t lose that alignment.
Pilates rotational discs can be used in pairs or individually depending on the exercise. They look like a flat disc usually 12 inches in diameter. They can be used on a Pilate mat or on a Pilate machine like the Cadillac or reformer. They are pretty simple in design but can have amazing training benefits.
Many of the movements we use each day require rotational stability in our hips and shoulders. The discs will help to improve balance and stability. Exercises can be performed supine, prone, standing or kneeling. The discs create instability challenging unilateral and bilateral stabilisation. You can stand with both feet on one disc or each foot on a separate disc, they will do wonders for your abdominal control.
Look for high quality construction, many come from a ply with a maple veneer.Anti slip strips are also important. You can buy them individually but for the greatest benefit buy them as a pair. If you like using the reformer then consider the rotational disk board.
The Pilates foam roller is exactly as the title suggests, a cylinder of high density foam. They have become very popular in home use as they are small and relatively inexpensive.
You can perform a number of exercises with the foam roller including the pectoral stretch, shoulder drops and chicken wings. The purpose of it in Pilates exercises is to help vary your poses and also to make them more intense by challenging your stability. In fact you can find entire Pilate classes that are taught with the foam roller.
The main benefits of the foam roller include trigger point release within muscle groups, increased blood and lymphatic flow, improved muscle control and strength, increased core strength and finally improved flexibility.
Rollers do come in different diameters and lengths so make sure the size you order fits what you will use it for. Most are made of high density packing foam that won’t crush under your body weight. In time some rollers can collapse a little in the middle. If you want to avoid this then look for a roller made from closed cell foam or super high density EVA foam. The most popular size is 35 inches long and 6 inches in diameter. Also consider the firmness. For Pilates and stretching look for a foam roller that is fairly soft. A really hard foam roller is better suited for deep tissue massage.
Pilates blocks can either be the smaller head block which supports the head and aligns the neck which can really help when getting your body into the correct position. The larger sitting block will help to tilt the pelvis during exercises and can also provide support between the knees.
Pilates blocks can help you get the right position and moves and can also help you avoid injury particularly when you are starting out. They provide cushioning in inversions, support the head and also help elevate you. The smaller blocks are placed under the head and the larger sitting blocks can be placed under the hands, feet or buttocks.
Look for non-toxic scratch resistant EVA foam as these wont distort in shape when you use them. Look for a surface you can wipe clean and which resists moisture and bacteria.
Exercise balls were not invented by Joseph Pilates but they are commonly used in Pilates routines. The main benefit they bring to Pilates is the instability they give the core. That instability means your core is more tested. As with other Pilates accessories they are relatively inexpensive but help you adapt Pilates exercises to make then different and also harder.
There are numerous ways you can use the exercise ball in a Pilates workout. Fairly easy moves include the pelvic curl and spine stretch. More advanced moves include the roll up where you hold the fitness ball in your hands and the open leg rocker where you position the ball between your ankles. So the ball will provide a leverage challenge to some exercises and instability to others.
Make sure the ball is burst resistant. This is really important if you are on the ball. When damaged the ball should then slowly deflate and not burst causing you to become injured. They should therefore have a weight limit. Look at the different sizes, your height should determine the size you buy. If you are between 5ft 1 and 5ft 7 the ball should be around 55cm. When you have purchased make sure you keep it fully inflated.