Part 2: Exploring the top Pilates Props!

faq pilates pilates props pilates teacher pilatesforaerialists pilateslovers play reviews Feb 07, 2024

Part 2!  

Exploring the Top Pilates Props

{If you haven't read part 1, go check that out first}


In the last blog, part 1, we went back to where it all originated with Joseph Pilates.  His development of Contrology and inventing apparatus to support and continue his clients movement. We looked at the Pilates Apparatus that are around today in studios all over the world.  I thought it was important and interesting to understand the roots of using apparatus and props and how Joseph Pilates designed and started using them himself

In this blog, part 2, I'll introduce the 'wee' Pilates Props that I talked about in part 1 and about their role in enhancing your Pilates practice.  The importance of choosing the right prop to maximise your session, your clients sessions and to get the benefits of Pilates.


Pilates Apparatus

As a recap here's some of what is mostly used in Pilates Apparatus studios today.

Such as;

  • The reformer is probably the best-known piece of resistance equipment today used in group or private sessions.  This apparatus involves lying back and using springs as well as many, many other positions!
  • The Cadillac, also known as trap (trapeze) table, is typically used in private sessions since it requires a lot of instruction.  This looks like a 4-poster bed type set up, again with springs, pulleys, and other attachments.
  • Other large in-studio Pilates equipment includes the Pilates or Wunda chair and ladder barrel, spine corrector, and the tower, which is attached to the reformer as is half the side of the Cadillac.


In addition to these there are also small additional Pilates props, which are not part of the full apparatus (Reformer, Cadillac, Ladder barrel, Spine Corrector, Wunda chair)


I'm going to call them... 

'The wee props'

The wee props

When I had my own studio in Edinburgh, Scotland, I loved having to hand one for each client and play with all the different wee props.  Such as; Fitness circles/Magic circles, Flex-bands, Triad/Chi balls, Weighted balls and especially the Foam Rollers.  I used them as kind of like a fun pick n mix.  Sometimes we'd all do the same exercise and use the same prop, sometimes I'd use them as a specific tool for that one person in a particular exercise or day for them. 


The various types of 'wee' props

I'll explain the specific benefits of each and you can evaluate the best props for you and your clients.   With each we'll look at the pros and cons of each. 

Smaller pieces of Pilates equipment are often used during mat work and can be used with Pilates Apparatus too, with both, to add resistance or develop balance.  This includes; 

  • Dumbbells or leg/wrist weights or weighted balls
  • Resistance bands of varying strengths
  • Different sizes of exercise balls
  • Foam rollers 
  • Pilates ring or "Magic circle". 


Weighted Balls

 Pros - I personally prefer the small weighted balls with sand in them to wrist or ankle weights in terms of being specific about wrist action.  I found that the holding of the weight and the positioning of the wrist with the additional weight to be just as intriguing and useful as adding the weight for arms and shoulders.  Maybe that's the aerialist in me!  But I did find it gave me information about clients who weren't aerialists too.  I find adding a light weight is good for grounding shoulders, upping the awareness and messages that continue from the arm into the back to be a little 'louder' too for the client.  This helps to get information and understand my intentions and their own connections better too.  Build up strength with the additional weight.  They don't take up much room and are easy to keep in a small drawer in studios or home. 

Cons - The only one I can think of is accidentally dropping on yourself, for that reason I'd often cue clients not to have it move in front of their faces if lying on their backs or sides.  Not too pricey and easy to do exactly the same movements in a class with or without using them. 


Resistance bands

Pros - These are great, soooo many exercises that can be done with these light weight, easy to use bands that also come in huge variety of strengths/resistances.  I used to love doing double legs and using different resistances on each leg and then switching over so the body has to compensate and adjust.  it's fun and serves as a great tool to change things up in terms of feedback.  These can be used as a supportive tool or strength giving tool.   I found the best way to use them is to be clear about the initial position for clients.  For example; at the feet making sure it covers the ball of the foot so that the client is in control of it, when pointing and flexing the foot and it doesn't feel like it's about to ping off!  Giving the clients good, clear set ups allows them to feel good and accomplish positions and movements with ease.  Giving clients wins with props is key. That comes down to explaining and demonstrating well, also noticing if it's not quite right for them.  Easy to store and travel with.  As a studio/instructor you can purchase a full roll and cut up into lengths that feel best for you and your clients.  Generally about 1 metre. 

Cons - Clients could reply on it too much and not use their centre, but I'd say this is rare and if anything a teaching moment for them to be aware of using arms too much.... can't think of too many cons to be honest! 

Large Exercise Balls/ Swiss balls

Pros -  I originally trained with the 'Swiss ball' or fitness ball, the larger ones back in Melbourne in Australia in 2000.  I loved it!  I remember being 20 living in Australia and working freelance in different studios around the place.  There was an amazing place I worked called MSAC - Melbourne Sports and Aquatic Centre and there was an instructor there called Cath.  She stood up on the ball one day in the gym and I was so blown away by it!   I thought it was impossible.  Watching her, planting so my seeds of possibilities in my mind!  I moved up to Brisbane a year later and whilst working on the gym floor I slowly build up my skill set with it to be able to stand on it.  It took me a few years but I did it!    The balls can be various sizes, they are super fun, playful, supportive and really allow you to challenge balance and balanced strength in your body.  Also to gain great range of motion and functional strength too. 

Cons - I think it's really key to have clear cues and definite understanding of good ball control tips.  A client can easily go out of balance or lose control if the layers haven't been adding gradually and meet them where they are at.  Cues, and understanding the prop yourself is key to safety with this one.  They do take up a lot of space so it might be hard to have 1 for each person in a larger group class, even if it's 8 people.  I'd prefer to use it 1:1 or 2:1 with clients. 


Triad ball/chi ball 

Pros - I do love these!   so much multi use, plus great specific feedback whether lying on your front/prone and having it under your chest to open up the chest and shoulder area or under the pelvis when lying on the back or between the legs for connecting the adductors and pelvic connections.  It's a really adaptable prop that can easily be added as a one off option for a client during group sessions. It provides support, instability, so balance work and improved awareness.  Kind of easy to store I could fit 8 - 10 of them in a couple of studio drawers.  They are fun and easy to add or take away. 

Cons -   I think I'd just be making them up for now!


Foam Rollers

Pros -  I love the foam rollers!  They did take up a little bit of room, but I just slotted them all together in a wee corner that fitted perfectly for them.  I love that you can use them in so many positions.  It's easy to give clients a few positions/movements and you can instantly see the concentration on their faces.  Especially with balance.  It's great for having clients be centred and in the moment for this.  It's also easy for some clients to be using them and others not too. It's easy as a teacher to provide modifications or alternatives.  These are fun and not that expensive too.  I'd say it's worth investing on a good one so it doesn't lose its rounded shape, so a firmer one.  These can also be used as half moon shape ones too.  I tended to use the full round ones. 

Cons -  Harder to travel with, might take up a little more room in the studio. I'd say put the emphasis on fun with some of the challenging ones so it doesn't become frustrating if they 'can't' get the balance!  It's easy to make it too hard for the client so really knowing the roller yourself is key to pitch it at the right level. 


Fitness  Circle/ Pilates Circle/ Magic Ring

Pros -  These are good, great for building strength and resistance, can also be added as an additional layer, so it becomes a kinda pat your head rub your belly, multi tasking moment!   Can be used equally for upper body and lower body.  Great for adding more strength and power into the movement.  More energy is require to press on them.  Or some exercises can be done trying not to press on them too.   They often jokingly get called ring of fire!   There is quite a variety in quality of fitness circles.  I'd tend to get decent good quality ones to last and also to feel solid, strong and stable. 

Cons - I'm not a huge fan if I'm honest, I did use them and found them good, just personal preference.  Not sure if it's the awkwardness of them or what.... Totally a me thing! 


The body on it's own 

The body on its own is a powerful tool.    Definitely a fave for me!

There are lots of body weight exercises you can do.  I find for both myself and when teaching clients there's so much information that the body gives, and it says on its own. 

I just love the skill of reading it, adapting and creating the right movements or better yet, empowering the mover/client to explore options and to gain a deeper understanding of their own body and learning to listen to it.  Whether it's to make an exercise simpler or to shift it up a gear.

I think this is why I love the Aerial hammock so much!   Not just because I come from Aerial and it's using the same fabric and apparatus we're familiar with in the Air.  But because the hammock hugs you like it's you.  It's second skin.  So it's a very adaptable prop that equally gives you sooo much information about yourself.  I love the feeling of trying to breathe into it.  I instantly feel connected and like I'm working hard but with ease.  I also love how it naturally guides me to flow.  For example with kneeling side kick your leg wants to keep moving and flowing.  It's also easy to lean your weight into for more support or less to strengthen from within but with the encouragement to flow.  

awwwww the Aerial hammock it really does just bring joy to my mind and body and I do love it when clients spend time on it, with it, upside down in it and start to feel the benefits of it too.  It's a really powerful prop that is great for getting clients in the Air, who otherwise wouldn't of thought it possible or to help support Aerialists with the endless journey of keeping balanced and connected in their/our training.   

The importance is doing what you enjoy the most, what you're comfortable with and what inspires you to move more and connect.  Enjoyment really is key to the prop you choose.  Then it's activity and movement for the pure pleasure of it.  Which is inspired movement.  Experiment and play and you'll get a feel of what's your fave.  Or use a bit of them all and keep the pick n mix energy up! 

Air Hugs





Do let me know if you found this interesting, I really appreciate your feedback. 

For the Pilates Police – I welcome kind education if there are any parts where I can learn more about, thank you.


For links and further fascinating research 

From recent ongoing research we found Joseph Pilates on Circus Website: Labonche

Joseph Pilates is listed under:   WAR CIRCUS: A-Z LIST CIRCUS 1914-1918

This list was only developed between 2016 and 2017 

PILATES, Joseph Hubertus

Nationality: German

Job: Circus Trainer, Boxer, gymnast

1914-1918 Notes: 1914 circus was caught out travelling in Blackpool. Arrested in Sept 1914 as an enemy alien. Registered index number 1400. He was interned at Jersey , Lancaster in derelict waggons and then finally in Knockaloe, Isle of Man. He occupied himself and others with physical exercise to combat ill health.

Join our mailing list

Stay connected!

Join our mailing list to receive the latest news and updates

We only send gorgeous emails, we won't send spam. Unsubscribe at any time.