Exploring the Top Pilates Props: Finding the Perfect Fit for Your Practice

aerialhammock aerialpilates aerialpilatesteachertraining benefits of aerial pilates circus artists mindset pilates pilates props pilates teacher pilatesforaerialists pilateslovers you Jan 30, 2024

Exploring the Top Pilates Props: Finding the Perfect Fit for Your Practice


What is the best Pilates Prop?

Before I introduce the concept of Pilates Props and talk about their role in enhancing your Pilates practice today, and jump way ahead into the land of Aerial Pilates and the Aerial hammock.  The importance of choosing the right prop to maximise your session, your clients sessions and to get the benefits of Pilates......


Let's go waaaay back to where it all originated. 

With Joseph Pilates and a wee bit about Pilates History,

(scroll to the bottom for interesting links)

 Here’s part 1 of this blog on Pilates Props!


Joseph Pilates: His Story

In 1912, Joseph Pilates fled to the UK due to the changing political ideals in his home country.

In 1914, Jo may have performed with a circus in Blackpool, while we can’t find definitive evidence of this, it is plausible and we discuss this further in our ‘Circus History’ unit of Aerial Pilates Teacher Training.  One source states that while touring with the Circus, Jo was fascinating with the Chinese acrobatic training and that this is where his ideas for the Wunda Chair developed. Which I could imagine with handstand press ups for example.

He taught self-defence to Scotland Yard and the British police but after the beginning of WW1, he was interned on the Isle of Man with other German nationals.

Here he began teaching some of his fellow internees the methods and exercises he had developed over the years, honing them into a system that he would call “Contrology”.

Joseph Pilates began working to support the rehabilitation of people suffering from an influenza epidemic, wartime diseases and injuries.

He would deconstruct bunk beds to use their springs and use barrels from the camp to develop apparatus that would allow even the bedridden to perform the exercises….  Isn’t that amazing and fascinating!


Pilates Apparatus

These basic structures would later evolve into the many apparatuses we use in Pilates 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.

Joseph Pilates later emigrated to the United States in 1926 where he opened a gym in New York with his wife, Clara.

Together they opened the first Contrology Studio on Eighth Avenue at 56th Street in Manhattan, New York.

In the 1930-40’s Circus Artists would visit Jo’s studio in New York city, when they were on tour. Jo had signed photos from circus artists hanging in this studio. 

Pilates as we know it today could be divided into two categories: Pilates Apparatus or Equipment and Pilates matwork.  Which leads us onto small props and the use of them in both matwork and apparatus sessions.

These are small additional Pilates props, which are not part of the full apparatus (Reformer, Cadillac, Ladder barrel, Spine Corrector) I'm going to call them 'The wee props'. 


The wee props

When I had my own studio in Edinburgh, Scotland I loved playing with all the different small props, fitness circles, bands, chi balls, weighted balls and especially the foam rollers.  

However, the simple body on its own is a powerful tool and 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.


Smaller pieces of Pilates equipment are often used during mat work to add resistance or develop balance.  This includes; 

  • Dumbbells or leg/wrist weights
  • Resistance bands of varying strengths
  • Different sizes of exercise balls
  • Foam roller 
  • Pilates ring or "magic circle"


Part 2 Coming soon!

In the next blog I’ll discuss more about the various types of props, explain the specific benefits of each and evaluate the best props with the pros and cons of each and choosing the right prop for you and your clients. 


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.


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.



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