A Deep Dive Into Pilates Props and Apparatuses

In the United States, 11 million people practice Pilates. It’s a great form of exercise that is versatile and was created for rehabilitation and strength. While Pilates can be performed on a mat, there are quite a few props and apparatuses to further your practice.

Key takeaways:
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    Pilates props and apparatuses can both support and challenge your body.
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    Popular props include the mat, the Magic Circle, the Overball, the foam roller, resistance bands, and hand weights.
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    Popular apparatuses include the Reformer, the Cadillac, the Pilates chair, the Ladder Barrel, and the Spine Corrector.

Adding props to exercises in Pilates can both help support you or challenge you. Let’s dig into the props and apparatuses used in Pilates practice.

A quick overview of Pilates

There are six principles to keep in mind when working through the exercises. They are breathing, centering, concentration, control, flow, and precision.

As the practice evolved, props and apparatuses have been created to further support and challenge your body.

Pilates props

While the list below is not comprehensive, here are some of the more popular props used in Pilates classes.

Pilates mat

Let’s start with the basics, the Pilates mat. It is half an inch thick, more than your traditional yoga mat. Typically made of compact foam, this is used to support your spine. In Pilates, there are a few exercises such as Rolling Back and Rocker with Open Legs that require you to roll on your spine. The thickness of the Pilates mat will support and protect you.

The Magic Circle

Created by Joseph Pilates, the Magic Circle is a rubber circle with two pads on each side. It provides feedback to your body to target your muscles and make the exercises more challenging.

An example of how the Magic Circle can challenge your body is that you can place it right above your knees in the Shoulder Bridge exercise. This will provide feedback and help you activate your muscles as you squeeze toward your midline. To further challenge yourself, place the magic circle and continue to squeeze your knees together as you lift and lower through this exercise. Press down through your hands to stabilize your body.

man doing pilates Magic Circle

The Overball

The Overball is a soft, round ball that is typically nine inches in diameter, usually blue. To challenge your body, let’s look at The Teaser exercise. Place the ball right above your ankles. As you lift your upper and lower halves, squeeze your legs together to not drop the ball. This added challenge will force you to keep form.

woman doing pilates overball

Foam roller

Foam rollers are a popular prop in Pilates for self-myofascial release, aka SMR. There are two types of foam rollers: smooth or textured. The textured version provides more feedback to your body, making the sensations more intense. To support your practice, use the foam roller to release knots and muscle tension. To add a challenge to your practice, place your feet on a roller during the Shoulder Bridge.

Resistance bands or hand weights

Resistance bands and hand weights are other popular prop options that can support and challenge your workout routine. Typically they come in varying levels identified by different colors. To support your practice, you can use the bands to keep your legs in line with your hips in the One Leg Stretch. To challenge your body, add a resistance band pull apart to the Roll Up or the Spine Stretch.

Hand weights can be added to virtually any of the exercises for added fun!

Pilates apparatuses

There are quite a few options when it comes to Pilates apparatuses. These can typically be found in Pilates-specific studios. If you’re considering purchasing any of these, take a few classes to get used to the machine before practicing on your own.

The Reformer

First up is the Reformer. This is a machine designed specifically for Pilates. It consists of a rolling carriage connected with springs of varying tension for resistance. Typically there is a head and shoulder rest and looped straps. The straps can have two options, for your hands or your feet.

woman doing pilates apparatus the Reformer

The Cadillac or the Trapeze

The Cadillac was invented by Joseph Pilates himself when he was an orderly during World War I for patients who were unable to walk. He attached springs to the hospital beds to support the movement.

Unlike the reformer, the Cadillac – also known as the Trapeze Table – does not have springs underneath. A metal frame is erected around the table with holes for the springs and loops. The posts are connected along the top of the machine for even more options.

Pilates chair

The Pilates chair, also known as the Wunda chair, is a large box with a padded seat on top. It features a padded pedal connected with springs of varying resistance.

Ladder Barrel

The Ladder Barrel is an imposing apparatus consisting of… you guessed it! A ladder and a barrel. The ladder typically has five rungs and a sliding base to adjust to your height. The barrel is typically padded for ease of use.

woman doing pilates apparatus Ladder Barrel

This piece of equipment is great for backbends and side-body work.

The Spine Corrector

Restore the natural curve of your spine with the Spine Corrector. This piece of equipment is a padded half of a barrel with a connected incline.

Adding these tools to your practice can be a lot of fun. And as you can tell, there are quite a few options for Pilates props and apparatuses. Adding props can both support and challenge your practice. Note: the apparatuses listed above can typically be found in Pilates-specific studios. Check out your local studio to explore!


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