Pilates can be as simple as you like. Whether you prefer to do your exercises 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 exercise 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 the original Pilates 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 Pilates routines.
So, if you want to know more about the equipment you can buy to make your home Pilates workout even better, or you’re interested in the Pilates machines found in Pilates studios, read on!
Pilates Equipment to Use at Home
Although the Pilates equipment developed by Joseph Pilates is often seen in Pilates 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 items of Pilates equipment which are both compact and affordable to maximise your total body workout.
Here are some of the most popular exercise accessories 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.
- Resistance Band
If you’ve ever attended a Pilates class, it’s likely that you’ve been given resistance bands to use in your workout 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 to being used to provide resistance, 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 proper name for this piece of Pilates apparatus is 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 resistance ring also provides feedback about muscle use.
As a popular prop in Pilates studios, the size of the ring means that it can 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 to 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.
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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 Pilates 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 Pilates reformer started life as a bed, and this is still evident in the modern reformers used today. Reformer Pilates can give variety to your Pilates routine.
Although this is not a piece of equipment you would necessarily have at home, that does not mean to say that Pilates reformer exercises are 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 Pilates machine is the biggest of the various apparatus invented by Joseph Pilates. 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 exercises 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.
- Pilates Ladder Barrel
This is a simple yet versatile piece of equipment that can be used in many ways. It is made up of a vault-like, curved box and a ladder which resembles a ballet barre in some ways.
The Pilates barrel is particularly beneficial for strengthening the back muscles as well as helping users to improve their spine mobility.
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 Pilates 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 workouts 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 prevent you from slipping while you exercise on the mat.
- Studio Shoes
Studio shoes 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 shoes 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 wrap of the studio shoe, however, although 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.