There’s a lot more to Pilates than doing endless 100s on a mat. There are various tools and pieces of equipment you can incorporate into the low-impact workout to get deeper into your muscles, which range from the reformer machine to sliding discs. Another option? Work through some Pilates ring exercises that use the fitness accessory to amp up the resistance.
A Pilates ring — also called a magic circle — is a bendable ring that you can squeeze or pull on throughout your workout, says Chloe de Winter, a physiotherapist, master Pilates instructor, and founder of the online Pilates platform Go Chlo Pilates. “By using the Pilates ring, you are able to add additional resistance to certain exercises,” she tells Bustle. “Often in mat Pilates, we only rely on bodyweight as the resistance. But the Pilates ring adds more resistance — and an additional challenge.”
Squeezing the ring helps you activate different muscle groups, often going a bit deeper than standard bodyweight moves. For example, holding the ring between your thighs as you squat means you engage new muscles — in this case, the inner thighs — for a brand new type of burn since you’re squeezing to keep it in place as you move. According to de Winter, the ring can also serve as a replacement for a yoga strap or towel to assist in certain stretches to help improve flexibility.
Here, de Winter shares 7 exercises you can do using a Pilates ring that’ll help get you started.
1. Bridges With Inner Thigh Squeeze
- Lie on your back with your feet hip-width apart.
- Place the Pilates ring between your thighs, just above the knees.
- Gently squeeze the ring so that your knees are a hip-width distance apart.
- Then, squeeze the ring more by drawing your inner thighs closer together.
- Lift your hips up into a shoulder bridge.
- As you inhale, slowly hinge the hips back to the mat and allow the thighs to open back to hip-width.
- Repeat 20 times, 2 sets.
2. Squats With Glute Activation
Do this exercise to activate the glutes, hamstrings, and quads.
- Step into the Pilates ring and pull it up so that it sits around your thighs, just above the knees.
- Stand with the feet hip-width apart, hands on hips, and the circle steady in place.
- Sit your hips back by bending the knees and lower into a squat.
- Make sure you keep your knees pressing out into the Pilates ring.
- Press through your heels to rise back up.
- Repeat 15 times, 2 sets.
3. Side-Lying Leg Lifts
This move strengthens the gluteus medius as well as the gluteus minimus, aka the sides of your butt, says de Winter.
- Lie on your side with your head supported by your arm or a pillow.
- Bend your bottom knee and let it relax.
- Place the Pilates ring on the outside of your top ankle, raising it to hover off the mat.
- Extend the top leg to straight.
- Carefully lift and lower your top leg, keeping the Pilates ring balanced.
- Keep your top leg straight and draw small circles with your leg.
- Repeat 20 lifts and 10 circles in each direction, then repeat on the other side.
4. Tricep Curl Ups
Do these curls to reach the tricep muscles as well as your abs.
- Lie on your back with your knees bent. Your knees should be above your hips.
- Place the Pilates ring behind your head, with the padding resting at the bottom of the skull/top of the neck.
- Your fingers will hold the other end of the Pilates ring, curling over the padding with the palms facing out.
- Hug your elbows in.
- Gently press into the Pilates ring as you curl your upper body off the mat using the support of the ring and also the abdominal muscles.
- Slowly lower back down.
- Repeat 15 times, 2 sets.
5. Leg Extensions
Add this exercise to your routine whenever you want to work your inner thighs, abs, and hip flexors, de Winter says.
- Lie on your back and place the Pilates ring between your ankles.
- Lift your legs into tabletop with knees bent, holding the Pilates ring in place with your ankles.
- Interlace your fingers behind your head and curl the upper body off the mat.
- Holding that curled position, extend your legs straight out to form a long diagonal position.
- Return your legs back to tabletop.
- Try not to drop the Pilates ring!
- Repeat 10 times, 2 sets.
6. Supported Push-Ups
This exercise targets the chest and shoulders to build upper body strength.
- Begin on your hands and knees with your hands placed under your shoulders and your knees under your hips.
- Place the padding of the Pilates ring at your chest vertically, with the opposite padded part of the ring on the mat underneath you.
- Step your knees back and shift the weight of your body forward to keep the shoulders over the wrists.
- Bend your elbows close to the body as you lower your chest toward the mat.
- Press through into your hands to lift yourself back up.
- The Pilates ring should support you in your push-up.
- Repeat 10 times, 2 sets.
7. Hamstring Stretch
Try this deep stretch for the hamstrings at the end of your workout.
- Lie on your back with your legs extended out straight.
- Hold onto one end of the Pilates ring, loop one foot into the ring and press the ball of your foot into the padding.
- Extend that leg up to the sky, straightening the knee as much as possible.
- Hold this stretch for two minutes, then switch to the other side.
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