Pilates Prop Substitutions

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Pilates teachers are some of the most creative and innovative trainers in the fitness industry. Their ability to offer a new perspective on the Mat repertoire or create Mat workouts based on a different piece of apparatus, morph modalities and modify for limitations is a testament to the value and longevity of the Pilates industry.

Nothing quite beats a good ‘ol fashioned Pilates Mat class and the challenge of using your own body weight. Even within the standard 34 Mat exercises of Joe’s ‘Return to Life’ every class can be unique with new discoveries, nuances, and a deepening of the mind-body connection. However, props can provide additional support, increase resistance, add a challenge, assist in a release, and enhance verbal cues. Amidst so many teachers moving online (and staying there for a while due to social distancing, new regulations, and high-risk clients) the use of props may become a necessity.

There’s no need to shy away from teaching or taking a class online with props. There are numerous options including making a small investment or using substitutions. Pilates teachers can supplement their income by selling prop packages or providing links for students to buy their own (such as through Amazon) or flex their creative muscles for substitutions.

Pilates Anytime teacher Blossom Leilani-Crawford teaches a wide range of people; those without props alongside professional colleagues with equipment. For example, she’ll use the Baby Arc in her live online classes and suggest 2 stacked throw pillows for those without. Teachers from around the world are creatively using common and/or interesting household items to replicate the Reformer. They’re using anything from skateboards, soccer balls, paper plates or coffee filters!


Here’s a list of common props and at-home solutions to create your very own home studio setting:

Mat

A good Pilates Mat is thicker than a yoga Mat (for all of that spine rolling) and ideally has a good grip to prevent slipping or bunching up. Although a variety of Mats for purchase are readily available, there are still plenty of folks that don’t own their own. Doing the Mat work on your hard floor is counterintuitive, substitutions include carpet or a blanket.

Foam Roller

Using a Foam Roller provides variety and depending on the teacher’s intention, it can give you feedback, release, or add a challenge due to its unstable shape. Alternatives include a rolled-up blanket, Bolster, couch cushion or pillow, and for the avid pool goers a towel over a pool noodle. In cases where the Roller is being used for release and self-massage, a rolling pin from the kitchen can be used.

Hand Weights

Adding Hand Weights is a fun way to replicate some of the upper body Reformer exercises along with providing additional resistance and/or assistance (depending on the exercise). Substitutions include using cans from the kitchen, books, or water bottles. An added bonus is the new neurological pattern and strengthening of your grip that you’ll attain!

Magic Circle

The Magic Circle is a staple in the Pilates world and also a fun prop to use! Substitutions include using a pillow or even a thick book (but a pillow is better - softer if it drops) for any exercise involving adduction. A band, belt, or scarf is great for abduction exercises.

Pole

In the studio, Poles are used on the Reformer and incorporated into Mat group classes as well as private sessions. Poles provide feedback and stability for those with a balance weakness and add challenge to the advanced practitioner. A 4-foot dowel or a broomstick are the best alternatives. Sherri Betz reminds us that broomsticks without any rubber padding should only be used on carpet (you can buy a rubber stopper from Home Depot). A belt or towel held tautly will suffice.

Overball

If you have kids or a dog you can use one of their sports or toy balls such as a cleaned soccer ball. Pillows and blocks can also be used.

Other Props

Some additional props include Bands, Yoga Blocks, Baby Arc, and a Chair. A Band can be replaced by a belt, towel, scarf, Yoga Strap, or dog leash. Yoga Blocks can be replaced by a thick book or if on the floor, stacked books. The rounded edge of a couch, 2 stacked pillows, and the substitutes to the Foam Roller can be used in place of a Baby Arc. A counter or even the wall can be alternatives for a Chair.

Reformer

A Reformer isn’t a prop but it does deserve mention since many studios offer group Reformer classes as well as privates. Some teachers have created makeshift Reformers by having their clients invest in 2 power bands and looping them around sturdy furniture. Taking one of the power bands and placing it around the foot of a heavy chair or something similar will enable you to do exercises such as Back and Front Rowing. By using both of the powerbands, supine, and with your head towards the bands, you can do a midback series, Breaststroke, and other variations along with Feet in the Straps.

A blanket or large towel can replicate the moving carriage on the Reformer by either placing the feet or the arms on it (prone, supine, or side bend). Other alternatives include carpet sliders, paper plates, or even coffee filters. These items can make exercises quite challenging but also fun and new. Shoulder Bridge variations, Snake and Twist, Star, and the whole Split Series can be explored.


These ideas are a great starting point for teachers. Taking an afternoon or two to grab items around your home to experiment and play will give you a better idea of what your clients may experience. Better yet, take those household items and do some of the Pilates Anytime classes with props! You’ll be surprised at the new ideas, variations, and inspiration that will arise as you fill up your teacher's toolbox. What at first may seem daunting can be the fuel for a whole new experience for you and your clients, one that can bring a new perspective of fun, challenge, and deeper learning!

We love hearing from you! Please share your takeaways and how you substitute props in your own classes.

About the Author

Roxy Menzies

Roxy’s curiosity for life and movement has led her to teach, present, live, grow and travel around the globe. She's reset her roots back in her hometown of Toronto, is mama to Jazz Ezgi, partner to Mem's and is known for droppin' truth bombs! Check out her website for more.


Comments

I'm curious to see these makeshift reformer setups! Since the pandemic, I've not been able to use a reformer in a studio. I'd love to set up one in my home to practice with PilatesAnytime videos!! 
2 people like this.
Jean (sorry just saw this now) you can definitely start playing and experimenting with using a blanket as the carriage and see what you can do.  Check out this post re:makeshift reformer  
1 person likes this.
Thank you Roxy -this was a great summary of prop substitutions that I will share with my clients and the video link has given me inspiration to try the reformer set-up at home. Best wishes and stay safe.

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