Props like the magic circle, resistance band, yoga block, stability ball, etc. can provide support and challenge to us as we practice Pilates. They can can help us fill the gap between where we are and where we want to go, and push us farther when we want to take an exercise to a new level of difficulty. You may have heard that using props is "cheating" or "not the real exercise," but this episode shows you how awesomeness and validity of using props. Tune in!
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[00:00:00] Hello, and welcome to Pilates Students Manual, a podcast helping you get the most out of your Pilates classes. I'm Olivia, and I'll be your host. Join the conversation and share your thoughts on Instagram at @pilatesstudentsmanual. You can support the podcast by visiting buymeacoffee.com/OliviaPodcasts. Let's learn something new.
[00:00:47] Hello. Hello, everybody. Welcome back to the podcast. Today we're going to be talking all about props and specifically why props are your friend. One of the things that I love about [00:01:00] Pilates is that there are so many different pieces of equipment, both apparatus, which I'm calling the bigger pieces of equipment, things like the reformer, the tower, the springboard, the Cadillac or trapeze table. the chair, um, all of those bigger pieces of equipment. And then also we've got these awesome props, some of which were designed by Joseph Pilates, things like the magic circle, but also some that we just use because they exist and they exist in other contexts, things like yoga blocks or straps or resistance bands or hand weights or a stability ball, things like that.
[00:01:38] One of the reasons that I'm choosing to do an episode about props is sometimes in Pilates circles or I also experienced this in yoga circles, there's this idea, this mistaken idea, that props are somehow cheating, or you're not doing the real exercise, [00:02:00] or using them is a sign that you're weak or not good enough, and I'm here to tell you, heck no, that is not a thing. Strongly disagree.
[00:02:13] I remember when I was looking for yoga teacher training programs first, and then Pilates teacher training programs, I wanted to find programs that embraced the use of props. Because I personally believe the approach of you have to do it exactly like this, no other versions will be accepted, like my way or the highway kind of thing, I don't think that that's realistic, and I don't think that that's helpful in an industry where we're supposed to be encouraging people to move and exercise and explore movement in their body.
[00:02:48] Sometimes there is a gap between what we want to do and what we are currently able to do, or our capacity to do that thing is not quite there at the level of that [00:03:00] thing. Sometimes the gap is in strength. We aren't strong enough to do something like the roll up yet. Sometimes it's in flexibility: we're not able to touch our toes in a roll down. Sometimes it's a coordination challenge, something like doing teaser on the reformer where there's lots of moving pieces and you're pushing into resistance and the timing is really tough. So we have to break those more complicated exercises, those harder for us exercises down in order to practice those components, get better at the components, and then we put that exercise back together.
[00:03:37] Props help us fill that gap and make it possible to do a version of the exercise where we are building strength, flexibility, coordination in order to achieve that thing that we want to achieve. Achieving the thing is only important if it's important to you. If there's a specific version of teaser that you're [00:04:00] trying to do, uh, then fine, we can work on that, but doing it a specific way is not a goal unless it's your goal, if that makes sense.
[00:04:12] So, props exist that help fill the gap. They bring the ground closer to us. They bring our limbs closer to us. They make doing the exercise more achievable, sometimes temporarily, as a way to get to the next thing, sometimes permanently, and it makes the exercise more accessible for your body.
[00:04:36] The flip side of that coin is that props can make exercises more accessible and supportive, but they can also make exercises really challenging and much more difficult than doing the exercise without a prop.
[00:04:49] From an accessibility perspective, everyone has a different body, different body proportions, differing abilities and capacities from the get go. [00:05:00] For example, if you're trying to reach down and touch your toes, that's much easier to do if you have longer arms and a shorter torso or shorter legs, the ground will always be closer when you have longer arms, right?
[00:05:14] So if you have shorter arms and say a longer torso or longer legs proportionally, it's always going to be more difficult to get to the ground. It may not be possible to get to the ground, in which case a prop is going to be really helpful in letting you do the thing. Because even if you do Pilates every single day forever, it's not going to make your bones a different size. It's not going to make you taller, even though some marketing says that it will. It can help make you not shorter, which is useful as we practice resisting gravity and not shrinking. But it's not going to change the shape of your hip socket. It's not going to change if you have scar tissue from surgeries or [00:06:00] injuries.
[00:06:01] There are limitations that our body has. Like there is a certain point of flexibility that we have and we can have a really fun time exploring what that is, but there are things that our bodies don't do and props can help us either work around that thing that we can't do or make that thing doable by changing some aspect of that exercise.
[00:06:26] For example, if you had a strap, not necessarily a stretchy strap, it could be like a cotton strap, like a yoga strap, and you use that to lasso your feet behind you when you're trying to do rocking on mat or the reformer. That's one that looks like bow pose where you reach back and grab your ankles and then you try to do bridge, but on your stomach instead of on your back. That's awesome. That's fantastic. That's a great use of a prop.
[00:06:50] If you're working to build strength in your push ups and you start with an incline push up, maybe with your hands on the reformer box so that [00:07:00] your hands are higher than your knees or your feet, that is going to make that push up more doable. Maybe you can explore your form or really hone in on pieces of the push up and then practice that to get stronger to eventually, potentially get rid of that box.
[00:07:20] If you have a long resistance band strap that you could put around your foot when you do one leg circle on the mat, that resistance band is going to take some of the load of your leg away so that you can move your leg in the full circle without having to hold your leg up with just the strength of your leg. And that can be excellent. It's actually one of my favorite ways to do one leg circle in Pilates, both as a teacher and as a student.
[00:07:50] I think the goal is to do Pilates and not to watch other people do Pilates and not sit out and think that you can't do that [00:08:00] thing. I always think that there's something that we can work on and something that we can do and props are a friend, whether or not you're working towards another version, whether or not this is your version.
[00:08:13] I've said in previous episodes that there was a gentleman in my teacher training who was like six foot four and had legs like tree trunks and just proportionally, he bent his knees in teaser because his legs were, as I previously mentioned, tree trunks and lifting them while they were straight was a strength and flexibility limitation in his body. It just wasn't going to happen, but that doesn't mean that he can't do teaser. It just means it might look a little bit different.
[00:08:43] Another important thing to note here when we're talking about props is that you're not competing with anyone else in the class. Pilates is not a competition. You don't get a reward or an award for doing it. Joe's way or Romana's way, or even the [00:09:00] way the teacher is saying, like, this is what we're building up to. The only person that you compete with in Pilates is you from yesterday. It's about personal growth and personal improvement, not about being better than anyone else or looking like a picture.
[00:09:16] Another really great thing about props is when we introduce them into our movement practice, they give us new feedback about how we move and about the exercises as we execute them. Think of lying on a long foam roller and marching or doing toe taps. You've got your legs in tabletop. You're trying to touch one foot down to the ground at a time. That foam roller is going to rock side to side as you distribute the weight from foot to foot. You can feel it as you're pushing your hands into the ground as well, and that's going to tell us something about the exercise. Even when we do it lying on the floor, we're getting [00:10:00] feedback, but it's different feedback. The foam roller feedback just clicks, I think, differently because there is this new balance component so we can feel into it a little differently.
[00:10:12] If you flip that same exercise upside down and you do something like bird dog and maybe you put a light hand weight or maybe you put a yoga block on your low back, then when you lift a leg and an arm, you're going to feel because that block or weight is going to maybe fall off of your back or maybe shift on your back. You'll feel, you know, how your hips exist in space because you're getting this external feedback from this prop as well. Trying to balance that prop on our low back is going to tell us what's moving, if it's moving, how it's moving, how much it's moving.
[00:10:51] I worked with a client who had some stuff going on with her nervous system and her brain was not able to tell [00:11:00] where her limbs were in space all the time. It was very difficult for her to know where she was, but having that feedback of a resistance band that she was pushing into or a ball that she was holding onto gave her brain the information it needed to know where she was. And that could be a permanent thing like that's something that was going on with her, but I'm never going to say that you're not doing Pilates because you're doing props. Like you're doing Pilates in an. incredible, amazing way that is unique to you because you are unique.
[00:11:33] After the break, I'm going to talk about not only how awesome props are, that's a given, but also how props can make things more challenging. And if you're looking for ways to spice up your Pilates practice, adding a prop might be the thing for you. That's coming up next.
[00:11:54] Hi there. Enjoying the podcast? Me too. Make sure you subscribe wherever you're [00:12:00] listening, so you get notified about new episodes and visit buymeacoffee.com/OliviaPodcasts to support the show. There you can make a one time donation or become a member with a donation of as little as $5 a month.
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[00:12:54] You may know from previous episodes or if you also listen to Pilates Teachers' [00:13:00] Manual my perspective on Pilates exercises, that they exist on a continuum that goes from simpler movements with less load and more stability all the way to very complex movements with more load and less stability.
[00:13:19] So if you think of that incline pushup that I talked about in the first part where you've got your knees down on the mat and you've got your hands on the box so that your shoulders are way higher than your knees, way higher than your feet and you're doing a push up there, it's got less load in the shoulders. It's a stable base of support; the floor doesn't move. And then you might progress that exercise towards a single foot control front push up. So control front is an exercise on the reformer where you have your feet on the foot bar and your hands on the shoulder blocks doing a plank facing the back of the reformer and maybe you only have one foot on the foot bar, [00:14:00] and then you're doing a push up with the carriage out. Maybe it's on a light spring, so that's even crazier. It's a very unstable, like, piece of equipment. It moves, you've only got one foot, so we're adding this kind of complexity. Like, there's just more going on. So you can see, like, yeah, it's still a push up, but we took it a lot further.
[00:14:22] Joe's versions of exercises exist on that continuum as well. If you look at Contrology or you know, classical Pilates closer to the way Joe taught it, that's just a version of an exercise, you know, so we can dial it down, but we can also dial it past that as well. So when we're talking about adding props and making things harder, it could be as simple as doing exactly what you're already doing, but with ankle weights or wrist weights on. Like, oh my gosh, that would be so much harder. There's more load in every single exercise. So [00:15:00] I talked a lot in the first part about how we can use those props to fill gaps, to support us, to kind of meet us where we are, which is totally true.
[00:15:09] And it's also totally true at the exact same time that props can make things really, really difficult for us. Think of doing feet and straps. What a treat. But now you've got a ball between your ankles. Okay, well, holding onto that ball is going to be a new challenge. It's going to add in some inner thigh stuff that maybe we weren't really thinking about before because how else are we going to hold that ball?
[00:15:32] Think about doing any exercise whatsoever on a Bosu. So now the ground is unsteady. If you're standing on it, if you're kneeling on it, if you are lying on it, if you are having your feet on it doing a bridge, like it's going to be really wiggly and wobbly, which is going to make whatever you do a lot harder.
[00:15:53] Think of any of those looped resistance bands that you put on your knees or your ankles while you do your exercise lying [00:16:00] on your side. Your leg can't move very far, but it is very difficult to move it. Those props are providing feedback and additional challenge in every exercise.
[00:16:12] Sometimes it's just a challenge to keep track of your props during class. Like, I feel like I'm always chasing my little stability ball and my foam roller around because it moves away from me. Props can help keep your Pilates practice fresh and interesting to you because it adds something that you can work towards or that you can work on.
[00:16:32] And it could be something that's in addition to the exercise that's almost unrelated to the exercise. So if you were doing something like standing leg press on the chair where you stand and you're got your foot on your pedal, you're pushing the pedal down. If you do something like a bicep curl while you're doing your standing leg press, it didn't make it harder for your leg, but now because you're doing two things at the same time, you've got a coordination challenge. It's a little bit of a brain game, uh, trying to sync [00:17:00] those two movements, very much rub your belly, pat your head kind of thing, which is adding complexity, which is going to make everything harder. It's challenging our attentional demand, you know, how many things can we pay attention to at the same time?
[00:17:12] And that's adding free weights to anything. It's always going to increase the coordination challenge. You know, when you do a bicep curl during footwork on the reformer. The goal is not to get like really ripped biceps. We're not doing the heaviest bicep curl that we can curl, right? It's about that coordination challenge of doing two things at the same time.
[00:17:35] I think that Pilates is a place where we can challenge ourselves and having a prop and having something additional to challenge us can be really fun. Because the goal of doing Pilates is not to be perfect at doing Pilates. It's to explore and move and meet your physical activity guidelines. The challenge is to do more than you could do before and props are [00:18:00] a great way to help us do that. I love props. I use props in all of my classes. I use props in classes that I take, whether it's yoga, whether it's Pilates. Those are like the only things I do, but I use props in both of them to add challenge and to you know, ease off a little bit and meet me where I am. If my hips not into that super deep lunge thing, having a block there is really great.
[00:18:30] Really big thank you to all my supporters on Buy Me A Coffee. Thanks so much for supporting the podcast. I'm really looking forward to those July coffee chats. So if you haven't already scheduled one, I hope that you do. If you want to schedule one, just visit that Buy Me A Coffee page and become a contributor to the project and we can hang out and talk Pilates all the time. I hope you have a great couple of weeks and I'll talk to you again soon.[00:19:00]
[00:19:03] Thanks for tuning in to this week's episode of Pilates Students' Manual, a podcast helping you get the most out of your Pilates classes. Be sure to check out the podcast Instagram at @pilatesstudentsmanual and subscribe wherever you're listening. Interested in teaching Pilates too? Check out Pilates Teachers' Manual, available everywhere you listen to podcasts.
[00:19:27] I hope to see you next episode. Until next time.
[00:19:46] [00:20:00] 🎵