The magic circle is a small but very effective tool in the Pilates equipment arsenal. We swear by the Pilates equipment at Complete Pilates, and our studio classes and 1-2-1 sessions revolve around the barrel, reformer, trapeze table and chair.

Having said that, we also like to use small props, including the Pilates ring (Magic circle), stability ball, soft ball and theraband in combination with the equipment.

As well as adding variety to machine-based exercises, these small props also provide tactile feedback to the person performing the exercise. Props are also a useful addition to Pilates classes or 1-2-1 sessions because – like the equipment – these cleverly designed pieces of kit can either assist or challenge movement.

In comparison to the machines, these props are lightweight and very inexpensive. On top of that, they’re also a great way for people to replicate equipment exercises at home, like the reformer exercise “reverse abs” on the stability ball.

This means that anyone who can get their hands on a magic circle or a foam roller can benefit from Pilates equipment-style workouts at home.

We know that the small props aren’t familiar to everyone, however. So, for those of you yet to experience the joys of using them, we’re going to be introducing you to these cheap, effective and versatile props through a series of posts.

First under the spotlight: the magic circle.

The magic circle

What is it?

This circular resistance prop is popular in both mat and reformer classes. You may have come across one of these if you’re a regular Pilates class attendee. You may not know it by its official Pilates name the “magic circle”, however, because it is also called a fitness circle, exercise ring, and a Pilates ring.

Like the rest of the Pilates equipment, this prop was designed by the inventor of Pilates, Joseph Pilates. Rumour has it that – like the Pilates barrel – the magic circle was first created out of an old beer keg.

Instead of an old beer keg, these days the Pilates magic circle is made of rubber with small pads on either side to cushion hands or ankles as they push against it.

Most circles are also padded in a way that supports hands or feet when they are inside the ring pressing outwards.

The magic circle is made from (relatively) flexible material and is designed to provide a variable amount of resistance depending on how hard it is being squeezed.

The Magic Circle - A female lying on back on an exercise mat with arms stretched above holding a Pilates ring

How is the magic circle used?

The magic circle provides gentle to moderate resistance in an exercise – it’s not designed to be squeezed to death!

Instead, this prop is supposed to be mindfully integrated into the body to support or challenge you during exercises. This means it is usually used under gentle tension to active muscles.

Having said that, it can be squeezed hard to increase the resistance (and therefore the challenge) during certain exercises to build strength.

The magic circle guides the body

The magic circle also gives the body useful feedback during exercises.

This means that, instead of always being a way of adding challenge to a movement, this prop can also be used to guide your body during exercises.

For example, the ring can be placed either between or outside of legs during a squat-like exercise such as footwork on the reformer. When used in this way, the ring forces legs to stay in parallel.

When placed between the palms of hands, the ring is also a useful tool for teaching people how to organise their upper body efficiently and create space in their chest. This is an area that gets tight from hunching over a desk at work or through too much chest-focused gym work. These habits are ingrained in people today and this makes them tricky to undo – but the magic ring can be effective on this front.

Another big plus of the magic circle – it can be used to practise these exercises at home. This reinforces the good habits developed in the studio and makes them long-lasting.

Benefits of the magic circle

The magic circle has numerous uses and benefits, both on the mat or in combination with the equipment.

When placed between ankles or thighs, for instance, the resistance from the ring is great for strengthening inner thighs and activating the pelvic floor. Squeezed between hands, this ring is an effective way of building arm, chest arm and shoulder strength.

Adding the magic circle to your mat workout can also help you find the right muscles and challenge your movement.

Used in combination with the mat leg circle series, for instance, squeezing the ring can help you find those hard to target side hip muscles.

When placed between your hands behind your back for extension exercises, like dart, the ring shape supports your chest opening. Squeezing on the ring as you move into extension means that the tension creates a further challenge to the movement and strengthens your back muscles.

Try the magic circle at home

  • Try adding it to your basic bridge exercise.
  • If you notice your legs roll inwards when you bridge, slide the ring over the outside of your legs and bring it to just above your knees. Press gently into the ring as you move into your bridge. This fires up your side glutes and outer thigh.
  • If you notice your legs rolling inwards as you bridge, pop the ring inside your thighs above your knees and give it a gentle squeeze as you bridge up. This will work your inner thighs and pelvic floor.
  • To increase the challenge: pause at the top of your bridge and pulse 5 – 10 times. Focus on maintaining a good form.
  • Try the magic circle with your dead bugs and femur arcs.
  • Place your open palms on the pads on the outside of the ring. With slightly bent arms, raise the ring directly above your chest and keep it there.
  • Press gently on the ring to create some tension and keep this tension as you perform the exercise. This will increase the challenge to your arms and involve (and work) the whole body in this exercise.

Enjoyed this post? Then check back next week for our introduction to the foam roller.

Education is key:

These blogs are designed to give information to everyone, however, it is important to remember that everyone is different! If you have not seen one of our therapists and have any questions about injuries, what you have read or whether this may be useful to you, please just ask. We are more than happy to help anyone and point you in the right direction. Our biggest belief is that education is key. The more you understand about your injury, illness and movement, the more you are likely to improve.

If you are not sure whether this is for you, simply get in touch. We are here to help!