We are often asked why we insist on small props in all of our virtual mat classes. After all, Pilates was not designed with balls and bands, and don’t they just complicate things?
Sometimes they actually simplify things.
The PP method is all about ease, efficiency and adapting Pilates to work for you. Props support all of these goals and can actually make Pilates mat work safer. Just as effective and just as challenging, but kinder to the joints.
The squishy ball as we call it, (it’s official name is the overball) is our most frequently used prop and at under $20, we think it’s well worth the investment.
Our top reasons to love the squishy ball.
#1 Easy mobility with Ab Curls.
Using the ball for some abdominal work can be an effective way to gain flexibility in the upper back, an area that is commonly tight. It also gets the abs working in a bigger range of motion and can be easier on the neck.
Tip #1: Try shifting the ball slightly higher or lower (still between the shoulder blades) to change the area of focus.
Tip #2: Work in a happy range of motion where the stretch sensation is in the chest or upper abs.
#2 Increase the active range of hip motion.
We love Pilates leg lifts and Swimming to get those hip extensors working. By placing the ball under the pelvis we can increase the working range of motion making it easier for the work to come from the hips, not the back. Are you prone to hamstring cramps? They may be thankful for this version.
Tip: If the ball feels like too much pressure, try taking a bit of air out or use a cushion to get the same range.
#3 Target the low abs with Toe Taps
Toe Taps are a great exercise for the lower abdominals (usually harder to target than the upper abs). The squishy ball can help by altering the angle of the torso making it easier to keep the work in the abdominals and out of the back and hip flexors. The ball is also very responsive and gives lots of feedback if the pelvis shifts or the core is lost, so it helps us to do the exercise better.
Tip: If Toes Taps on the ball still feels too challenging on the back or is too wiggly try using a partially deflated ball, as in #2.
Check out our video of Toe Taps from our Pilates for Dancers workshop. Charlotte McKay Dancer, Northern Ballet
Reason #4 Hip Alignment
Pilates equipment can help improve movement in part, because of the feedback it provides. For example if you push into one leg more than the other with the Reformer straps it’s very obvious and naturally encourages symmetry. The squishy ball can offer some of this same feedback in certain exercises. The adductor squeeze shown here gives clear and immediate feedback to shifts in hip alignment while also allowing the hips to work in a freer range of motion.
Another reason for using props is simple. Variety. Small props give the body and the brain change, novelty and different feedback. An added bonus is that when you take the prop away you may discover a sense of subtlety and finesse when performing an old, oft repeated exercise. There are endless layers to mindful movement and the deeper we can delve the more interesting it becomes.
And as so many of us continue to do more virtual workouts than we ever might have imagined, deepening our engagement is more valuable than ever.