Updated: Mar 28, 2022
The Pilates Method was designed to create functional strength without adding bulk. Long, streamlined physiques of dancers are often pointed to as the goal when following a Pilates regime. The balance of stretch and strength is every present throughout the system, which allows for this goal to be achieved. Our bodies should be flexible enough to touch our toes but also have enough power to throw our toddlers high into the air.
With this in mind, Pilates offers the opportunity to practice at anytime, anywhere. Sitting, standing, laying down, up against a wall, sitting in front of a computer, while brushing your teeth, or while rolling around on the floor with your kids. It is possible to do Pilates without any equipment yet, using the right equipment can help give you an extra challenge and help connect you to your powerhouse. There are plenty, if not the most essential pilates exercises, that can be done with everyday objects which will make your workouts more versatile and dynamic. You most likely have 10 of these objects in your home already!
10 Essential Pilates Equipment
The mat is probably the most essential piece of Pilates equipment. The mat work is truly the building blocks of Pilates - the meat and potatoes— the most simple, yet challenging exercises in the entire system. The mat exercises will make you strong—fast. We recommend using at least a 1inch thick, foam Pilates mat, not a thin yoga mat.
No 1lb. dumbbells at home? No problem. Grab two(of the same) soup cans and you’ll not only have a great hand weight but soup cans can also allow you to do exercises like the Neck Roll more effectively. By having this small weight in your hands it will help you to articulate the spine better in the Roll Up exercise, and give your powerhouse more of a challenge during the Standing Arm Weight Series. (Notice I said powerhouse, not arms!*wink*)
I’m talking about those thick rubber bands you can find on a bunch of broccoli. Maybe you’ll need to make a special trip to the grocery store, but hey - we could all use some more broccoli in our lives! These rubber bands are great for using as a poor man’s Toe Corrector device. Simply place the band around your two big toes, sit with your legs in Pilates stance(heels together, toes apart) feet flexed and try to pull the band apart by rotating out your legs. The work here comes from the hips, but the goal is to keep proper alignment of the feet and toes, giving you a stretch through the big toes and strengthening your 6 rotator muscles in the booty! This exercise is also great for bunions!
A bath towel can be used in a multitude of ways. From behind the head, hooked around one foot, in between both hands, to hooked under the legs. The towel can aide in stretching, or be used to deepen the work in the Powerhouse, and it is so great for opening up the chest in exercises like Shaving. In fact, we have an entire series of videos that incorporate the towel called “Neck and Shoulders”
Another everyday object that can be used - certainly not ideal- but can be used in place of Joseph Pilates’ device, The Breath-a-cizer. Standing tall in Pilates stance, hold the pinwheel in front of your face, elbows lifted to the side, take a deep breath and blow out continuously. Try to keep the pinwheel going for as long as possible. Repeat 5-8 times. You are guaranteed to get an instant burst of energy and at the same time decrease the negative effects of stress on the body. Win/win!
In place of Joseph Pilates’ device called the 2x4, you can simply stand with your toes at the edge of a step with your heels lowered below toe level. With your legs in parallel, bend your knees, then lift your heels, straighten your legs, then lower your heels. Repeat 3-5 times, reverse and repeat again 3-5x. The feet and ankles are an often overlooked part of the body yet are so integral to walking, running, lifting weights, etc. Take the time to do these simple exercises at home and your body will thank you!
A weighted bar is best to use in exercises like the Roll Up, the Neck Roll, the Gondola and the Standing Archival Exercises. A broomstick can be used in place of a Gratz weighted bar with similar results. The best thing before/after a workout is to simply stand with the feet apart, hold the bar wide with straight arms, and bring the bar up and over the head, behind the back. Do this 5-10x and your chest and heart will be open!
Often inconvenient in the middle of a mat class, but if you can take the time in the morning or evening to lie down and do a few Roll Ups or Neck Pulls, your body will start changing very quickly. Hook your feel under a bed frame or heavy couch — anything that will hold you in place. In the studio, you would hook your feet under the anchored strap, but this placement will allow your back to open and strengthen your abdominals in all the right places to allow you to do a Roll Up seamlessly. Do 4-6x before bed every night and see how your Pilates practice changes in just a few short weeks!
Finding good wall space can sometimes be challenging which is why I usually just put my back up against the inside of a door frame. Legs in Pilates stance, feet about 1-2ft away from the wall, do 3 arm circles in one direction, and then reverse. Roll your spine down and up the wall, one vertebra at a time. Then, bend your knees into a squat position with your arms reaching straight ahead. Hold for 10 seconds, then straighten your legs. Repeat 3x. Do this simple wall exercise anytime throughout your day when your body needs a little pick-me-up. The wall gives your body feedback that you don’t normally get, which is so helpful. Try doing the Spine Stretch Forward or Side Leg Kick Series with your back against the wall! What a difference!
An often overlooked Pilates exercise, and one that is challenging for the feet/toes! Keeping our feet healthy, strong and flexible is so important and usually something that we don’t think about until we NEED to! Sitting in a chair, line up 5 marbles and a cup. Start with the big toe- pick up the first marble and place it in the cup. Then, go to the next toe and try to pick up the second marble, etc, etc. That 4th toe is always the hardest for me! Switch to the other foot and repeat. This might just be your next party trick!
We are all usually pretty familiar with the basic mat exercises but it’s amazing what changes you can make to your body with a few everyday objects! But, as Joseph Pilates said, ““Patience and persistence are vital qualities in the ultimate successful accomplishment of any worthwhile endeavor.” Spend a little bit of time everyday on these at-home Pilates exercises and you’re sure to notice a difference once you get back into the Pilates studio.
“Physical fitness can neither be achieved by wishful thinking nor outright purchase.” -- Joseph Pilates
Other Suggested Equipment For Your At Home Pilates Studio
This essential equipment can help you perform your favorite Pilates moves in the comforts of your own home. Just follow along to our Apparatus series of videos and we will talk you through every step!