meme about man wincing when he hears that the pilates prop a magic circle will be used.

Pilates Props – Working Prop-erly

Pilates props are useful both in the pilates studio but also when you are doing all sorts of online classes and home programs in order to help clients move at home without our lovely Pilates apparatus.  However, props are so important when we are working with clients and this article looks at how to work PROPerly.

I have always adored Robin Williams, who, in this skit, highlights how wonderful a prop can be. He shows us that a simple stick can be a powerful prop limited only by the imagination of the actor/teacher.  Elmo’s reaction is also a classic response of many a client, and we need to remember that when we give them a prop.

In this article we want to explore the props we see in a studio whether they be a stick, a Makarlu, or a ball. We will explore and understand the commonalities of props, their purpose, meaning and our intentions. I will turn this article into a more detailed workshop on the future, but for now as we face challenges on how to work with clients from home, this blog is more about the Pilates props and considerations.

What is the intention of a prop?

Let us start with the intentions of a prop. They could include:

// Reducing challenge for a client who is not yet strong enough to do an exercise without an assistive prop. Pilates springs are fantastic for this, but few people have the apparatus at home. Think about the legs in straps series and how it assists those not yet ready or strong enough to perform the advance mat work. This is when putting a swiss ball or wheeled office chair under the person’s feet can be amazing or having their feet propped up on the wall. 

// Reducing the opportunity to cheat for a client to have feedback about alignment and organisation. I like the use of a wall in these cases so a person can use that for support, or a towel to encourage good neck support.

// Increasing challenge to strength and endurance, our Pilates equipment offers all sorts of resistance challenges. Sadly, the reformer is not something many people have in their home. Using a ball/foamroller/towel to press into our a resistance band are all great ways to increase the challenge.

// Increasing pattern challenge I like to make sure people are constantly crossing their midline and moving their upper and lower bodies differently. The series of five is a great way to do this in Pilates, but after awhile you need to vary it up a bit to make people slow down and focus. This is when I like a person to use a ball to roll that up their leg when they rotate or to held in both hands and then move it to one hand or in between their legs as they move from one exercise to another.

// Varying vestibular or proprioceptive responses – this is a whole workshop just in itself. I suggest that you look at this article to get some more ideas around that 

// Adding variety and fun

// Changing the client’s relationship to gravity either to assist or challenge them 

It is also important that the prop can be easily cleaned and stay hygienic. As this has been a big issue of late, I have to admit I’ve said goodbye to my old favourites the yoga block or foam roller. On looking at them I can see that they are very hard to clean. So now I use my Makarlu to do many of the stretches and release activities I give my clients. This video is from our online course Anatomy Dimensions Spine and Torso.

When I started to write the above list of the reasons why to use a prop I started to feel a bit like Robin Williams with his mastery of improvisation and playing to his audience. In our case, it is about responding to our client in front of us who demands an experience that is more than just a gym experience. In using props we can sometimes become a circus performers providing novelty without meaning. 

Your client and their prop choice

In teaching it is essential for us to consider our rationale for our work and choices with our client’s best interest in mind, then to adopt the props. I like to think of it all as a flow chart of questions, that help determine what and why I would use a prop. The four key question I ask are listed below.

What is the client’s goal?

This is our most essential starting point for any of our clients. Understanding the goals helps us not only to develop and adapt appropriate programs, it also helps us to motivate our clients to participate in class and homework. Goals and motivation is something we explore in our Anatomy and Teaching Foundations course.

What is it that you are trying to achieve?

// strength

// Endurance

// Tolerance

// Flexibility

// Patterning

// Release

// Calming of the parasymapthetic nervous system (something we discuss in the online introduction to neuroanatomy course)

// Alignment 

What system are you needing to affect?

// Muscular

// Fascial 

// Skeletal

// Nervous

// Lymphatic

What sensory system do you want to affect?

// Visual

// Proprioceptive

// Vestibular

// Tactile

// Interoceptors

The three principles of working with props

Once I have answered these questions in my mind, I apply three basic principles: 

Principle one:  Whichever prop we use, I need to apply this for at least four exercises/activities in a row.

Clients get frustrated if you are running around changing props and things constantly on them. Make the class flow and give options to consistently work with that one prop. These are some of the basic rules of programming that we discuss in the Anatomy and Teaching Foundations course.

Principle two: Whatever prop we use, it has to be applicable to the person in the studio setting and can be used or adapted at home.

Principle three:  Safety. And this includes ensuring products are Volatile Organic Chemical latex-free and hygiene.

Below are a few examples of classes using props, based on the principle of flow, relevance, transferability and hygiene.

In this simple class for a home program, we again use one main prop, a broomstick as I channel my inner Robin Williams

Here is another example of using a wall as a prop

These are just some of the simple ideas that you can incorporate into any class or situation if you understand:

// the transferability of repertoire based on a good understanding of goals and focus

// your client’s goals

// learning principles

All of these concepts and more are explained in our Anatomy and Teaching Foundations course. If you want to see us using some props in a class and have some fun with how to make a class challenge look at some of our pilates on demand courses.

Enjoy Our Course

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This bundle is an introduction to movement anatomy and neuroanatomy as well as introducing pre-movement principles and looking at the art of cueing and programming.

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