Pilates' "Magic" Ring
A hazard of any profession is that we become so engrossed in the history and terminology of the field that we forget the rest of the world may not be as “tuned in.” This seems to be the case with Pilates. In the industry we know the legacy of Joseph and Clara Pilates, the elders, what a reformer and “ Magic Circle” are and that a Cadillac in Pilates does not have eight cylinders and front wheel drive.
Over the years, Joseph Pilates designed, modified and produced the various types of equipment that he used in the practice of “Contrology,” his name for what we now generically call Pilates: and defined it as “complete coordination of body, mind and spirit.” One of his simplest ideas became one of his most effective contributions: the Magic Circle.
The Magic Circle, also called the Pilates Ring or other combinations of names that include one or more of those phrases, is a simple and lightweight piece of equipment that can be used to strengthen and tone not only the core but also the arms, legs and glutes.
Pilates’ original Magic Circle was constructed from bands of tempered spring steel (it is rumored that the first one was constructed from the steel hoop off a beer keg) with contoured and padded wooden handles. Today, these resistance rings come in a variety of sizes, materials and resistance levels. They measure between 12” and 15” in diameter and are constructed from plastic, fiberglass or steel. Most have some sort of a rubberized or foam covering, including the steel rings; however, traditional exposed steel rings are available.
A major change from the original version is in the handles. The handle change has evolved into a variety of options, including molded, contoured and padded high impact plastic that are mounted on the ring’s outer edge for muscle adduction and mounted inside for abduction. Other modifications include soft foam or neoprene handles that offer a more cushioned grip and are easier on the ankles, especially when they are on the inside of the ring and pressing out.
Finally, there are variations in tension from ring to ring and depending on the diameter and composition, resistance levels can range from light to heavy. Additionally, the exercise and the user’s strength and body type play a role in determining what level to use. Therefore, two resistance levels might be appropriate: lighter for upper body work and stronger for lower body. The goal of the circle is not to see how hard it can be compressed, but to use it as a tool for the body to add dimension and depth to the overall strength plan, achieving core control. Joseph Pilates believed in moderation, saying, “never do 10 pounds of effort for a 5 pound movement.”
As with everything Pilates, core strength is the focus and foundation, which provides a way for people to revitalize themselves. Initially Joseph Pilates developed 500 controlled exercises to activate both the body and mind because he believed that, “Ideally, our muscles should obey our will.” These exercises, along with coordinated breathing, target the core muscles of the abdomen and back while creating flexibility in the arms and legs. Improved balance also becomes an integral and positive side benefit. Every movement is a strength movement, executed with grace and poise. The Pilates method stresses that the quality is superior to quantity of repetitions. Pilates develops a strong and lean body without the bulk associated with traditional strength training.
Incorporating Magic Circle movements into a basic fitness routine can add strength, grace, variety and renewed vitality.
Pilates Ring/Magic Circle Exercises
(Notes: Images are clickable for larger view - Ring and circle are used interchangeably)
Corkscrew with Pilates Ring
Start : Lie supine with a neutral spine and the ribs connected to the floor. Place the Pilates Ring between your ankles and bring your legs up in the air positioning the body at a 90 degree angle. Arms are parallel to the body, palms down.
Action: Lean your legs to the right or left side with as little hip lift as possible. Keep the ribs connected to the floor as you begin circling the legs overhead. Alternate sides from beginning positioning.
Start: Sit tall, soles of the feet flat on the mat with knees flexed and place the Pilates Ring between and slightly above the knees. Draw the navel up and in to support spine. Arms are extended out over the knees with shoulders pressed down and scapulae stabilized. Inhale.
1 st Progression – Sacrum: Exhale, start to roll downward off the sitz bones through the base of the spine, contracting the abdominals behind the pubic bone, the navel and the sternum. Continue melting back until the sacral spine contacts the floor. Inhale and hold. Exhale and extend the spine to the starting position.
2 nd Progression – Scapulae: Begin roll down as stated above but continue melting back until the scapulae contact the floor. Inhale and hold. Exhale and extend the spine to the starting position.
3 rd Progression – Complete Roll Down to Tabletop Knees: Begin roll down as stated above but continue melting back, one vertebra at a time until completely flat, continue by reaching the arms overhead while bringing the knees up to tabletop position. Inhale and hold. In one movement, exhale, contract the abdominals, reach arms toward the ceiling as you now roll up to the starting position.
Start: Sitting tall on the right side with the knees bent sideways and the Pilates Ring at arms length to the right side. The Pilates Ring is standing vertical with the palm of the hand resting on top; the left arm is extended overhead. Inhale, draw the navel up and in to support the spine, open up the chest.
Action : Exhale, reach overhead toward the Pilates Ring with the left hand while pressing down on the ring with the right. Resist through the Latissimus dorsi while trying to separate the ribs on the left side. Inhale and hold. Exhale and return to the starting position. Repeat four times and change sides including hip and knee placement.
Exercises designed by Power Systems Education Team