The Magic Circle, also known as the Pilates ring or fitness circle, is small, light, portable, readily available, and very effective. It can be used to intensify or assist Pilates mat exercises, as well as having a small repertoire of its own exercises. It’s fantastic for strengthening the muscles of the inner thighs, bottom, and shoulder girdle.
Joseph Pilates’ original design was made of sprung steel and came in three levels of resistance: two-, three-, and four-band. It had two handles attached to the outsides of the circle. More modern designs have added handles on the insides of the circle, lighter resistance, and more comfortable padding. Like most Pilates equipment, the Magic Circle is a spring, but it uses compression rather than extension to provide resistance.
Balanced Body sells a replica of Joseph Pilates’ original design as well as updated versions like the Flex-Ring Toner. There are many other versions available – look for comfortable handles that are securely attached. Some circles come with an instructional DVD or workout sheet.
Adding the Magic Circle to Pilates mat work is generally considered to be a more advanced challenge, so proceed with caution. Always hold the circle between the heels of your hands (not fingertips, and avoid gripping the circle with your fingers), above the ankle bones, or above the knees (never directly on the joints).
Try these variations: during the Hundred, hold the circle above the ankles and squeeze it steadily. Feel your thighs “wrapping” outward, engaging your low gluteal muscles, and press your inner thighs toward each other. Keep your feet and ankles relaxed – the work should come from the center.
During the Roll Up, hold the circle between the heels of the hands. Pull your shoulder blades back and down to feel a long neck, relaxed shoulders, and a gentle pressure on the circle. The work shouldn’t be created by gripping the wrist or chest muscles, so be gentle and focus your attention on your shoulder blades and upper back.
During the Single Leg Circles, hold one of the handles of the circle with both hands, raise one straight leg toward the ceiling, and hook the other handle of the circle over your foot. Gently pull on the circle to give your leg an extra stretch.
The Magic Circle can be held between the ankles for the Double Leg Stretch, Double Straight Leg Stretch, Open Leg Rocker, Corkscrew, and Teaser, between the hands for Rolling Like a Ball, Single Leg Stretch, Single Straight Leg Stretch, Criss-Cross, Spine Stretch Forward, and Teaser. It can be placed upright on the mat and pressed down with both hands to simulate the Wunda chair pedal in Spine Stretch Forward, and used in various ways in the Side Kick Series.
Try this exercise, developed specifically for the Magic Circle: Stand on the floor with the circle held between the ankles. Turn out your legs slightly from the hip and hold your arms out to your sides, with soft, lifted elbows and relaxed shoulders. Lift one foot off the floor, keeping the body as lifted and balanced as possible, and press the lifted leg into the circle smoothly ten times. To change sides, keep squeezing the circle, shift to the other leg, and repeat.