Do I need equipment to do Pilates?

SHORT ANSWER

No. We can do a ton of good work with just you and the floor, no matter your experience or ability level. Plus, with just a few simple props that fit in any space, the movement possibilities only increase.

LONG ANSWER

Let me say up front that I LOVES ME a Fancy-Pants Pilates studio. When Lady Gaga realizes that I AM the PILATES TEACHER FOR HER, I will attach one such Fancy-Pants studio to my house. (TELEPHONE ME, Gaga!) I have been lucky enough to teach in several Fancy-Pants Situations. In beautiful studios outfitted with every bell and whistle, every type of apparatus you can imagine. 

It’s definitely true that working on Pilates equipment has lots of benefits — I’ll be covering that in detail in upcoming posts.

Plus, as a teacher, working in a studio like this is like being a kid in a candy store. I’m fascinated by how movements feel slightly different on each type of Reformer — from vintage machines, to the classical Fletcher Reformer of my teacher-training days, to the sleek-as-all-get-out Allegro II. I’m always pondering how I can use the apparatus in creative ways to serve my clients.

But I also know that the Fancy-Pants Model has its drawbacks.

  • It’s expensive and inaccessible to many humans. (This is in part because lots of studios are small businesses, just trying to survive while paying professional teachers a living wage. Rent — especially in a big city — and fancy equipment are expensive.)
  • The expense can discourage clients from doing Pilates at least twice per week. Learning Pilates takes practice. While one session per week a great start, two sessions per week helps speed up your motor learning — especially if you are a beginner and aren’t ready for a group class yet.
  • It can be inconvenient, what with busy schedules, travel, arranging childcare, braving insane traffic after a long day at work, parking, changing from work clothes into Pilates clothes while simultaneously scarfing down a sandwich so you don’t pass out during your lesson (not that I have ever done that 🙂 For some people, going to the studio is motivation to work out, and that is awesome! But for others, the inconvenience can be a barrier to consistent practice.
  • Fancy studios can be intimidating. Like you need a whole new legging wardrobe and a nail tech on call just to walk in the door. Like your body has to look a certain way to have permission to move. Some people feel like they are “on display” while they are working in studio, especially one with large windows. (Cue Melissa from Real Housewives of New Jersey singing “On Display … on display … on display …”) Having a safe space to move in — where you can explore, and mess up, and be fully yourself — is so important. 
  • Depending on the studio/teacher relationship, it can give the studio too big a share of the value the teacher provides.
  • There’s a risk of dependency on the equipment. I want my clients to take Pilates into their daily lives as much as possible. If a client feels like her legs only “work” when they are attached to straps/springs, at some point that takes away her power and agency.

OH YEAH and ALSO a global pandemic might shut down your studio!

So COVID happened. And basically overnight, I was forced to reconsider my relationship with the apparatus. 

Now, I’ve been successfully teaching Pilates online for more than a year. My clients have made awesome DIY small props (my favorite: cans of wine used as hand weights), gotten their Zoom camera angles down pat, and moved through this Panny D with incredible resilience.

Home Pilates Studio: The Zero Dollars Option

What do you think — is a home Pilates practice for you? Here’s what you can use to DIY a home practice space without spending any money on props or equipment:

Carpeted Floor or Rug: Carpet works great, especially if you have sensitive joints. Traditionally, Pilates mats are thicker and squishier than yoga mats, because some traditional Pilates exercises include rolling on the spine. We can always modify these if they feel uncomfortable.

Hardwood Floor: That said, you can also use the slide-and-glide of a hardwood floor in some creative ways. Fletcher Floorwork, which is my favorite type of non-equipment Pilates, is all done on a naked floor. (Nononono I said naked floor, not naked on the floor!) At home, I mostly practice on a hardwood floor, with a squishy mat available if needed. 

Towels and Blankets: As the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy reminds us: Don’t Panic and Carry a Towel! A well-placed towel or blanket can make such a difference in your practice. Layer a few blankets or bath towels to make a mat, use them to support your hips in seated positions, place a folded-up towel under your head to help your neck alignment — you can even use rolled up blankets/towels to make a DIY Spine Corrector.

Chair: A non-rolling chair, preferably one with a straight back and no arms (like a dining chair or folding chair) has endless uses. We can use it for standing work and barre-inspired work, as well as seated work if your hips are tight/truly unhappy while seated on the floor. We really can do a full body Pilates workout and  never come down to the floor. 

Countertop: If you love the barre-Pilates fusion, you should be doing it at your kitchen counter! Usually countertops are an excellent height for using the arms to feel lift/feedback in the upper body while moving the legs.

Old towel or rolled-up T-shirt: Another plug for The Towel, but this time it’s a specific one — an OLD towel. Like a thin, long ratty one. The one that you would never put out for guests. We can use this stretched between your hands for some great shoulder work. A luxurious, fluffy towel can be too hard to wrap your hands around, so dig that old one out of the back of the linen closet! PS: If you live in a land of only luxurious towels (1) I bow to you and (2) You can also use a rolled up T-shirt in this manner.

Pole: You can also do some fantastic shoulder work with a simple pole — a broom will work, or the handle of a Swiffer Sweeper.

Paper plates/Furniture gliders: We can use these to mimic the glide of the Reformer carriage in a number of exercises. Bonus: Use the furniture gliders to easily clear space for your practice. I do this with my living room couch every day.

Canned food (or canned wine, or even bottles of maple syrup — I’ve seen it all): To use a small hand weights. Pilates does not really include lifting weights in the traditional sense, but we can use small hand weights to get more out of certain exercises.

Most importantly, I have found, you need something to set your intention for moving your bodymind in  space.

It could be lighting a candle, burning some incense, putting on a favorite playlist, moving at a time of day when the light through your living room window is just right. Maybe eat a single cheese puff, then spritz yourself with lavender tea, then sit in silence for three minutes and 42 seconds?

OK kidding. But for real, quarantine has shown me the power of carving out an intentional, physical space for my self-care at home. However small. However large the pile of laundry/papers/books/dog treats/junk mail is, lurking just outside my cozy little Zone of Intention. 

PS: I will TOTALLY clean up that pile before Lady Gaga comes to visit!

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