Pilates ring exercises – the ultimate guide

I get asked a lot in my face to face classes about Pilates ring exercises. It’s one of my favourite pieces of equipment, because it really does help to challenge the body in different ways.

In this article, I give some background on the Pilates ring, list 5 different exercises and show you some options on where to buy one. I finish with a pilates ring exercise video, where I explain how to get the most from it and where you should be feeling it, when you work out. Enjoy!

The Pilates Ring – background

You will hear this piece of equipment being referred to as many different things, including the magic circle, the Pilates hoop, the Pilates circle, the fitness ring and in fact, many of my clients refer to it as the “hoop of hell”! It was originally created by Joseph Pilates – where (according to legend) he took the metal ring from a beer barrel and connected wooden blocks to the side of it.

Fortunately, today’s Pilates rings are a little more comfortable to use – as the internal metal rings are covered in rubber and the pads on each side are cushioned.

I like to use a circle in my classes, because it provides yet another method of challenging the body in a different way. It will provide a moderate resistance when exercising and it should be remembered that the intention isn’t to squeeze it as hard as you can! It’s about gentle tension, which really challenges the muscles.

They are lightweight – making them great to travel with and I think relatively inexpensive too.

What are the options to buy one?

Here in the UK, Pilates rings vary from around £10 to around £25. They do come in a few different colours too, if you’re looking to match your colours at home!

This blue one, shown below is currently Amazon’s Choice for “pilates circle” and comes in three different sizes.

For £9.99 – it’s definitely great value. With 300+ ratings – you know it’s a good buy.

Alternatively, as a slightly more expensive option, this green one currently has nearly 2,000 ratings and at the time of writing is discounted to £16.99.

They are of course sold in the larger sports equipments stores too.

Pilates ring exercises

There are dozens of exercises you can do with the circle. Inside my Workout Club, I’ve a whole category of workouts dedicated to this piece of equipment (you will need to be a member and logged in for that link to work).

I want to show you some simple exercises that you can incorporate into your pilates workouts at home.

Exercise 1 – Side press

Jo demonstrating a side press with a pilates ring

This first exercise is nice and simple.

Stand with your feet hip width apart.

Place one of the pads of the circle against your hip. (Don’t place it on your ribs!)

Place the heel of your hand on the pad and then gently press against the circle and then release. Make sure you keep your shoulders relaxed and away from your ears.

This exercise is working the arm and underneath the armpits, into the lats. The pilates circle brings a new dimension to this very basic exercise.

In the image above, I’m actually taking the exercise a step further by raising the leg too when you press – great for working on your balance – yet another benefit of pilates.

Exercise 2 – Chest press

Jo using a pilates circle to show how to do a chest press the right way

For this next exercise, stand in a plié position, with the feet turned out and bring the circle in front of the chest.

Gently press the circle together, finding tone.

Work into the shoulders, chest and arm. Try not to squeeze too hard.

Exercise 3 – Tricep press

Jo demonstrating a tricep press, using a pilates circle or ring

For the next exercise – come down onto the floor – into a four point kneeling position.

Hold onto one of the pads on the circle with an open palm – don’t “white knuckle it!” – keep your hand relaxed.

Then, gently push down and slowly release.

The circle provides that resistance as you push down – working the back of the tricep. You should also feel resistance as you release too.

You might find the circle wobbles a little – that’s good! It means you have to show control in your movement, to keep it steady.

Exercise 4 – Inside thigh press

Jo places the pilates ring between her thighs and shows how to strngthen inner thighs

This is one of my “go to” exercises – I love this – it really works!

Have your legs at 45 degrees and place the circle between them. Make sure you spine is in a neutral position – your Anterior superior iliac spine joints (ASIS for short!) should be in line with your pubic bone. I talk through this position in the video below.

Then slowly press the knees together, exhaling and then slowly release, inhaling.

Make sure you control both the contraction and the release during this exercise, for maximum effect! You will really feel this after just a few contractions – the resistance of the circle really does work.

If you’re feeling brave, you can then finish the exercise by doing small repeater movements.

Exercise 5 – Outside thigh press

Jo places her legs inside the pilates ring and demonstrates a final exercise

Finally – place your legs inside the circle and then raise them to 90 degrees initially – again, the video below shows this clearly.

Inhale and then allow the knees to fall slowly to the right – in a controlled way. You can see that pose in the image above. Don’t let them ‘flop!’ – have control.

Then, rotate them all the way over to the left – again, with control. Use your core!

This is brilliant to keep the body guessing, like so many of the workouts that I produce for our brilliant members.

There are dozens and dozens of exercises that you can do with the pilates circle – but hopefully this has given you a good taster.

Pilates ring exercises – video workout

If you like what you see above – click play on the video below for a short workout – with plenty of explanation too.

I hope you enjoy my teaching style. If you do, I have over a dozen different pilates ring exercise workouts inside my Workout Club.

To give you a taste of how I teach – why not try one of my free Pilates workouts? Click the link – and get started today – maybe you’re about to start a new habit today? I do hope so.