Working prop – erly

Thu,Apr 09, 2020 at 09:35AM by

In these unexpected times, we are having to learn to think differently. We 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 

At this point in time it is also important that the prop can be easily cleaned and stay hygienic. As this been a big issue of late, I have to admit I’ve said good bye 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 stretch and release activities I give my clients (see video below for examples).

When I started to write the above list of the reasons of 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 performer 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.

  1. What is the client’s goal?

  2. What is it that you are trying to achieve?

  1. What system are you needing to affect?

    • Muscular

    • Fascial 

    • Skeletal

    • Nervous

    • Lymphatic

  1. What sensory system do you want to affect?

  • Visual

  • Proprioceptive

  • Vestibular

  • Tactile

  • Interoceptors

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.

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 foam roller, but add in options such as a wall or a chair to create assistance options when a person needs to apply modifications.

The class below is designed as a home program and we use a foam roller and a wall. Part of the intention was for the client to be able to stay in one part of the room, an important consideration when you are teaching online. (If you are lucky you will note some great special effects in the video like my foot on the edge of the screen or even a finger on the edge of the camera.)

In the next program we use the Makarlu and a number of other props. Here you will see a few more props being used because the intention was to create a specific outcome for the feet and we needed to introduce resistance for part of the strength work. However, whenever possible we used the same prop for multiple exercises in a row.


To buy Makarlu for a safe prop go to:

Shop Makarlu

You can buy home props here

If you are looking for ideas on how to use all sorts of props for these challenging months we’re in, you can  buy the Body Organics special home programs. We have far more videos in this bundle than advertised and during April and May we will be adding more videos for working with children as well as teenagers, pregnancy and older clients. 


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