Explained: How to do pilates without equipment

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If you’ve ever been to a gym or Pilates studio, you’ve likely seen a wide range of equipment scattered about, Pilates balls, magic rings, resistance bands, and this can seem off-putting. Will you need to invest in all that equipment to do Pilates at home?

Pilates makes use of your own body weight and, therefore, doesn’t require any equipment.  At minimum, a Pilates mat is recommended to aid your balance and protect your joints.  Equipment such as weights and bands can be added to increase the work you do during a routine, but they’re not essential.

If you’re not ready to buy equipment, there are some home alternatives you can use instead.

How can you do Pilates without any equipment?

Pilates is a form of exercise created by Joseph Pilates that focuses on the core muscles in your body. The goal is to strengthen these muscles by doing exercises with controlled movements. You don’t have to own expensive equipment to get started with Pilates. It’s suitable for any age and fitness level, as all you really need is yourself and an open space where you can move around freely.

You’ll be working out all over your entire body, including your back, arms, legs, shoulders, abs, chest, neck, and more!  You don’t need weights or other devices. Instead, you will rely solely on your bodyweight as resistance.

You can do that workout without a mat, but if you want to practice at home, then you should consider purchasing a mat so you won’t slip while exercising.

If you’re a beginner, you may need something to hold onto during each movement while building up your core strength. For example, if you’re practising standing moves, you could grab onto a wall or doorway. Or, if you prefer sitting down, you could sit on a chair or bench.

A chair can also be very useful for Pilates exercises, it can act as a prop during your exercise routine. 

In this routine the chair was placed on my mat to prevent it from slipping. If you do not have a mat, please be aware that the chair may slide around depending on the surface it is on.  If you intend to try this routine out, be sure to check the chair is secure to avoid injury.

Home items you can use as Pilates equipment

For those looking for a more challenging workout, the use of equipment helps take your practice to the next level.  

I’ve found the following are useful substitutions, most of these you will likely have around your home already:

  • Mat – Carpeted floor, rug or non-slip mat
  • Weights – Tinned food cans or filled water bottles
  • Sliders – Cut-offs from carpet / small facecloth / duster
  • Long band – Rolled up towel, a pair of tights or a long belt 
  • Small Pilates ball – Cushion

Note that while these suggestions work, they’re not as good as getting proper equipment, for example tinned food cans do add additional weight, but are more awkward to hold for a long period of time compared to proper weights.

Also note, if you have a yoga mat you can use it, but they tend to be very thin compared to Pilates mats and you might find thick rugs or doubled up towels are a better option.

Want to try out Pilates with food tins or water bottles?  I’ve got the perfect workout for you.  This Power Pilates session builds strength, raises your heart rate and really fires up your core muscles and I use weights to add in an extra challenge.

What is the first Pilates equipment I should buy?

If they haven’t already, I suggest clients make two purchases when starting out:

1) A good Pilates mat

2) Good clothing

These basics will ensure you can do the majority of Pilates exercises I teach at home, so no matter what level of fitness the client has I can give them advice on which moves to practice in order to reach their personal goals.

Pilates Mat

A good Pilates mat is thicker than a towel or yoga mat, with the standard Pilates mat sized 180cm x 66cm (71 inches by 26 inches) and 6mm thick.

Different sizes are available. Be sure to pick one you can fully lie down on.  Unless you are attending a Reformer Pilates class, where a mat isn’t used, this will be the one item you use for every session. It helps provide support and cushioning and can help prevent injuries. 

Mats can easily be rolled up for transportation, and they don’t weigh very much, so they’re easy to carry around, be it on foot, bike, car or public transport. 

Mats can be used on any floor type, indoors or outdoors, although be aware that if used outside, damp ground underneath might damage your mat. If you leave it damp, be sure to dry it out before packing it away.

You’ll find suitable mats are widely available online and in traditional stores, and they’re not too expensive. Just be sure to pick on that is at least 6mm thick.

Clothing

The second thing I recommend buying is good quality clothing suitable for Pilates.  People often overlook what they should wear, thinking regular gym clothes or yoga clothing will be suitable.

When choosing clothes, go for form fitting garments.  Avoid wearing anything too baggy because this makes it harder to perform certain exercises correctly, the clothes can get in the way and baggy clothing prevents your Pilates instructor from being able to check you are performing the correct moves. For example, a baggy t-shirt prevents a clear view of your upper body.

As an instructor, I’ve tried a lot of different brands and my personal favourite is Contur (link to store). 

They look and feel amazing, are hard wearing and are suitable for other fitness activities.  I explain in detail why I love their leggings in this post: Best Leggings

‘Borrow’ Equipment

Instead of spending money and having to store the equipment in your home, consider signing up to a gym or dedicated Pilates studio.  As well as offering different exercise programs, they should also supply most equipment for you to borrow and use during your time there.

This not only opens up the use of Magic Rings, weights, etc., but it’s also more convenient as you won’t have to worry about transporting all those items back and forth between home and work.

They may also provide access and tuition for Reformers, which are very expensive to purchase for your home. 

I love my reformer, it offers something different to mat Pilates, but is a big investment.  Pilates Reformers allow you to move through a series of positions while on a bed-like frame that has a platform that moves forwards and backwards, and it gives you a low-impact, full-body, workout.

Due to the size and expense, this is something you’re better off using at a studio. You’ll gain all the benefits at a fraction of the cost.

Try out as many of the different types of equipment as possible. You will likely find your Pilates instructor will introduce different items in different workouts, so you can learn how best to use them in your routine.

If you decide to buy your own equipment, make sure you choose something sturdy and reliable. You want to avoid purchasing cheap pieces of equipment that break after just a few uses.

Recap

You can see you have lots of options available to you, let’s recap:

  • You don’t need equipment to do Pilates as your body weight it used for resistance.
  • It is recommended you purchase a Pilates mat and form fitting clothing.
  • Buy a mat large enough that you can lie down on it and at least 6mm thick.
  • Sign up to a gym or studio that has equipment you can use and classes to show you how to use it.

Enjoy Pilates and all the wonderful benefits it brings you.

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