What Pilates fitness equipment do you really need for an effective home Pilates workout? Renowned Pilates expert Mari Winsor weighs in

September 13, 2010

One of the many things to love about a home Pilates workout is that you use your body's own resistance to build core (or "powerhouse") strength. So what's with all the Pilates fitness equipment out there? Do you really need it to get the most from your at home Pilates workout? We asked renowned Pilates expert Mari Winsor to weigh in. To get the most out of your home Pilates workout you do need a few tips and tools (and there are a few you can skip too).

Pilates equipment: Pilates Mat

What it's for: A standard-size, slip-resistant rubber or foam mat is essential to a proper home Pilates workout. The mat should be firm and thick-roughly a half inch at a minimum –to properly cushion the spine.

Why it's worth it: A traditional Pilates workout is centered largely around mat work, so a good mat can ease your comfort during a home Pilates workout and help promote good form.

What can go wrong: "Don't substitute a yoga mat when you do Pilates," cautions Mari Winsor, as yoga mats are too thin to adequately protect your body from the hardness of the floor. She suggests doubling or even tripling a yoga mat when doing Pilates, and-if necessary-using a soft pillow to cushion your head and neck if they get tired or if your neck muscles start to burn (rather than a yoga block, which is hard and too large for good Pilates alignment). Pilates equipment: Magic Circle

What it's for: This soft rubber ring with comfort grips was designed by Joseph Pilates as an easy way to add resistance to each exercise. The result is more targeted toning than you usually get with body weight exercises, especially for inner and outer thighs, upper arms, chest, and the core.

Why it's worth it: When used correctly, the Magic Circle will deepen your workout by helping you reach muscles that are difficult to isolate. It's also a great way for people, especially beginners, to find their core, says Winsor.

What can go wrong: "The main mistake I see people make is going too fast and rushing through the movements," says Mari Winsor. Remember that the tool won't do the work for you-you have to put your focus into it, too. When you're doing Pilates at home it's important to complete each exercise from beginning to end to really build stronger muscles and see changes in the body.

Pilates equipment: DVDs/Videos

What they're for: There are hundreds of home Pilates DVDs on the market offering full, guided workouts by experienced instructors.

Why it's worth it: Besides the convenience factor, a good home Pilates DVD can substitute for a live instructor's lesson and ensure that you're getting a thorough, comprehensive workout-and also help you stay motivated and engaged. That said, these are even better if you do them after you've had some in-person, expert-led sessions, recommends Mari Winsor.

What can go wrong: Any fitness person, Pilates certified or not, can put out a DVD, so Mari Winsor recommends finding out if it was created by a credentialed Pilates expert before buying. A good instructor will also include modified versions of each exercise to help beginners learn each move safely before trying more challenging positions. When using the DVD, says Winsor, "focus on listening to the instructions rather than stopping your workout to watch the demonstrations or craning your neck to see what's on screen." It's also important not to pause or rewind and re-watch certain moves mid-workout, both of which disrupt Pilates flow. "A good home Pilates workout should be seamless," Winsor adds. If necessary, watch a video once through to get the concepts before trying to physically replicate the moves.

Pilates equipment: Resistance Bands

What they're for: Gripping a latex exercise band with your hands and looping it around your ankles and feet will allow you to increase the resistance during exercises like leg circles.

Why they're worth it: By increasing the resistance, bands help you increase muscle strength. They also help you incorporate stabilizer muscles, and that helps you stand taller and move better in everyday life.

What can go wrong: A common mistake is for people to give in to the band and allow their wrists to bend or break form. Strive to retain a "long wrist" by keeping a straight line from your knuckles to your elbow, says Mari Winsor. Make sure you're using the right length band: Too short of a band will impede your full range of motion; bands that are too long will be ineffective.