Everyone who walks into the studio has a prop that makes them groan when they see it appear. For me, it’s the strap at the end of the reformer that means shortbox abs is on the way. A couple of weeks ago, Jill and I were discussing (complaining about) the green ring Jayne had us using. Jill challenged me to write a blog about why we should love the green ring, not hate it.
Challenge accepted. Except I’m going to tackle some other much-maligned props along with the ring of pain.
Props are great at enhancing (that’s the euphemistic word Debra uses to say “makes it harder.” We love you Debra ;)) an exercise by engaging the targeted muscles better. This may include finding them differently so you can enhance the workout. If you’re having a hard time finding a neutral spine while lying on your back, adding a roller under you can help you to find it because the roller is giving you that feedback. But the roller is the kindest of them all, in my humble opinion.
Next would be the neuropad. Yes, it’s soft cushioning if you need it, but try standing on it while playing brainspeed ball and it’s a different story. The neuropad increases sensory input, specifically proprioception feedback, so you can feel where you are in space. Standing in it makes all the tiny muscles of your feet work in an enhanced way. Which I suppose is important if we want to keep using them to get us from place to place. It also increases your balance challenge, making the things you do in everyday life feel so much easier!
Weights are definitely groan-worthy, but again offer benefits we may not want to bypass. Using weights fights muscle loss as we age. Strength training is also important for strong bones. The pull of the muscle against the bone actually promotes bone growth. Weights are definitely harder at first, but once you use them with more frequency and feel more familiar with them, then it becomes a source of pride that you’re mastering another thing. And every time you level up to a heavier weight, it’s an easy way to see progress in your practice.
Which brings me to the green ring. The teachers all agree it’s the prop that gets the most complaints. However, it also gets the most love from the teachers. Terree says there’s nothing she doesn’t like about the ring! Getting back to that enhanced workout, Jayne says, “I can also say till the cows come home “think of your inner thighs as you lift into bridge,” but when you put the circle in between legs, they have no choice but to think of their inner thighs.” Another example: you can be flat on your back with your knees bent either on the floor or in tabletop, press the circle against the knees, and do a pelvic tilt, and you have engaged the entire length of your abdominals, similar to doing a full sit up – without engaging a lot of neck or trap muscles.
In addition, the green ring can also be used to enhance an exercise by engaging “non-targeted” muscle groups to make it a more full-body experience. Think of short box abs, with the ring between your hands. Suddenly a core exercise also works the upper arm line and pecs. Put it between the knees and you’ve added inner thighs. The ring is a good way to “level up” an exercise. Teachers also like the ring to make the same-old exercises feel different. It’s a way of changing things up for those of us who are easily bored by repetition.
The ring can bring focus to an exercise or give us a bullseye to concentrate on. It’s especially great at helping us visualize the idea of Pilates breathing or active breathing. Think of holding the ring while doing standing splits: it mimics the lungs and ribcage – pull as you inhale, just like the diaphragm – and push as you exhale, engaging your TVA in the process. The same is true for breathing on roll up, roll down.
Finally, the ring can also be our friend, serving as a support tool. For anyone with neck issues who is able to do flexion, put the ring behind the head and use your arms to lift your head, neck, and shoulders off the mat. It gives new meaning to “let your head be heavy in your hands.” Or, the best ones, use it for a hamstring stretch when you can’t quite reach your foot, or for assistance in roll up, roll down.
We hate the things that are hard… i.e., the things that expose our weaknesses. Mandy, Teresa, Terree, Jayne & Debra (and feel free to imagine their devilish little laughs of delight here) see those as opportunities. It’s their chance to work some new patternings and things clients would not choose to do on their own. In other words, if it makes you groan, it’s probably good for you. 🙂
PS. Keep an eye out for a new torture device. You’ve been warned.