Are you thinking of magicians, witches and wizards when you hear the term ‘magic circle’? Or of magic energy from a sacred space that will provide some magical protection? Well, you are not alone. When I was first confronted with this term, this is exactly what came into my mind. And this is what’s generally true. However, what is a magic circle in Pilates?
Sure, we know that Pilates is not just a physical exercise regime, but a holistic exercise system designed to harmonize mind, body and spirit. So, has this got to do with some magic energy you get when performing Pilates? Do you have to move in a circle, stand in a circular spot or form a circle?
No, not really. It’s rather a ring made of flexible metal or rubber, about 30 cm in diameter, with small pads on either side. It’s used in Pilates exercises to provide gentle to moderate resistance and to challenge particular muscle groups. OK, so it’s some sort of Pilates equipment to enhance your exercises. But why is it called a magic circle?
Body magic – how the magic circle works
When Joseph Pilates made the first magic circle, it is said that he used the ring of a beer keg for this as it was flexible and robust and didn’t break under applied force or pressure. Whether he was a regular beer drinker and whether he realized the benefits of such ring by handling beer kegs a lot, is not known.
However, one thing is for sure: the magic circle – also referred to as magic, fitness, resistance or power ring or as exercise circle – is a highly versatile and effective piece of exercise equipment. It can be used to target any major muscle group in your body and is suitable for any age group.
The idea behind it is quite simple: you squeeze the magic circle with the body part you want to target, e.g. upper/lower arms, chest, shoulders, thighs, calves, feet, to provide resistance, and as a result your muscles gain strength and endurance. Although this is what Joseph Pilates intended it for, there is a myriad of alternative uses of the ring.
Core strength and more – the benefits of the magic circle
One of the main benefits of the magic circle is its ability to work and strengthen your muscles, in particular your core muscles, without involving the risk of other muscle strengthening programs, such as weight lifting. It is a type of resistance training that offers a low maximum resistance threshold and is therefore also popular for some forms of rehabilitation.
However, it also helps with body alignment and balance, as pressing the ring from both sides is a balance challenge. Only if pressure is applied equally to both sides of the ring, will you be able to remain in your posture and to balance. This means, that the circle will assist in finding your center and guide you when aligning your body promoting improved overall balance and body alignment.
Apart from that, it provides dynamic stability for your hip and shoulder and helps alleviate and prevent shoulder and hip pain. Considering that the magic circle is such a simple, small and versatile tool, it’s amazing how much it can achieve and how much it can help to improve your body.
Magic circle – good to relieve back pain?
Being very versatile, the magic circle is great to use in exercises to tone the upper body and back and to relieve back pain. Many Pilates practitioners regarded it as an essential item to tone shoulders, chest, back and arms. Although ring exercises focus on particular muscle groups, the whole body is involved in the context of movement.
This means that you need to have your leg and abdominal muscles engaged to maintain a strong supportive posture. While you squeeze and release the magic circle, you stand straight and tall in a stable position with the help of your core muscles. As a result, you not only strengthen your shoulders and arms, but also your back and core. At the same time, your body gets ‘trained’ to take up and maintain the correct posture.
In simple words: Doing magic circle exercises targeting the upper body will improve your posture and your core stability while also strengthening the various muscle groups in your upper body. A strong core, shoulder and upper body combined with the correct posture means no more neck, back and shoulder pain.
Are all magic circles the same?
You might think, a circle is a circle so what difference does it make whether you use one or the other. But, actually, there can be quite a difference between individual magic rings. First of all, they vary in size. Most commonly, they are around 30 cm in diameter although there are smaller and larger rings available.
Secondly, their material might vary. The most common material for magic circles is flexible metal or plastic, but some models are made exclusively of rubber. Both rubber and metal models come in various degrees of hardness, from quite soft to quite stiff. Generally, all rings are foam padded all round and have pads on the outside, with additional inside pads becoming more popular.
Which magic circle to use, depends on your individual requirements. I personally prefer the stronger metal and plastic versions like the Ultra-Fit Circle over the lighter and all-rubber ones as they provide more resistance in exercises. However, if you want to have just mild resistance and focus more on your body placement and alignment in exercises, the rubber versions or lighter plastic and metal versions are best.
Conclusion: Better than witchcraft
Now, back to the initial question – can magic circles do magic? By definition, ‘magic’ is ‘the power to use supernatural forces to make impossible things happen’. Well, you can safely say that there are no supernatural forces involved when using a magic circle in Pilates. The small equipment itself is quite a simple exercise accessory used in a fairly straightforward way. So, there are certainly no supernatural forces involved in magic circle exercises.
And what about ‘making impossible things happen’? There you might actually wonder whether it does, as exercises using this little piece of Pilates equipment can have quite an impact on your body improving your general strength and posture. Also, when you are relieved and cured of shoulder and back pain after regularly using the magic circle, it really feels like impossible things have happened – just like magic.
However, unlike with magic, there is nothing obscure about cause and effect. You can scientifically explain the effect a magic circle can have on your body, and it’s repeatable. This means you can create your little bit of magic whenever you like without the need of magic spells, magic potions or other magic tools. Magic circles are real and so are their benefits and effects.