Kristin McGee demonstrates Pilates ring exercises in Peloton Pilates class

The Biggest Benefits of a Pilates Ring and the 7 Best Exercises to Try

This popular Pilates prop adds resistance to some classic mat-based moves.

By Sarah KleinMay 7, 2024


Practicing Pilates is a little bit like being a home chef: You can get even better results with the right equipment. Just like you can make something edible with just a few kitchen essentials, you can benefit from this core-sculpting, muscle-strengthening routine with little more than a mat. But add some blocks, a ball, and some sliders, and you’ll have the recipe for a five-star Pilates workout. 

One of the most versatile pieces of Pilates equipment is the Pilates ring, “a 15-inch resistance circle that can be used to elevate your Pilates practice,” says Peloton instructor Kristin McGee, who uses the ring in some of her Peloton Pilates classes.

Here, discover everything you need to know about how to use a Pilates ring, whether or not it can deliver a good workout, and Kristin’s favorite Pilates ring exercises to try.

What Is the Pilates Ring?

The Pilates ring is a sturdy yet flexible rubber loop with soft pads on opposite sides of the circle. Sometimes called a “magic circle” or “fitness ring,” this Pilates prop is usually used to add resistance or tension to certain exercises. You might press against those soft pads with your hands, ankles, thighs, or other body parts to create tension in those muscles or keep your body in optimal alignment.

What Is the Pilates Ring Used For?

Even though the ring is popular in Pilates, it’s not only for endless reps of the Pilates Hundred. Here are a few of the many ways to use a Pilates ring, according to Kristin:

  • Tension: Whenever you’re compressing the ring, you’re asking your muscles to work even harder to complete the movement. So if you’re squeezing it between your thighs in Bridge, for example, you’re working those muscles more than you would if you did the same pose without the ring.

  • Support: If you balance a ring under your chest while doing pushups, you can make the move a little easier, according to the Hospital for Special Surgery, because the ring supports some of your weight as you lower your chest toward the floor.

  • Stretching: “I love to use my ring for stretching. I place one end around my foot while lying on my back and stretch my hamstrings,” Kristin says, by gently pulling on the other end with her hands.

  • Breathwork: “I also love the ring for breathwork,” she says. One way to use the ring to connect with your breathing? Hold it out in front of you with a hand on each pad. Press the pads in toward each other on an exhale to mimic your ribs contracting, then release the tension on an inhale to mimic your ribs expanding.

The Benefits of Using the Pilates Ring

Adding extra resistance to your favorite Pilates exercises “helps you tap into muscles more easily and advances your workout,” Kristin says.

Perks of the Pilates ring include:

  • You’ll build more muscle and strength. In one small 2021 study in the Journal of Bodywork and Movement Therapies, using a Pilates ring resulted in more core activation during the Pilates Hundred than using a Pilates ball or no prop at all. 

  • Your heart will be pumping more, leading to improvements in cardiovascular health.

  • You’ll keep your routine feeling fresh by experimenting with fun variations of traditional Pilates moves.

The 7 Best Pilates Ring Exercises, According to Peloton Instructor Kristin McGee

There are countless Pilates ring exercises—and you can discover plenty in classes led by Kristin on the Peloton App. Here are a few of her favorites to try.

Kristin McGee demonstrates Pilates hundreds exercise with Pilates ring

1. The Hundred

  1. Lie on your back on a mat holding the ring between your ankles.

  2. Lift your head and neck off the mat and extend your legs long at about 45 degrees off your mat.

  3. Gently squeeze the ring as you pump your arms up and down next to your body.

  4. Inhale for a count of five and exhale for a count of five, and continue pumping your arms until you reach 100.

    If this feels too challenging, bend your knees to 90 degrees in tabletop position and squeeze the ring between your inner thighs.

    Kristin McGee demonstrates a Pilates Roll Up exercise with Pilates Ring

2. Roll Up

  1. Lie on your back on a mat holding the ring between your hands with your arms extended over your head on your mat.

  2. Lift your arms up until your wrists are in line with your shoulders, then slowly begin to curl your upper body up, tucking your chin to your chest.

  3. Imagine diving your head through the center of the ring as you round over your legs, arms extended.

  4. Roll back with control, pressing into the ring as you lower back down to the mat.

  5. Repeat for your desired number of reps.

    Kristin McGee demonstrates spine stretch exercise with Pilates Ring

3. Spine Stretch Forward

  1. Sit on your mat with the ring standing on one foam pad on the floor between your outstretched legs.

  2. Stack your hands on top of the other foam pad.

  3. Press into the ring to sit up tall then fold your upper back over your legs and hold the stretch for a few seconds.

  4. Slowly sit back up.

  5. Hold this stretch as long as you’d like or repeat for your desired number of reps.

Kristin McGee demonstrates Pilates Swan exercise with Pilates Ring

4. Swan

  1. Start lying on your belly with the ring standing on one foam pad on the floor in front of you.

  2. Stack your hands on top of the other foam pad.

  3. Press into the circle to float your chest up off your mat and feel the stretch in your back and abs.

  4. Hold this stretch as long as you’d like or repeat for your desired number of reps.

Kristin McGee demonstrates Pilates Ring Clamshell exercise

5. Clam

  1. Lie on your right side on your mat with your hips stacked and the ring between your thighs.

  2. Press your thighs together to squeeze the ring, working your inner thighs.

  3. Repeat for your desired number of reps, then switch sides.

You can also repeat this movement with your legs through the center of the ring. Press your thighs away from each other against the rubber to work your outer thighs, Kristin says.

Kristin McGee demonstrates Mermaid exercise with Pilates Ring

6. Mermaid

  1. Start resting on your mat on your shins and knees with your feet tucked to your right and a Pilates ring standing on one foam pad on the floor on your left.

  2. Sit up tall and extend your arms out at your sides, parallel to the floor.

  3. Lean to your left, placing your left hand on the ring, and come into a side bend, extending your right arm over your head to your left.

  4. Press down on the ring to engage your obliques even more.

  5. Use your core to pull yourself back up to the seated position.

  6. Repeat for your desired number of reps, then switch sides.

    Kristin McGee demonstrates Pilates Bridge exercise with Pilates Ring

7. Bridge

  1. Lie on your back on your mat with your knees bent and your feet planted a few inches from your butt, squeezing the ring between your inner thighs so your knees are about hip-distance apart.

  2. Keeping tension on the ring, press through your heels to lift your hips up, forming a diagonal line from your knees to your shoulders.

  3. Pause here for one breath cycle. Make sure not to arch your lower back.

  4. Slowly lower your hips to the floor.

  5. Repeat for your desired number of reps.

For even more of a challenge to your glutes, inner thighs, and pelvic floor, gently pulse your inner thighs on the ring throughout the movement, Kristin says.

How to Incorporate the Pilates Ring Into Your Pilates Routine

If you’re a bigtime Pilates fan, you can do it every day. “Since the core muscles are endurance muscles, it's OK to do [Pilates exercises] daily if you want,” Kristin says.

But generally, she suggests practicing Pilates two to three times a week, and incorporating props like the ring into at least one of those workouts. “The added resistance can really make a difference,” she says.

If you’re adding any of the above exercises (other than The Hundred) to your existing Pilates practice, aim for 10 to 15 reps.


Featured Peloton Instructor

Headshot of Peloton instructor Kristin McGee. She's wearing a red two-piece Peloton workout outfit and smiling.

Kristin McGee

Growing up in Idaho, Kristin had dreams of pursuing dance and acting in New York, but ended up as one of the most sought after yoga instructors in the city.


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