Joseph Pilates’ Magic Circle — sometimes called a power ring or fitness circle — can be used as a handy prop to stretch your hips and legs. To get the best results, do this series of stretches in the order I’ve listed below.
Before you start the sequence, assess your body mechanics by sitting on the floor with your legs extended forward. Is it difficult to sit tall? Is one leg acting like it’s longer or more turned out?
Set up for the stretch sequence by lying on your back with your legs extended long. Use your hands to hold the circle and place the ball of your left foot on an inside handle. Do all of the stretches on your left leg and hip, re-assess in the seated position, switch legs, and then re-assess.
To stretch the muscles on the back of your thigh: extend your left leg toward the ceiling and align your kneecap toward your body – not out to the side. –. Keep your knee fully open as you gently pull the circle toward your chest. Your free leg should press into the floor with the kneecap pointed up, not flopping out to the side. Breathe easy in this pose for up to 60 seconds.
You can vary this stretch to affect the lateral and medial hamstrings – the ones toward your outer and inner thigh by rotating your leg outward or inward. Press your free leg into the floor to stabilize your torso.
For more fun, you can intensify any of these stretches by flexing and pointing your left foot. I like the way the foot action involves the band of connective tissue running from the sole of your foot all the way to your sitbone.
To stretch the muscles that attach your inner thigh to your torso, hold the circle with your left hand and extend your left leg skyward. Angle the leg to the left, so that your foot is a bit wider than your shoulder. Bend your knee toward your shoulder as you aim the sole of your foot toward the sky. Use the circle to pull the crouched knee down. Your free leg should press into the floor with the kneecap pointed up, not flopping out to the side. Breathe easy in this position for 60 seconds.
To stretch the meatier part of your inner thigh, start in the groin stretch position and then extend your stretching leg out to the side. The magic circle comes in handy here, as it acts as an extension of your arm. Use your free arm as a counter-weight by extending it away from the stretching leg. Keep both of your hips on the floor – if they roll, that’s your spine stealing the stretch away from your inner thigh. Roll your head to the right – away from the stretching leg – and breathe in this pose for 60 seconds.
Note: if this position is frustrating, consider propping that leg with a pillow. You’ll feel a bit less pull, but your body will do a better job of allowing that muscle to lengthen.
To stretch the connective tissue band that runs from your left side hip to the top of your shin, start in the Inner Thigh stretch pose. Pass your magic circle to your right hand, and extend your left leg across the midline of your body. Keep both hips on the mat as you breathe in this position for 60 seconds.
Note: your body likes spirals. Try turning your head to the right, away from the stretching leg.
You can vary this stretch by rotating your stretching leg inward or outward. This is a sneaky way to access rogue tight muscle fibers along your tailbone or on the top or side of your butt.
Random tangent: I used to pay a chiropractor to hit me in the butt with a tiny hammer, right next to my tailbone. Seriously. Those fibers used to pull my SI joint out of whack, but not anymore!
- IMO, shaking during a stretch is a sign that you’re trying too hard. Back off a bit so that you’re working no harder than a 7 out of 10.
- Keep both shoulder blades and both hips on the floor during the stretches. Rolling any part of your torso is a sign that you’re compensating for that tight spot.
- Can you do the stretches with your free leg bent? Yes, but make sure your back waistband isn’t tilting down into the floor. That would mean that your pelvis is tilting, another flavor of compensation.
- Don’t skip the assess/re-assess. Showing your brain what is happening helps your central nervous system to integrate the stretch into your body mechanics. Yup, really.
- Don’t have a Magic Circle? Use a towel, yoga strap or belt.
- Need more ideas of what to do with your Magic Circle? Get this book.