Upper Body Toning Exercises With the Pilates Ring

Work Your Arms, Chest, Back and Shoulders

Here we move through a set of Pilates ring exercises that tone the upper body. The Pilates ring, or magic circle, provides moderate resistance when you squeeze the sides together. Different positions create exercises that tone the arms, chest, and shoulders.

Pilates ring exercises are done in the context of movement that is integrated with the whole body, not simply isolated muscles. Therefore, you will need your full presence in a strong posture, with legs and abdominal muscles engaged and connected to the upper body.

Using the Pilates Ring (Magic Circle)

Pilates set
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As you move through Pilates ring exercises, you want the movement to connect all the way to your core.

You will be doing pulses with the ring, but use control in both the squeeze and the release. As you squeeze and release, feel the width of your shoulders, chest, and back. Feel that you grow taller with each pulse.

When you lift the ring, your shoulders stay down. Feel that your shoulder blades slide down your back. Also, your shoulders won't move forward or pull way back. This will let you strengthen your shoulders in the most stable position.

Begin With Good Posture, Shoulders Stable

With your Pilates ring in hand, adjust your posture so that you are standing straight and tall.

Your legs can be in Pilates stance, which is legs together, and rotated slightly outward at the top of the thigh so that the heels are together and feet make a V shape. Pilates stance is a good opportunity to activate the inner thighs. You can also have the legs parallel and hip distance apart. This is a stable position that lets us train in a stance that is viable in daily life.

Pull your abs in and drop your tailbone toward the floor. Think of your pelvis as being like a bowl, you don't want anything to spill out to the front or the back. Relax your shoulders and send energy out through the top of your head. Breathe.

Low Ring

In the next 3 exercises, moving the ring from low to high, you will breathe normally. Your arms will be straight, but don't lock your elbows. Notice as the ring moves up, how the exercise pattern reflects the Pilates fundamental move, arms over.

Low Ring:

Your arms are straight and your palms are flat against the handles of the ring.

Pulse the ring 8 to 10 times, control the release.

Keep your chest open, but use your chest muscles.

Think of using your arms in a balanced way so that they are activated all the way around.

Middle Ring

Fitness instructor helping young woman using pilates ring in exercise class gym studio
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Slide your shoulder blades down your back as you bring the ring up to chest height.

Diagonal Ring

Again, keep your shoulders down and your shoulder blades moving down your back as you raise the ring to a high diagonal. The ring should remain visible in your peripheral vision.

Pulse the ring 8 to 10 times.

You should feel this in your pectoral muscles (chest muscles).

Before you move on, check your posture. Are your shoulders down? Scapula (shoulder blades) settled on your back? Pull up through center and take a few deep breaths.

The Halo Ring

Class holding ring over their heads

Your shoulders stay relaxed as you bring the ring overhead so that it is flat to the ceiling. It is tempting to let the ribs pop forward, don't let that happen.

Bend your elbows out to the side so that the ring comes to just above your head, like a halo.

Feel your back and chest to be very wide.

Squeeze and release the ring 8 to 10 times. Inhale on the squeeze, exhale on the release. Use control.


Pilates Ring Exercise
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Prop the ring on your shoulder, just inside the joint. The ring is vertical, your elbow is out to the side, and your hand is flat.

Do this exercise with a slow pumping action. It is wonderful for toning the biceps.

Squeeze and release the ring 8 to 10 times. Inhale on the squeeze, exhale on the release. Use control.

Side Press

group doing the side press
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Nestle the edge of the ring into the notch at the top of your hip. The ring will be flat to the floor.

Your elbow is slightly bent as you squeeze the circle in. From there, pump the circle 8 to 10 times. Breathe normally.

Feel that the lattisimus dorsi, the big muscle that runs diagonally along your back to fan out along the side, is doing the work.

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