Since I started exclusively working out at home three years ago, my collection of fitness equipment has grown to include ankle weights, dumbbells, jump ropes and kettlebells. One of my more recent purchases is a Pilates ring, a circular accessory that resembles a mini hula hoop with handles. It was toward the bottom of my fitness wish list because I didn’t know how to use it, but now that I’ve incorporated it into virtual barre, pilates and HIIT classes, I wish I had bought it sooner.
The Pilates ring — which is also referred to as the Magic Circle — adds an extra level of resistance to exercises and forces you to engage your core while using it. Amy Nelms, owner and instructor at Flatiron Pilates, calls it “an all-around strengthener,” noting that it’s great for adding additional strength training to any workout.
“The Magic Circle can strengthen hard-to-work spots, and I love to incorporate [it] not only to deepen the work, but [also] to help improve alignment,” she says.
Since there are a handful of options on the market, we consulted fitness experts to learn about features you should consider when shopping for a Pilates ring, which, despite their name, are not just used for Pilates. We also rounded up our experts’ favorite Pilates rings.
What is a Pilates ring?
Joseph Pilates, who experts say is credited with inventing Pilates, is also credited with inventing the Pilates ring.
“Legend has it that the first Magic Circle was a beer keg ring,” says Kristen Lilley, a Pilates instructor at Asphalt Green, a nonprofit organization that offers fitness programs in New York City. “Now the rings are made of either plastic, metal or steel with two padded handles on either side, and it is one of the most utilized props in Pilates practices.”
The purpose of the Pilates ring is to offer support during some exercises and increase the intensity and difficulty of others, according to Danielle Miller, director of personal training and Pilates at Fitness Unlimited, a gym in Massachusetts. Lilley adds that Pilates rings can help with core stability and create moderate resistance, and they can be used to target and tone specific areas of the body like the arms, chest and inner and outer thighs.
In addition to being a common prop in mat and reformer Pilates classes, Miller says they’re also a popular prop in barre classes to tone the lower body and core. She notes that they can also provide support while you’re stretching.
The best Pilates rings to shop in 2024
When it comes to Pilates rings, experts recommend purchasing models with handles, which help you focus on your form instead of holding the prop. All of the Pilates rings below include handles with the exception of the Bala Power Ring, since it’s a weighted option — weighted Pilates rings usually don’t have handles. Experts also recommend looking for Pilates rings that come in 14-inch or 15-inch models — these are considered to be “standard” sizes — and all of the options below are available in one of these sizes.
Most of the Pilates rings below were recommended to us by experts, along with top-rated picks that our NBC Select staff use for their at-home workouts.
All three experts recommend the Balanced Body Ultra-Fit Circle. “I like the standard 15-inch ring made by Balanced Body when teaching group classes and recommend it to those who are looking for their own Pilates accessories,” says Lilley. “It’s very sturdy [and] durable, and the handles are comfortable.” The Balanced Body Ultra-Fit Circle features padded handles on the inside and outside of the ring and is made of plastic with a soft rubber shell. You can purchase a 15-inch version, as Lilley recommends, or a smaller 12-inch Ultra-Fit Circle Mini.
Nelms and Lilley both recommend the STOTT Pilates Fitness Circle Pro. Lilley sys the brand’s Pilates rings come in “a good variety of sizes and levels of resistance,” making it a good option for beginners and Pilates pros alike. The ring comes in 12-inch and 14-inch sizes, and you can purchase it in colors like blue, purple and black. The ring itself is made from steel and features inner and outer foam grips.
This Pilates ring is a favorite of NBC Select editorial projects manager, Rebecca Rodriguez, who’s been doing Pilates for over three years. She says she has a love-hate relationship with the Pilates ring because “the exercises are always brutal but the results for [her] core and posture are worthwhile.” “The ProBody Pilates Ring is lightweight yet sturdy so I’m never worried about it breaking when pulling or pressing on it for certain exercises,” she says. “It also came with a pamphlet listing multiple workouts you can do with the ring, and I like how detailed it is on the positioning of both the ring and your body.”
While weighted rings like Bala’s Power Ring are not traditionally used in Pilates, Lilley says they can increase the intensity of your workout. However, she says most weighted rings don’t have handles, so it becomes even more important to pay attention to your form while using them. Bala’s Power Ring is available in five-, eight-, 10- and 15-pound options and in several colors, including Charcoal, Sand, Shine and Blush. The ring is made from steel and is covered in soft silicone. Its diameter ranges between 6 inches and 15 inches depending on the weight you select.
When I set out to buy a Pilates ring, I gravitated toward Gaiam’s option since the brand makes my favorite yoga mat and other fitness accessories. The 15-inch ring sports foam handles and it contracts when you apply pressure to both sides, adding resistance to exercises.
How to shop for a Pilates ring
When it comes to shopping for a Pilates ring, Lilley says you should first consider the size. Rings range between 12 and 15 inches in diameter, but the standard ring is 14 inches.
“All exercises can be performed with the 14-inch ring, but smaller rings can help with range of motion for lower body exercises,” Lilley says. “Smaller rings are great for petite individuals and those with limited range of motion.”
Pilates rings made of metal and plastic provide moderate resistance to users, according to experts. Rings of this nature are often used during classic mat Pilates classes at the beginner and intermediate levels, according to Lilley. Most Pilates rings also have handles, which Miller says are usually covered in a neoprene material or foam pads. This cushions the handles and allows for a better grip while working out, she notes.
Lilley says you’ll build strength over time after using a Pilates ring for a while. At this point, you may want to invest in a steel Pilates ring, which offers more resistance and is recommended for experienced users.
Meet our experts
At NBC Select, we work with experts who have specialized knowledge and authority based on relevant training and/or experience. We also take steps to ensure all expert advice and recommendations are made independently and without undisclosed financial conflicts of interest.
- Kristen Lilley is a Pilates instructor at Asphalt Green, a nonprofit organization that offers fitness programs in New York City
- Amy Nelms is an owner and instructor at Flatiron Pilates
- Danielle Miller is the director of personal training and Pilates at Fitness Unlimited in Massachusetts
Why trust NBC Select?
Ashley Morris is an associate SEO Reporter for NBC Select. Zoe Malin is an associate updates editor at NBC Select who writes about fitness equipment, kitchen tools, pet supplies and more. For this article, she interviewed experts about how to shop for Pilates rings and rounded up highly rated options, expert picks and NBC Select staff recommendations.