Bolstering the Matwork

An everyday prop gives the floor exercises a boost, making them simultaneously more supported, challenging and well…cushy.

By Patricia Friberg • Edited by Amanda Altman

Having served in management roles in both a Pilates studio and gym setting, I’ve seen firsthand how difficult it can be to find the right props—and enough props—to help support and enhance the Pilates mat experience. There are so many great ways to modify the exercises to help people feel successful and achieve their best possible alignment. But sometimes you have to get creative to make it happen.

I began to experiment with the bolster, a tool almost always available in the yoga studio, using it like the Small Barrel, one of my favorite pieces of Pilates apparatus. I quickly realized that there are many unique benefits to the bolster—and you can use it in so many different ways:

For seated exercises (Saw, Spine Twist, Spine-Stretch Forward): You can sit on top of it to help keep the pelvis in neutral, an advantage for those with a tight lower back or tense hips.

For supine exercises (Toe Taps, Frogs, Double-Leg Lower/Lifts, Beats) and side-lying exercises (Side-Bend): It supports the lower back, while increasing the range of motion to up the challenge.

For prone exercises (Swan, Swimming): It provides support for tight hip flexors and chest muscles…

A sneak peak of the featured exercises:


Do this if… you’re looking to work on abdominal strength and stability while improving posture and alignment.

Bolster Benefits: Promotes increased range of motion through the upper body while supporting the body through the roll-down phase.

Get Started: Place the bolster vertically behind you. Sit tall with your knees bent and feet hip-width apart on the floor. Reach your arms forward, palms facing inward. Inhale to prepare.

Get Moving
1. Exhale as you roll back, one vertebra at a time, onto the bolster.
2. Inhale as you reach your arms overhead, and then circle them around to your sides.
3. Exhale as you roll up sequentially, stacking your spine to return to start. Do 3–6 reps.
4. Repeat the sequence, circling in the opposite direction this time, for 3–6 more reps.

Tip: Keep your lats active to maintain length in your neck.
Modification: Use your hands/arms to assist the roll-up.
Advanced: Do the exercise with one leg in tabletop.

Get the rest of this article, exercise tips, inspiring stories and so much more in our January/February 2019 issue! Or subscribe and save!

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