Author: Jocelyn Paoli

Stott Certified Pilates Instructor, Seattle Athletic Club Downtown

Pilates Exercise Of Month: Roll – Over

 Purpose: To stretch the lower back and hamstrings; develop spinal articulation and improve control of the abdominal muscles.

Note: if you have a bad neck or lower back, leave this exercise out.

  1. Lie on the mat with arms long by your sides; palms down. Lift both legs to a 60-degree angle from the mat.
  2. Inhale, lift the legs to a 90-degree angle. Initiate from the abdominals; bring your legs over your head peeling your spine off the mat. Keep reaching the arms long, shoulders pinned down. Don’t press onto your neck.
  3.  Exhale, open your legs just past shoulder width and flex your feet. Keep the back of your neck long to avoid any tensing. The arms continue to press into the mat. Your body weight should rest squarely in between your shoulder blades.
  4.  Begin rolling back toward the mat, feel your spine stretching longer and longer as you articulate down until the tailbone touches the mat.
  5.  When the tailbone reaches the mat, take the legs to just below 90 degrees and squeeze your legs together again. Repeat the sequence.
  6.  Complete 3 repetitions with legs together when lifting and 3 times with legs apart.

Head to Toe Checklist:

  • Keep your upper body glued to the mat- avoid rolling onto the neck
  • Don’t use momentum to roll over; use abdominals
  • Palms press into mat, arms long throughout.
  • Shoulders are stable on the roll down.

Visualization: Imagine your arms are lead bars pinning you to the mat.








Pilates Exercise of the Month: TWIST II

Purpose:  This extra advanced exercise strengthens and stretches the oblique abdominal muscles, stabilizes the shoulder and puts balance and control to the test!

Starting Position: Sit sideways with your weight on one side of the pelvis. Bend the legs and place the top foot over the bottom one. Place your hand, palm down, fingers facing away from you, underneath your shoulder.  Your top hand rests on knee.

  1. Inhale; In one movement, lift pelvis away from floor, straightening the legs; raise the upper arm to shoulder height; fingers pointing to ceiling. The body is in a straight diagonal line; arms straight &  aligned with each other.
  2. Exhale, lift pelvis high, reach free arm (top arm) down toward mat, rotating trunk, as the arm reaches under the body.
  3. Inhale, return to previous position with the body in a straight diagonal line.
  4. Exhale, now, take our arm and reach it back, allowing upper body to twist toward ceiling, resisting pelvic rotation.
  5. Inhale, return to your long diagonal position of step 3.  Exhale lower body to starting position. Complete 3-5 times.

  Visualization: Imagine you are suspended by a strong spring attached through your belt loops and up to the ceiling.

Head to Toe Checklist:

  • Keep your hips still as you twist
  • Keep scapula stable
  • Maintain alignment of the head with the spine
  • Don’t lean all your weight into your wrists or knees


  • Begin going in one direction, then add on.


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Pilates Exercise of the Month: Shoulder Bridge

 Purpose:  To work the powerhouse and strengthen the hamstrings.

  1. Lie on your back with your knees bent, hip width apart, both feet firmly planted on the mat; arms byyour  sides, palms down.
  2. Squeeze your bottom and raise your hips off the mat. The hips, knees and feet arein perfect alignment.
  3.  Inhale, pull your navel to spine, and lift one leg out long in front of you. Then, extend it up tothe  ceiling, pointing toes.  Exhale, flex your foot and lower your leg to your knee. (You may lower the leg further as long as the hips stay level and leg does not drop to the mat).
  4. Repeat 3-5 kicks on each side, Inhaling as you lift leg to ceiling and point toe, exhaling as you flex foot and lower leg. To finish, place foot on the mat and repeat kicking sequence with other leg.
  5. When finished slowly roll your back down to the mat.


  • Imagine you are suspended from the ceiling by a sling around your hips, keeping you lifted.

 Head to Toe Checklist:

  •  Stay lifted in the hips throughout the exercise by pressing into the standing leg to maintain balance and control.
  •  Kick swiftly, but not forcefully. The motion should not alter your hip height.
  •  Stretch the leg away from the body as it lowers.
  •  Navel should be pressed in and buttocks squeezed tight.


  •  Use discretion if you have difficulty bearing weight on your shoulders.
  •  Modifications:
  •  Lift and lower only the hips off mat.
  •  Lift and lower one leg at a time, as if you were marching in place, hips remain still and lifted throughout.


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Pilates Exercise of the Month: SPINE TWIST



Purpose:  To work the muscles of your waistline (oblique abdominals) and wring the  stale air from your lungs as you stretch the muscles of your back.

  1. Sit very tall with your arms stretched to either side of the room; palms down, fingers long.  Legs are straight and held tightly together; toes point up to the ceiling.
  2. Inhale deeply, pull your navel into your spine; as if you were being cinched at the waist.
  3. Exhale, for 3 counts, twist your torso to the right.  Lengthen and increase the rotation with the next 2 breaths.  Release slightly between breaths. You can sustain one long exhalation or a gradual exhales on each count.
  4. Look toward your back arm as you turn.  Stay perched on top of your hips, lifting taller and straighter; squeezing your buttocks and legs.
  5.  Inhale deeply, return to center with your chest high.  Keep your arms in your peripheral vision, shoulders down.
  6. Repeat to the left side, lifting even taller and longer through the waist; returning to center.
  7.  Repeat 3-5 sets on each side.  

Visualization:  Imagine you are wringing the air out of your body as you would wring water from a wet towel.

Modifications: Sit on a foam cushion, the edge of the mat or cross-legged if you have tightness in your lower back, hamstrings or hip flexors.

Head to Toe Checklist:

  • Don’t let the back shoulder hunch up when turning.
  • Legs should stay aligned when twisting.
  • Use your breath to increase the stretch.
  • Don’t sink into your back as you twist.  Lift tall out of your waist.
  • Squeeze buttocks and upper thighs tightly together during the exercise.

Note: Omit the exercise if you have a recent back injury.  If you have a bad shoulder, reach back only within a pain-free range.


Pilates Exercise of the Month: Teaser 1

Purpose:  Humorously referred to as “the mother of all sit-ups”, the Teaser tests your powerhouse control to the fullest.  At the peak of the exercise, momentarily hold the position, “teasing” the balance.

  1. Lie on back; legs extended out on a mat; arms overhead.  Heels together; toes turned out slightly.
  2. Maintain the scoop; inhale; raise arms, head and shoulders, peeling upper body off the mat vertebra by vertebra; simultaneously lifting legs into a “V” sit.
  3. Hold the “V” position, balance on the tailbone. Exhale; roll spine down onto a mat.  
  4. When head & heels touch the mat, stretch arms overhead to the starting position & repeat; inhaling as you float up; exhaling as you peel down.  

Visualization:  As you roll down, imagine each vertebra touching the mat the way your fingers travel on the keys of a piano.


  • Head stays in line with spine.  Fingertips toward toes.  Legs stretched long.
  • Don’t allow the upper body to touch mat before lower body or vice versa.
  • Take your time, relax your mind and find your rhythm as you go.

Modification:  Any difficulty sitting up all the way, slightly bend the knees, as you lift & lower body. Any back discomfort, perform Teaser with legs against a wall.


Pilates Exercise of the Month: Scissors in the Air



Benefits: Strengthens the abdominals, increases spine flexibility, stretches the hamstrings and hip flexors.

 Starting Position: Lie down on mat and bring your legs up to a 90-degree angle, toes pointed.  Arms long by sides, palms down.

1.     Inhale; prepare the body and scoop abdominals inward.  Exhale; continue to lift your legs up to ceiling (toes to ceiling).  Inhale; bring the hands underneath the hips with fingertips pointed outward and the wrists supporting the back and hips.

2.     Exhale; scissor the legs; one leg moves over the head as the other leg moves toward the mat in the opposite direction. Switch legs and continue to scissor.  Keep the  hips and pelvis still as you move legs.

3.     Inhale; bring the legs back up over the hips (toes reach to ceiling).  Exhale; allow your back to roll down to the mat, slowly and carefully, one vertebra at a time.

4.  Complete 3-5 sets

 Head to Toe Checklist:

  • Do not roll onto the neck
  • Keep the elbows parallel to each other (or as close as possible) & cradle the pelvis with the hands
  • Keep torso rock solid as you scissor
  • Breathe fully and deeply to facilitate the scissor motion

Imagine the legs opening wide like a handheld fan, then closing and opening to the other side.

Pilates Exercise of the Month: Double Straight Leg Stretch

Purpose:  The fourth exercise in the Stomach Series targets the powerhouse to the extreme.

1.  Lie on your back with hands behind your lifted head; one on top of the other, (not interlaced); elbows wide.

2.  Extend your legs straight to the ceiling, heels together and toes turned out slightly, squeeze inner thighs, sink navel toward spine.

3.  Inhale and lower your straight legs down toward the mat for 3 counts. Stop if you feel your lower back begin to arch.

4.  Exhale as you raise your straight legs toward the ceiling. Don’t allow the legs to pass 90 degrees; the tailbone does not leave the mat. Complete 8-10 times. To end bring both knees into chest.


  • Remain perfectly still in your torso.
  • Engage the glutes and inner thighs to support and protect your back.
  • If your back arches off the mat as you lower your legs, you are taking them too low.  Bring shoulders away from ears.

Note:  If you have a delicate back, place your hands in a V position just below your tailbone (palms down) and leave your head down.

Visualization:  Imagine your legs are attached to springs above your head. You must stretch the springs on the way down and resist their pull on the way up.


Pilates Exercise of the Month: NECK PULL

Purpose:  Strengthens abdominals in shortened as well as lengthened positions, stretches hamstrings, articulates spine, and improves posture.



  1.  Lie on back with your hands layered behind your head, elbows wide. Legs are straight out on mat, hip width apart, feet flexed.
  2. Inhale to begin curling forward. Draw the weight of your head forward and round up sequentially-
  3. head, shoulders, ribs, and finally pelvis. Think of “peeling” yourself up off the mat as you curl forward, elbows wide.
  4. Exhale as upper body folds over legs, elbows still wide, abs scooped in, legs firmly anchored on mat, toes pointed up.
  5. Inhale to roll up tall to a seated position, as if “pressing against an imaginary wall behind you”. Remember to lift up-not back.


Exhale as you slightly tuck your tailbone underneath you and begin slowly rolling your spine, vertebra by vertebra, back down to the mat.


    Repeat 5-8 times

 Head to Toe Checklist:

Remain fixed in the lower body. Imagine your feet are two lead weights that can’t be budged. Avoid letting abs bulge out or legs rise off the mat.  Keep elbows wide; never tug on neck, let the powerhouse do the work. Articulate your spine as you peel off the mat, press each vertebra into the mat on the way down.


If you have a stiff or weak back or difficulty articulating through the spine, avoid the exercise.


1.  Roll 1/2 way down

2.  Hand position: crawl your hands up your legs as you round up. Keep knees soft and heels pressed to mat.


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Pilates Exercise of the Month: OPEN LEG ROCKER



Purpose:  This exercise challenges balance, flexibility, and strength. It massages the spine, stretches the back, and works the powerhouse; plus it’s fun!

  1. Sit toward the front of your mat with your knees bent in toward your chest.  Open your knees shoulder width and gently take hold of your ankles.
  2. Pull your navel into your spine; tilt back slightly until your feet come off the floor and balance on your tailbone.
  3. Straighten both legs up to the ceiling in a V position and balance. Keep your arms straight, chest lifted, and eyes focused toward feet.
  4.  To initiate the ‘rocking’, inhale, pull in your abdominals, curl the tailbone under, and begin to roll back.  Roll only to the base of the shoulder blades, head barely touching the mat.
  5.  Exhale, roll back up to your balance point (tailbone); keep the V shape.
  6.  Repeat 6-8 times.

Visualization:  Imagine rolling your spine against the floor in the same way a wheel rolls smoothly back and forth.


  • Try straightening your legs and balancing without rocking back and forth.
  • Keep your knees slightly bent.
  • Place the hands closer toward the calves (never under the kneecap).
  • For more challenge, hold the toes and roll back or add a fitness circle resistance ring between the ankles.

Head to Toe Checklist:

  • Don’t initiate the movement by tossing your head back.
  • Keep your rhythm—don’t stall at the bottom of the roll.
  • Avoid “whipping” up. Roll up smoothly with strength and control.
  • Don’t roll onto the back of the neck.
  • Pull in your abdominals to rock back and to rock back up.

Note:  A sensitive tailbone may be further irritated by this exercise.


Pilates Exercise of the Month: HIP CIRCLES

 Purpose:  Hip Circles focus on the abdominal muscles; stretches the front of the shoulders, across the chest, and down the arms.

Starting Position: Sit in a V position with the arms extended behind the body, hands resting on floor; fingers face away from body. The legs are together, about a 60 degree angle from the floor.

1.        Inhale, move your legs down and around to the right.

2.       Exhale, complete the circle, bringing the legs to the left and back up to the starting V position.

3.        Complete 3-5 sets.

Visualization: Imagine your hands are stuck in cement and you are unable to move your torso except to keep it lifting to the ceiling.

 Head to Toe Checklist:

*   Begin small, increasing circles as you gain strength.

*   Circling the legs too low will compromise your abdominals.

*   Don’t let the upper body collapse.

*   Press the shoulders down and away from your ears.


Prop yourself up on your elbows if maintaining straight arms is too difficult.

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