5 Pilates Exercises to Strengthen Your Back

Working your back muscles effectively requires little more than the strategic use of gravity. This routine draws on a group of exercises known as back extension. Performed on your stomach or face down, each of these moves is important in counter balancing the many forward bending exercises we do in real life. The constant forward bending and computer slouching of our day to day activities create weak backs that lead to back pain, injuries and in some cases surgical intervention. Everyone needs to know a few back extension exercises they can use to strengthen their back muscles, prevent back pain, and promote uniform muscular development front to back.

Below are instructions for 5 easy Pilates back extension exercises.

Swan Prep

Ben Goldstein
  1. Lie on your stomach with your legs together. Arms along your sides.
  2. Lift your abdominal muscles away from the mat. Inhale.
  3. Exhale: Keep your abdominal muscles pulled in. Extend the body long through your spine and out the top of your head to lift your upper body slightly off the mat.
  4. Your shoulder blades will slide down your back as your arms reach behind you like they are being blown back. Anchor your pubic bone to the mat to protect your lower back.
    Your head is an extension of your spine. Your gaze will be down.
  5. Inhale: Pause
  6. Exhale: Lengthen and lower your body to the floor.
  7. Repeat 3 times.


Young woman practicing yoga by a swimming pool with ocean in the background
Jutta Klee / Getty Images
  1. Lie on the mat face down. Arms close to your body, bend your elbows to bring your hands under your shoulders.
    Legs are usually together, but it is acceptable to do this exercise with the legs shoulder-width apart.
  2. Engage your abdominal muscles, lifting your belly away from the mat.
  3. Inhale: Lengthen your spine, sending energy through the top of your head as you press your forearms and hands into the mat to support a long upward arc the upper body.
    Protect your lower back by sending your tail bone down toward the mat.
  4. Exhale: Keep your abdominals lifted as you lengthen your spine returning your torso to the mat in a sequential way.
  5. Repeat Swan 3 to 5 times.



Ben Goldstein
  1. Lie on your stomach, legs straight and together.
  2. With shoulder blades settled in your back and shoulders away from your ears, stretch your arms overhead
  3. Pull your abs in so that you lift your navel away from the mat.
  4. Reaching from the center, extend your arms, legs, and spine so far in opposite directions that they naturally come up off the floor. Keep your face down toward the mat.
  5. Alternate right arm/left leg, then left arm/right leg, pumping them up and down in small pulses.
  6. Breathe in for 5 kicks and reaches, and out for a count of 5.
  7. Start with 2 or 3 cycles.



Cow Pose
Ben Goldstein
  1. From an all-fours position with abs lifted, shoulders relaxed and squared:
  2. Inhale: Your tailbone moves up and your chest moves forward and up. Your neck is a long extension of your spine. Don't let the head fall back. Support this move with your abdominals.
  3. Imagine that your head and tail are moving so far away from each other that at a certain point the only thing they can do is start to curve up.
  4. Exhale: Return to Start Position

The cow is an exercise we borrow from yoga but works well with this routine.



Ben Goldstein

*Though the plank exercises are not back bending, they are considered back extensions. They do a wonderful job of working the back and front muscles in a balanced way not to mention the rest of the body

  1. Begin on your knees. Place your hands on the floor in front of you, fingers pointing straight ahead. Your arms are straight and elbows are not locked.
  2. Engage your abdominals and lengthen your spine, extending energy through the top of your head and down through your tailbone.
  3. Lean forward to put your weight on your hands. Align your shoulders directly over your wrists.
  4. With your abdominals lifted, extend your legs straight behind you. Keep them together and send energy through your heels. Your toes are curled under so that some weight is on the balls of your feet.
  5. Activate your legs (especially your hamstrings) and bring them together, emphasizing the center line. Think of pulling your sit bones together.
  6. Breathe deeply, allowing the breath to expand into your lower ribs and back.
  7. Hold your position for three to five breaths.
  8. Take a break and repeat up to five times.