How to Do the Push Up in Pilates

Proper Form, Variations, and Common Mistakes

Targets: Upper body, abdominals, hamstrings

Equipment Needed: Exercise mat

Level: Advanced

The Pilates push up is an advanced move. You can start working on it now, but just know that it takes a while to build up the core strength, arm strength, and stability required to fully do this exercise. In fact, it comes in as the final exercise on the list ordered by Joseph Pilates in his book, "Return to Life Through Contrology."

Wall roll down, front support/plank and push up on the ball will serve you well as building blocks towards doing a full Pilates push up.


As with the standard pushup, the Pilates push up is a total body exercise. You will strengthen your arms and shoulders but you must use your abs and core muscles to stabilize your torso. The legs get involved with a stretch to the hamstrings at the back of the thighs.

Step-by-Step Instructions

Set up with an exercise mat. Begin standing with good Pilates posture.

  1. Inhale: Keep your shoulders down as you bring your arms straight up over your head.

  2. Exhale.

    Allow your arms to follow your ears as you nod your head and begin to roll down toward the mat. As you roll down, pull your abs in and curve your spine until your hands reach the mat.

    You may need to bend your knees toward the end to get your hands to the mat. You might review wall roll down as a prep for this part of the exercise.

  3. Inhale.

    Walk your hands out on the mat in three big steps until you are in front support/plank. Be sure to keep your shoulders away from your ears.

    Keep your pelvis very stable as you walk your arms out. It should not rock back and forth with the movement or your arms.

    End in plank position with your hands directly under your shoulders, your legs straight, and your body in one long line from your heels to your ears.

  4. Exhale.

    Hold your plank position. Your legs and arms should be straight. Your heels, hips, shoulders, and ears should be in one line.

    Rotate your arms are so that the inside of the elbow faces forward. This is important as it helps stabilize your shoulder blades and sets your elbows in position for upward movement.

  5. Inhale.

    Bend your elbows straight back along your sides so that your arms brush your ribs. (This is different than some push-up styles where the elbows are allowed to splay outward.)

    As you slowly lower yourself toward the mat, keep your shoulder blades settled into your back; they should not pop up or move together. This is an essential part of the exercise as it teaches you to stabilize your shoulders and torso.

  6. Exhale.

    Keep your abs lifted and extend your elbows so that you levitate your body, in one long line, up away from the mat.

    Many people find that keeping their inner thighs together and imagining that their sit bones are pulling together engages the lower body in a way that helps you get back up without collapsing.

  7. Inhale.

    Walk your hands back to your deep curve position. Keep your pelvis lifted, and again, don't let the pelvis rock.

  8. Exhale

    Use your abdominals to slowly return the pelvis to the upright position and allow the rest of the spine to roll up, vertebrae by vertebrae.

    End in a standing position.

  9. Inhale to lift your arms.

  10. Repeat this exercise three to five times.

Common Mistakes

Rael Isakowitz, a Pilates master, points out that many students mistake the walking back part of this move as a yoga-like downward dog position, but it is not. You are using your abdominals to deeply pull in and move toward rolling up.

Remember that's it's not how many of these you do, but how well you do each one of them. Focus on perfect alignment and form.

Modifications and Variations

To modify this exercise, you can do the pushup portion on your knees.

When doing a desk workout or outdoor workout, you can place your hands on a desk or bench to do the pushup.

Safety and Precautions

This exercise should be avoided if you have pain or injuries to your shoulder, wrist, elbow, or neck.

Try It Out

Incorporate this move and similar ones into one of these popular workouts:

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