How to Do Pelvic Curl in Pilates

Proper Form, Variations, and Common Mistakes

Ben Goldstein
Verywell / Ben Goldstein

Targets: Abdominals, spine, hamstrings

Level: Beginner

The pelvic curl mat exercise is often used in Pilates classes as a gentle warmup for the spine and abdominal muscles. You lie on your back and engage your abs for a pelvic tilt, then curl your tailbone upward until your body is in a straight line between knees and shoulder blades. It also works the lower body and helps coordinate breath and movement. Besides being used in a warmup, you can do it in a series aimed at helping those with back pain. A nice counter stretch for pelvic curl is spine stretch.


The abdominal muscles should be doing the bulk of the work if you are doing the pelvic curl correctly. This is how it differs from the similar-looking bridge exercise, in which the glutes, hamstrings, and erector spinae of the back are doing more work. The goal is for the back to be along for the ride, getting good sequential articulation, and the glutes and hamstrings playing less of a role.

The value of pelvic curl is to coordinate your breathing and movement pattern and to learn to slowly articulate your spine with full control. This knowledge comes into play in may Pilates exercises. The pelvic curl may be used in physical therapy and rehabilitation from back injuries.

Step-by-Step Instructions

Lie on your back with your knees bent and your feet flat on the floor. Make sure that your feet, ankles, and knees are aligned and hip-distance apart. This exercise starts in neutral spine—the natural curves of the spine are present so the lower back is not pressed into the mat.

  1. Begin sequential breathing. Inhale. Bring your breath into your chest, then belly, and down to the pelvic floor.
  2. Exhale. Release the breath from the pelvic bowl, the belly, and then the chest.
  3. Inhale.
  4. Exhale: Do a pelvic tilt by engaging the abdominal muscles and pulling your belly button down toward your spine. Let that action continue so that the abs press the lower spine into the floor. In the pelvic tilt position, your back is very long on the floor and the pelvis is tilted so that the pubic bone is a little higher than the hip bones.
  5. Inhale: Press down through your feet allowing the tailbone to begin to curl up toward the ceiling. The hips raise, then the lower spine, and, finally, the middle spine. Keep your legs parallel all the way through. You will come to rest between your shoulder blades, with a nice straight line from your hips to your shoulders. Do not arch beyond this point. Be sure to support this movement with the abdominals and hamstrings.
  6. Exhale: As you let your breath go, use abdominal control to roll the spine back down to the floor. Begin with the upper back and work your way down, vertebrae by vertebrae, until the lower spine settles to the floor.
  7. Inhale: Release to neutral spine.
  8. Prepare to repeat the exercise by initiating the pelvic tilt on the exhale.
  9. Repeat this exercise three to five times.

Common Mistakes

Avoid these errors so you get the most out of this exercise without strain or injury.

Arching Too Far

Only arch to the point where your shoulder blades would begin to come off the mat. Stop there. More will begin to place stress on your neck as well as risk too much arching of the back.

Going Too Fast

You want to do this vertebra by vertebra, up and then down. The focus is on control and body awareness.

Tense Shoulder and Neck

Your shoulders and neck should remain relaxed throughout the exercise.

Modifications and Variations

Depending on your level of practice, you may need to perform this exercise with a modification, or you may be ready to progress.

Need a Modification?

If you have upper back or neck problems, you may want to practice engaging and releasing just the pelvic tilt portion or roll up just part way.

Up for a Challenge?

Further progression of this mat exercise is performing it with your feet placed on a foam roller. You can place a ball between your knees to engage your adductors. You can also take this exercise to the next level with bridge on the ball.

Safety and Precautions

This exercise is appropriate for most people unless you have difficulty laying flat, have a recent lower back injury, or you have osteoporosis. Talk to your doctor, physical therapist, or Pilates instructor to see what modification might be appropriate. It is good for early pregnancy, but you may not be comfortable laying on your back in later pregnancy. Stop this exercise if you feel any pain.

Try It Out

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

By Marguerite Ogle MS, RYT
Marguerite Ogle is a freelance writer and experienced natural wellness and life coach, who has been teaching Pilates for more than 35 years.