How to Do Knee Folds in Pilates

Proper Form, Variations, and Common Mistakes

Verywell / Ben Goldstein

Targets: Core and movement awareness

Level: Beginner

Knee folds is a fundamental Pilates mat exercise. Many other Pilates exercises—and efficient movement patterns in general—build upon the movement principles that knee folds teach. Pelvic stability, moving from the core, maintaining length, and moving without excess tension are some of the basics that you practice by doing knee folds. Pilates imprinting is an excellent place to start a workout. Moving from imprinting to knee folds is a good progression.


Learning to allow a deep fold at the hip joint, without disturbing the position of the pelvis, is essential for healthy everyday movement patterns like walking, stair climbing, and bending. Use knee folds as an opportunity to experiment with how much muscle tension you really need for the moves you make. For example, in this exercise, there is no need for tension in the neck or shoulders. Many Pilates mat exercises such as single leg stretch, double leg stretch, and the more advanced, bicycle, build on the movement principles taught by knee folds. Knee folds are often one of the Pilates exercises used to help relieve back pain.

Step-by-Step Instructions

Lie on your back with your knees bent and your feet flat on the floor. Mentally scan your body. As you do so, let go of unnecessary tension and check your alignment

  1. Alignment check: Your neck is long and relaxed. Your shoulders are dropped and your chest is open. Your arms are by your sides. Your ribcage is released onto the floor. Your spine and pelvis are in neutral position—not tucked and not arched. Your legs are parallel, about hip distance apart. Your feet are in line with your legs, toes pointing straight forward.
  2. Breathe deeply. Allow the breath to expand the ribs evenly, and to travel down your spine and into your pelvis.
  3. Engage your abdominal and pelvic floor muscles. They should feel active, and your belly will pull in and up as you engage. However, this is not an overly strong move and it does not change the position of the pelvis.
  4. On an inhale, feel that you are using your abdominal muscles to lift one leg off the floor. Your thigh muscles will be part of this move, but the abdominals are more important. As you use your abs, keep your torso long. Feel a deepening of the crease at the hip joint. It is important not to let the hip come up with the leg. Raise your leg to tabletop position.
  5. Exhale and return your foot to the floor. As you do so, be sure to use abdominal control. Don't let the thigh take over.
  6. Repeat the knee folds 3 times on one side, then switch to the other leg.

Common Mistakes

Avoid these errors so you get the most out of this movement.

Pressing Into Stable Leg

If you are lifting your right leg, be sure not to press any weight into your left foot. You might visualize that there is an egg under that foot that you don't want to break.

Raising Hips

Both hips remain on the ground at all times, with the pelvis aligned. Keep your hips anchored to the mat.

Modifications and Variations

You can do this exercise in different ways to match your needs and level of practice.

Need a Modification?

Only raise your leg as far as you can while maintaining good form. It may take some practice to reach tabletop position.

Up for a Challenge?

You can progress to doing this exercise with a foam roller under your spine from neck to pelvis. This provides an additional stability challenge. Or, you can place small physio ball under your sacrum for for work on your pelvic floor and transverse abs.

Safety and Precautions

If you have a recent or chronic hip injury, talk to your doctor or physical therapist to determine whether this exercise is appropriate. If you are pregnant, you may wish to avoid this exercise in the second and third trimesters. Stop this exercise if you feel any acute 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.