How to Do Imprinting in Pilates

Proper Form, Variations, and Common Mistakes

Woman lying on yoga mat imprinting in Pilates

Verywell / Ben Goldstein

Targets: Back, relaxation

Equipment Needed: Mat

Level: Beginner

Imprinting may be the most basic Pilates mat exercise there is, and yet it can also be one of the most profound. You will relax and release your body in sequence, ensuring your back is fully imprinted into the mat. It is one of the first positions you learn when beginning Pilates training and serves a couple of purposes in your practice. Imprinting is the perfect way to get centered before you begin your Pilates workout or any other form of exercise.


Imprinting helps you lengthen and relax your spine, and settle into your body. It serves to stabilize you during exercises in which you lift both legs off of the floor. This is particularly useful in exercises where both legs are extended and are at a low angle off of the floor. By keeping the back pressed into the mat and the abdominals pulled down to achieve this, your body is well anchored. A simple exercise, imprinting can be used anytime for stress reduction and quick rejuvenation.

Step-by-Step Instructions

You will need an exercise mat or other firm but padded surface.

  1. Begin imprinting by lying on your back with your arms by your sides, knees bent and feet flat on the floor. You will be in neutral spine position, allowing your spine to rest with its natural curves.
  2. Relax your shoulders. Let them release on to the floor.
  3. Breathing deeply, relax your jaw and throat.
  4. Relax your ribcage. Let the sternum drop and the back ribs move to the floor.
  5. Relax your abdominal muscles. Let them drop down toward your spine.
  6. Relax your spine. Let it get long and melt into the floor.
  7. Relax your hips and legs. Use only as much energy as it takes to keep your knees up and legs in alignment.
  8. Next, "see" the imprint in your mind's eye. Visualize your spine lengthening and sinking down to the mat, lightly imprinting against its surface. Just let it happen. As you relax, you can breathe deeply into the spaces opening up between your vertebrae. This is a wonderful time to linger, and perhaps to add some sequential breathing.
  9. As you do the imprinting exercise, see if you can let your imprint be very even, so that it is balanced along your body. Imagine that if you were to get up, the print your body left would be perfectly balanced.
  10. Do imprinting for at least three to five breaths.

For relaxation and stress reduction, do imprinting for five minutes or more.

Common Mistakes

Avoid these errors so you get the most out of imprinting and avoid strain.

Back Not Flat Against Mat

The goal of imprinting is for the back to be flat on the mat without any gaps. Depending on the natural curve of your spine, that may be easier or harder to achieve. With practice you should find the release needed without forcing it.

Pressing Your Spine Firmly Into the Mat

It should be relaxation and gravity that draws your back into the mat, not rounding your back or pressing firmly.

Modifications and Variations

There are a few ways this exercise can be done differently to meet your needs and skill level.

Need a Modification?

You might want to use a rolled towel or small pillow to support your neck.

Up for a Challenge?

If you are doing imprinting as a warm-up for your workout, relax, but stay alert enough that you will enjoy moving out of the imprint and into exercise.

Safety and Precautions

Imprinting may not work well for everyone. Those with lower back issues, such as a bulging disk, should avoid imprinting, for example. If you have any lower back issues, it is best to consult with your doctor before attempting imprinting and to seek assistance from a Pilates instructor who can help guide you through safe and proper practice for your case. You should not feel any pain while doing imprinting. If you do, return to a comfortable posture.

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.