How to Do Scissors Exercise in Pilates

Proper Form, Variations, and Common Mistakes

Verywell / Ben Goldstein 

Targets: Upper and lower abdominals, obliques

Equipment Needed: Mat

Level: Advanced

Scissors is an advanced Pilates mat exercise that calls for tremendous shoulder and pelvic stability and hip flexibility. You also need the ability to get your mind around really lengthening through the powerhouse while you are upside down. If this sounds too advanced, try side scissors instead. In the traditional Pilates mat sequence, the scissors exercise comes at the midpoint of the routine. It is preceded by the neck pull and followed by the bicycle.


This exercise targets the upper and lower abs. These muscles must also enlist the obliques to maintain stability, making it an excellent challenge for your abs. It provides a stretch to your hamstrings (back of the thighs) and the iliopsoas (hip muscle), opening the front of your hips.

Step-by-Step Instructions

Scissors is a mat exercise that you can perform at home or at the studio. You will need a Pilates mat or a firm padded surface, but no other equipment is necessary.

  1. Lie on your back with your knees bent, feet on the floor. Take a moment to breathe deeply. Feel the weight of your shoulders on the mat and lightly press the backs of your arms into the mat. Here you initiate the open chest and shoulder stability you will need later in the exercise.
  2. Bring your knees toward your chest and roll your hips up off the mat so that you are in an upside down ball position, resting on your shoulders. Cup the back of your pelvis with your hands and have your elbows directly under your hips.
  3. Extend your hips and your legs so that you are on a long diagonal. The legs are together. Your lumbar area is not flexed, it is slightly extended making this is a little bit scary position. This is the part that makes this exercise more advanced and different than just supporting yourself upside down. You will be most successful if you think of lengthening and narrowing through your whole powerhouse.
  4. Before moving on, make sure your chest is still open and your neck is long. Drop your shoulders if you need to, and get support from the backs of the upper arms.
  5. Scissor your legs open, equally away from each other. The tendency is to bring the overhead leg back too far, and not take the risk of extending the leg that is moving away toward the floor. Work on that gently over time.
  6. Pulse the legs twice in the open position and switch legs. Only the legs move. The pelvis stays absolutely stable.
  7. Repeat the scissor action 6 times.
  8. Bring your legs together overhead and roll down with control, as you would return from roll over.
  9. The next exercise in the classical sequence is the bicycle exercise.

Common Mistakes

Do not roll onto your neck—be sure to keep your weight on your shoulders and upper back to protect your neck. Do not turn your head once you have raised your legs or you may strain your neck.

Modifications and Variations

As with all Pilates exercises, practicing with good, safe form is more important than repetitions. If you don't feel strong in the extended position, come down and try it again. You can place a folded towel or bolster under your hips and lower back.

Safety and Precautions

Avoid this exercise if you have any neck or back injury or osteoporosis. It is also not recommended if you have glaucoma, high blood pressure, or any condition where your head should not be lower than your heart.

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.