How to Do Swan in Pilates

Proper Form, Variations, and Common Mistakes

Verywell / Ben Goldstein

Also Known As: Swan prep, swan dive prep, rising swan

Targets: Abdominals, hip flexors

Equipment Needed: Exercise mat

Level: Beginner

Swan in Pilates is an extension exercise done on the mat. It is one of the best exercises you can do as a counter stretch for the many forward flexion exercises in Pilates mat work. This is the beginner stretch that will prepare you for progressing to the advanced move, the swan dive.

It is best to do swan after you have warmed up the spine with a few forward flexion exercises, such as spine stretch and the hundred. It's a great stretch to do after time spent working on the computer, driving, or air travel.


Swan opens the front-body, expands the chest and stretches the abdominals, hip flexors, and quadriceps. Besides being a counter stretch used during a Pilates sequence, anybody who sits a lot can experience tight hip flexors, and swan will help restore flexibility.

Swan also strengthens. Throughout swan, the abdominals stay engaged and the shoulders, back, inner thighs, pelvic floor, glutes, and hamstrings are at work.

Runners can benefit from maintaining good hip joint flexibility, and weightlifters will be able to perform squats better with more hip flexibility. Swan is also a recommended exercise for those with Parkinson's disease.


Watch Now: How to Do the Pilates Swan

Step-by-Step Instructions

You will need space to lay out your exercise mat.

Lie on the mat face down. Keep your arms close to your body as you bend your elbows to bring your hands under your shoulders. Shoulders should be away from the ears. The legs are usually together, but it is acceptable to do this exercise with the legs shoulder-width apart.

  1. Engage your abdominal muscles, lifting your belly button up away from the mat. The abdominals remain lifted throughout the exercise.
  2. Inhale: Lengthen your spine, sending energy through the top of your head as you press your forearms and hands into the mat to support a long upward arc the upper body. The elbows are close to the body, the head stays in line with the spine, and the hips stay on the mat. Protect your lower back by sending your tail bone down toward the mat.
  3. Exhale: Keep your abdominals lifted as you release the arc, lengthening your spine as your torso returns to the mat in a sequential way: low-belly, mid-belly, low-ribs and so on.
  4. Repeat swan 3 to 5 times using an even, flowing breath to support the movement.
  5. Finish by pushing back into the rest position with knees bent and body rounded over the thighs.

Common Mistakes

Avoid these errors of form.

Raising Torso Too High

Do not raise your torso up too high. Protect your back by keeping your abs lifted, your tail bone moving toward the mat, and the hips on the floor.

Insufficient Warmup

You need to have warmed up with other extension exercises before you do swan.

Not Using Your Back

The lifting should come from your back, not by placing all of the weight on your hands. When done properly, there is little weight on your hands and you could even lift them from the mat briefly.

Modifications and Variations

Swan can help you build the strength and flexibility you need for the more advanced swan dive. Use these modifications and learn how to progress.

Need a Modification?

Straighten your arms only as much as is comfortable and as much as allows you to maintain the connection of your hips and legs with the floor. Do not force yourself at first to raise all the way up to straight arms.

If you have neck pain, be sure to keep your gaze forward rather than looking up.

Make the movement smaller if you feel any tension in your lower back.

Up for a Challenge?

The next steps are to try swan with a neck roll and then on to swan dive.

In the swan with neck roll, when lifted you look first to the left and stretch, then roll your chin down to your chest, then roll your chin up to your right and stretch. Return your chin to the center position.

For swan dive, release your arms from the swan position, extending them straight alongside your ears. Your body will rock forward and because you are keeping your long arc and your legs will come up. Your job is to keep your inner thighs and glutes engaged, your abs lifted, and your shoulders integrated with your core. Extend your arms out and rock back and forth, keeping your long arc shape.

Safety and Precautions

If you have any injuries or pain in your back, neck, or wrists, you may wish to avoid this exercise. While the swan may be recommended for relieving back pain, it is best to discuss it first with your doctor or physical therapist. It may also be difficult to do in pregnancy. If you feel any pain or excessive back tension during the exercise, gently release to floor and do not continue.

Try It Out

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

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