How to Do the Pilates Swan

Ben Goldstein

Swan in Pilates is an extension exercise. It is one of the best exercises you can do as a counter stretch for the many forward flexion exercises in Pilates mat work.

Swan opens the front-body, expands the chest and stretches the abdominals, hip flexors and quadriceps.

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

See the tips below for modification ideas for this exercise.


Watch Now: How to Do the Pilates Swan

What You Need

All you need is an exercise mat.

How to Perform the Exercise

  1. Lie on the mat face down.
    1. 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.
    2. The legs are usually together, but it is acceptable to do this exercise with the legs shoulder-width apart.
  2. Engage your abdominal muscles, lifting your belly button up away from the mat. The abdominals remain lifted throughout the exercise.
  3. 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.
    1. The elbows are close to the body, the head stays in line with the spine, and the hips stay on the mat.
    2. Protect your lower back by sending your tail bone down toward the mat.
  4. 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.
  5. Repeat Swan 3 to 5 times using an even, flowing breath to support the movement.
  6. The next steps are to try swan with a neck roll and then on to swan dive.


    1. 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.
    2. 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.
    3. Engaging the pelvic floor, inner thighs, hamstrings, and glutes will also help support the low back.
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