How to Do the Swan Dive in Pilates

Proper Form, Variations, and Common Mistakes

Pilates Swan Dive

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Targets: Back extension, abdominals, glutes, hamstrings

Equipment Needed: Exercise mat

Level: Intermediate

Swan dive is a Pilates exercise that works the back, abdominals, glutes, hamstrings and inner thighs. It is an intermediate to advanced move that builds on Pilates swan. It is the 12th exercise in the classical Pilates mat sequence, after saw and before one leg kick.


Swan dive is a strong back extension exercise. It is a counter to back flexion (forward bending) exercises and to everyday sitting and slouching posture. It will help you develop better spinal mobility and give you a stretch to the chest. The glutes and hamstrings are used to raise the legs.

This is a powerful exercise that uses the breath to help propel it. Try to do swan dive with a sense of flowing through one part to another. As you work with more advanced exercises the Pilates principles, like breath and flow, are what make them truly sophisticated body/mind exercises rather than gymnastics.

It is a good idea to follow an exercise like swan dive with a restful counter stretch, like pushing back into child's pose.

Step-by-Step Instructions

You will begin laying on your stomach on your exercise mat.

  1. Lift your abdominals away from the floor and send your tailbone down toward the floor, anchoring the pubic bone. Your legs are straight. They can be slightly apart.

  2. Your shoulder blades slide down your back as your place your hands under your shoulders, elbows in.

  3. Inhale. Maintain a long spine as you press up into the swan.

  4. Continue your inhale and pressing up. The arc of your spine grows longer as you press through swan and up until your arms are straight or close to straight.

    It is more important to keep the length in the back, with the tailbone down and the abs lifting, than to push up high. Do not push up so high that you feel a pinch in your lower back.

  5. Exhale: Release your arms, 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.

  6. Inhale. Extend your arms out and rock back and forth. Keep your lovely, long arc shape and use the length and reach of your body, along with intention. as you rock. Don't drop your upper body or all will be lost and you won't get going again. Find the move through your extension and powerhouse—glutes work, inner thighs work, back extensors, and abs.

  7. Inhale. Bring your hands under your shoulders and press yourself up through swan to repeat the move.

  8. Repeat swan dive 3 to 5 times.

Common Mistakes

Swan dive is sometimes demonstrated as two sharp moves—up and release out—but it is better with coordinated breath and a smooth rocking action.

Do not raise your torso up too high. Protect your back by keeping your abs lifted, your tailbone moving toward the mat, and the hips on the floor. Engaging the pelvic floor, inner thighs, hamstrings, and glutes will also help support the low back.

Modifications and Variations

Swan dive is not for everyone. If you are a beginner, or you have back or neck problems, work with swan.

You can build up to this advanced version of swan dive with extended arms by doing the supported move below without extending your arms.

Safety and Precautions

Avoid this exercise if you have any back problems. When doing swan, you must commit to supporting your back by keeping your abs pulled in, your back long, and your tailbone moving toward the floor the whole time.

Try It Out

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

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