How to Do Seal in Pilates

Proper Form, Variations, and Common Mistakes

Seal Pilates Mat Exercise
photo of Susie Haggas, Marguerite Ogle, 2006

Targets: Abdominals

Equipment Needed: Exercise mat

Level: Intermediate

The seal Pilates mat exercise is a fun and challenging abdominal workout. This full spinal rolling exercise is one that requires you to control your body and avoid momentum all while moving back and forth. You must also work the body symmetrically in both directions by relying solely on abdominal strength in order to return upright. The seal is traditionally performed at the end of the classical mat routine but can be done anywhere as long as there is a padded surface to protect the spine. Let seal be fun and flowing. This is a great way to test your core strength and control.

Benefits

Seal will challenge you to maintain your C-curve and abdominal contraction. You will build the ability to control your movements and find your balance point. At the end of a Pilates workout, it is a cool down exercise that will massage your spine.

Step-by-Step Instructions

If you have healthy hips, knees, and ankles you may choose to mount your mat using the classical preparation. From standing upright, genie your arms (crossing them in front of you) and cross your legs. Slowly lower yourself to the edge of the mat to prepare for the seal. This preparation move has been associated with longevity in research that studies health and well being. If this seems like too much to attack all at once, let it go and instead begin seated on the mat.

  1. Sit up at the front of your mat. Draw your feet in towards your center.

  2. Dive your hands through your legs and take hold of the outsides of your ankles.

  3. Rock back just enough that your feet come off the mat and find your balance. Your feet remain close together but your knees are shoulder-width apart. Get your balance here. This is where the work is done.

  4. Draw your abdominals in strongly and round your lower back but don't hang back off your arms. Pull your legs and feet close to you to get ready to roll.

  5. With great control, scoop your abs. and make a C-curve shape with your torso. Your gaze is down towards your feet. Your feet should be two inches off the mat. To begin, clap your feet together 3 times.

  6. Inhale: Initiating the movement with your lower abs, smoothly roll back onto your shoulders (not your neck). Clap your feet together again 3 times at the top.

  7. Exhale: Use your deep abdominal muscles and your exhale to help you roll back up. Aim your feet towards the mat in front of you as you roll forward to your starting position. Pause for a balance.

  8. Repeat 4 to 6 times. Use the clapping of the feet to keep the rhythm of the move.

Common Mistakes

  • Make sure that you stay curved the whole time
  • The way to go backward is to deepen the lower abs. Never throw your head and shoulders back—stay in your C-curve.
  • Coming back up is done by working the abs and the breath, not by throwing one's legs or pulling up with the back. 
  • You will want adequate padding for your spine, but don't pad so much that it throws you off your line.

Modifications and Variations

Need a Modification?

If you have back or neck issues you should end at the prep step with feet just off the mat, balancing. Taking the preparatory position and holding it will provide a very good abdominal workout.

You can omit the claps if you haven't yet achieved good balance.

Up for a Challenge?

Use your last seal repetition to come upright to standing in one fluid move. This is done by releasing your feet at the peak of the roll and crossing your arms and legs as you roll forward deliberately into a full standing position.

Safety and Precautions

Avoid this exercise if you have back or neck problems or osteoporosis. When doing this exercise, be sure you are rolling onto your shoulder blades and not onto your neck, head, or shoulders.

Try It Out

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

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