How to Do a Mermaid Side Stretch in Pilates

Proper Form, Variations, and Common Mistakes

Verywell / Ben Goldstein

Targets: Obliques, shoulders, inner thighs

Level: Beginner

Mermaid side stretch is a Pilates mat exercise that lengthens and opens the side body. Keeping the sit bones grounded as the arm extends in long reach up and over will connect the stretch through the center of the body. Mermaid is also a good lesson in keeping the scapula settled in the back as the arm moves. It has an inner flow to it—a dynamic between breath and stretch, and ground and skyward reaches that makes it special. Use mermaid as a gentle warmup or as more intense stretch later in your routine.


This exercise stretches your obliques, shoulders, and inner thighs. It opens your side body, lengthening the muscles between the ribs and pelvis. This can aid in being able to fully expand your chest in breathing. It prepares you for moves that call for twisting and bending.


Watch Now: Reward Your Body with the Mermaid Side Stretch

Step-by-Step Instructions

Sit on the floor with both legs folded to the left side. Make sure the back foot is flat to the floor to protect your knee. Make a connection between your pelvis and your ribs so that you are flat as if your torso was between two sheets of glass. The right hand is on the floor providing some support as you sit upright. Like most Pilates exercises, the real support for the move comes from the abdominals.

  1. Extend your left arm straight up above your head. Keep your left shoulder down, away from your ear. Bring the inside of the arm as close to your ear as you can without hiking up the shoulder.
  2. Keep your left hip grounded as you lengthen your spine and the stretch moves up through the center of your body. Extend your spine so far up that you have nowhere left to go with the stretch but to take it over to the side.
    Do not let your ribs pop forward as you curve to the side.
  3. Your support hand moves further away from your body to increase the stretch. You can also fold the supporting elbow down onto the floor.
    Keep your shoulders down and your scapula settled in your back, even at the farthest point of your reach.
  4. To initiate your return, send your left sit bone down toward the mat. Then use your abs to begin to bring your torso up.
  5. Now begin the reach to the other side. Your torso lengthens further still as the left arm arcs overhead and then down to grasp your left shin. Your right arm is extended as your left arm is lowered. Now your focus is on keeping the right sit bone grounded as the stretch extends up and over toward the left.
  6. Reach your right arm outward as far as you can without losing the integrity of your shoulder. Your shoulder is down and the scapula is settled in the back.
  7. Repeat two to three times and switch sides.

Common Mistakes

Avoid these errors so you can get the most from this stretch with less risk of strain or injury.

Arched Back

Stay flat. Do not let your back arch, your ribs pop out, or your shoulder twist inward.

Raised Shoulders

Keep your shoulders down and your scapula engaged in your back.

Craned Neck

The head moves as an extension of the spine. Don't tilt it in any direction.

Modifications and Variations

Depending on your flexibility and any injuries or conditions, you may need different positioning or want to add a challenge to the stretch. Discuss your needs with your Pilates instructor for advice on what is safe and effective.

Need a Modification?

If you can't sit in the Z leg position without discomfort, you can position the back leg farther to the side. Some students may need to sit with the leg extended in front of them or with both legs folded in front.

Stretch only as far as you can with good form and no discomfort. Over time, you will be able to stretch more.

Up for a Challenge?

As you advance, you may try doing arm an arm circle with your upper arm at the top of the stretch.

For an additional challenge, do a side lift at the top of the movement. After your arm is as far overhead and to the side as comfortable, raise your lower hip off the mat.

Safety and Precautions

Stretches should always feel good, not painful. Do not deepen the stretch to the point of pain. If you feel any sharp pain in any place during this stretch, end the stretch. Use caution if you have any knee, hip, ankle, neck, or back injury and discuss modifications with your instructor.

Try It Out

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

1 Source
Verywell Fit uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Paden L. Pilates: Easy Lessons for Stretching, Lengthening, and Toning Your Body. DK Publishing; 2014.

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.