Corkscrew Pilates Exercise Instructions

A classical Pilates mat exercise, the corkscrew offers a great challenge for shoulder stability and abdominal work as you rotate the legs opposite a still, calm upper body. It is an especially good exercise for the oblique muscles.

Corkscrew becomes an advanced exercise, but it is a good one to build up to. The exercise instructions I give here are an intermediate version.

The plan: Your legs are going to make a half moon arc from center to the side, dipping down in the middle, and then scoop up the other side returning to the start position. Let's break this move down:

(photos get larger if you click them)

Corkscrew Set-up

Pilates Exercise
Corkscrew Legs Up. Susie Haggas, (c)2010, Marguerite Ogle

Lie on your back with your shoulders away from your ears and arms along your sides, palms down.

Extend your legs up to the ceiling. Keep them together, hugging the midline of the body.

Before you begin the exercise, take a few deep breaths allowing your belly to deepen down toward your spine, and your spine to lengthen out along the mat. Your lower back will be on the mat. This is not a neutral spine exercise.

Your abdominal muscles are going to get a workout but you want your upper body to stay as relaxed as possible throughout the exercise.

Legs to the Side

pilates corkscrew
Legs to the Side. (c)2010, Marguerite Ogle

Inhale: Keeping your belly scooped in, use abdominal control to take your legs to the side. The legs stay together.

Make this a small move at first, keeping the hips on the mat. As you get stronger, let just the hips tip slightly with the move as shown. (Eventually, this exercise takes the hips all the way off the mat.)

Your upper body will remain calm and stable. It does help to lightly press the backs of the arms on the mat.

Legs Circle Down

pilates exercise
The Legs Go Through a Low Center. (c)2010, Marguerite Ogle

The legs circle down and move through a low center. Don't take your legs so low that your lower back comes off the mat.

Your legs can be lower than what is pictured if you can do it without straining your low back or neck. Again, the upper body is still. This is all ab work.

Legs Complete the Circle

pilates corkscrew
Legs Complete the Circle. (c)2010, Marguerite Ogle

As your legs begin to move to the other side of your arc, use your exhale to take them around and up. You should feel a strong deepening scoop on the lower belly as you bring your around and up to start position.

Do another arc in the other direction. Continue until you have done 3 to each side.

Though we broke the exercise into separate moves, call on your Pilates principles and put this one together with a lot of breath and flow.

In Joseph Pilates' sequence of mat exercises, corkscrew is followed by an upper body twist, the saw.

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