How to Do the Corkscrew in Pilates

Proper Form, Variations, and Common Mistakes

Targets: Abdominal muscles, particularly obliques

Equipment Needed: Mat

Level: Intermediate

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 intermediate-level exercise, but can be intensified to become an advanced exercise.

Benefits

The corkscrew works the abdominal muscles, especially the obliques (the sides of the body). It stretches the hip flexors and massages the lower back. This exercise also challenges the adductor muscles of the inner thighs as you press and hold your legs together throughout.

Step-by-Step Instructions

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

To start, 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.

pilates corkscrew
Legs to the Side. (c)2010, Marguerite Ogle
  1. 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. (Eventually, this exercise takes the hips all the way off the mat.)
  2. Circle the legs down and move through a low center. Don't take your legs so low that your lower back comes off the mat. Your upper body will remain calm and stable. It helps to lightly press the backs of the arms on the mat.
  3. Exhale and move your legs to the other side of your arc. You should feel a strong deepening scoop on the lower belly as you bring your legs around and up to start position.
  4. Repeat, doing another arc in the other direction. Continue until you have done three to each side. Call on your Pilates principles and put these steps together with a lot of breath and flow.
pilates corkscrew
Legs Complete the Circle. (c)2010, Marguerite Ogle

Common Mistakes

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

Using Momentum

The power to move your legs should come from your core muscles only. Don't allow the legs to swing using momentum or gravity. Keep your upper body relaxed, not pressing hard into the mat.

Arching Your Back

Your lower back should stay pressed to the mat, or imprinted, during the entire exercise. Don't let it lift up when your legs are moving.

Separating the Legs

Keep the legs pressed together, from thighs to ankles, while they are moving through the corkscrew.

Modifications and Variations

Start with the intermediate version, and move up to the more advanced exercise as you get stronger.

Need a Modification?

Press your arms into the mat for support and stability. Keep working toward stronger abs; eventually you will not need the upper body support. If it is uncomfortable to straighten your legs fully, bend the knees slightly.

You can also move your legs and hips side to side, instead of in a circle (this is called "pendulum"). It's easier on your hip flexors, but still challenges your abs, especially the obliques.

Up for a Challenge?

Lower your legs farther 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.

Safety Precautions

If you have a lower back injury or condition, or feel pain when doing this exercise, avoid it. Because it requires laying on your back, it is not suitable for the second or third trimester of pregnancy.

Try It Out

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

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