How to Do Spine Twist in Pilates

Proper Form, Variations, and Common Mistakes

Verywell / Ben Goldstein

Targets: Abdominal muscles and upper spine

Equipment Needed: Mat

Level: Beginner

One of the challenges of daily movement is keeping the spine and muscles of the trunk flexible in different directions. Most of us are used to bending over, or reaching up, but what happens when we reach or look to the side? Often, the head or the arms will go with the motion, but the trunk will be immobile. The result is a compromised range of motion that gets worse as we age. Spine twist, a Pilates mat exercise, helps guard against this.


Spine twist increases the range of motion in the upper body by training the trunk to spiral on the central vertical axis, while maintaining the support of a stable pelvis. This range of motion is important in sports such as golf and tennis. The spine twist also promotes good posture and is an opportunity to use the breath in the way that Joseph Pilates encouraged: taking in a lot of fresh air and using movement to expel old air forcefully. In the spine twist, the twisting motion helps you feel as if you are literally wringing the old air out.

Step-by-Step Instructions

Start by sitting up tall on your sit bones. Pull your abdominals in so that your upper body is well supported. Flex your feet and reach your heels. Extend your arms directly out to the sides, keeping them even with your shoulders, so that there is one long line from fingertip to fingertip.

Think of your spine as being very long, with energy moving down into the floor through the tailbone and up to the sky through the top of your head. Even with all that height, you still want to keep your shoulders relaxed and your rib cage down.

  1. Exhale as you imagine a line running straight up through the middle of your body. Turn your torso and head on that central axis, getting taller as you twist. The movement is a two-part pulse where you exhale to twist halfway and then exhale again to turn as far as you can.
  2. Inhale and return to center. As you return, continue to extend energy out your fingertips, through your heels, and out the top of your head. Control the motion and make sure that your pelvis does not move.
  3. Exhale and take the twist to the other side. Repeat five times on each side.

Common Mistakes

The twist is from the waist, not from the arms, shoulders, or neck. The upper body, including the head, moves as one piece. The pelvis stays stable and does not twist at all. You can check this by making sure that your feet stay even with each other.

Modifications and Variations

Use modifications to make this exercise work well for you, and to keep your body in alignment as you do it.

Need a Modification?

If your hamstrings are tight and it is hard for you to sit upright, place a small pillow or folded towel under your hips. If it is difficult to hold your arms out, you can fold them over your chest at heart center, or rest your hands lightly on your shoulders.

You can also do the spine twist with the opposite breathing pattern: inhaling on the twist, exhaling on the return. It may be easier to feel as if you are growing taller on the inhale.

Up for a Challenge?

Although you will always benefit from practicing this beginner twist, you can try these intermediate exercises if you are ready for more intensity.

Safety and Precautions

If you have a back injury or condition, you may need to avoid this exercise. Talk to your doctor or physical therapist. Similarly, if the exercise causes pain in your shoulders, twist only as far as is comfortable.

Try It Out

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

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.