How to Do the Pilates Spine Twist

This move will help you keep your upper body flexibility

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.

The 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 kind of range of motion work is very important in sports as well.

Spine Twist: Step One

Asian woman with fitness ball exercising with arms outstretched
Eternity in an Instant/Digital Vision/Getty Images
  • Sit 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.

If your hamstrings are tight and it is hard for you to sit upright, place a small pillow or folded towel under your hips.

Spine Twist: Step Two

pilates pictures
Rotate the Spine on the Central Axis. Lara Kolesar, (c)2007 Marguerite Ogle
  • Imagine a line running straight up through the middle of your body. On a two-part exhale, get taller as you turn your torso and head on that central axis.
  • The movement is a two-part pulse where you exhale to twist halfway and then exhale again to turn as far as you can.

The twist is from the waist, not from the shoulders. 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.

The spiral of the upper body supported by a stable pelvis is the crux of this exercise. This is why golfers, tennis players, and those of us wishing to maintain freedom of motion get so much out of this exercise.

Spine Twist: Step Three

pilates exercise pictures
Return to Center on an Inhale. Lara Kolesar, (c)2007 Marguerite Ogle
  • 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.
  • On the exhale, take the twist to the other side.

Repeat the exercise five times to each side.

Tip: Use Your Breath

Taking a moment to breathe
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The spine twist is a great opportunity to use the breath in the way that Joseph Pilates encouraged, which was to take in a lot of fresh air and use movement to expel old air forcefully. In the spine twist, use the twisting motion to help you feel as if you are literally wringing the old air out.

Spine Twist Variation

I have seen the spine twist taught with the opposite breathing pattern—inhaling on the twist. I like that method because it is easier to feel as if you are growing taller on the inhale. On the other hand, I like letting the breath out on the twist, as I have it here. Try the spine twist both ways. It can be fascinating to explore how breathing patterns can change our experience of a movement.

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