Learn the Crab Pilates Exercise

An Advanced Pilates Mat Exercise

The crab is a Pilates mat exercise that requires total control from the core, giving you a great abdominal workout. The crab is an advanced exercise. It builds on rolling like a ball, open leg rocker, and seal which you should learn first. Keep your pilates principles in mind, especially precision and control.

This version is demonstrated as Joseph Pilates shows it in Return to Life. I am not including an extension of legs at the top of the roll back as you will see in some versions. If you know the extension, you can add it.

Let's get started with performing the crab exercise.

Curl into a Ball, Legs Crossed

The start of the Pilates crab.
The start of the Pilates crab. Marili Forastieri/Stockbyte/Getty Images

Sit up straight, bend your knees and cross your legs at the ankles.

Bring your knees to your shoulders and grasp your feet with your hands. (See further notes about how to grasp your feet at the end of this exercise instruction).

Keep your back and chest wide and shoulders down. Your knees will stay in the frame of your body through the exercise. Don't let them fall way out to the sides.

Curl into a ball like you would for rolling like a ball: Head nodded down, abs scooped in, tailbone curving up, long curved spine.

Exhale to deepen your curl and get ready to roll.

Rolling Back

Inhale to roll back. Initiate and control the movement with a deepening scoop of the abs.

Roll only to your shoulders. Do not go to your neck.

Let go of your feet and switch the cross of the legs at the top of the movement. Grasp you feet again and continue.

Roll Forward

Exhale to roll forward. Stay curled and keep rolling forward up and over your legs.

Inhale as your head comes to the mat. Advanced people can do a small neck stretch here.

Tips for this portion of the crab exercise:

  • This part takes a lot of control in the upper abs. If you keep yourself scooping in and up, rolling over your ankles will be easy. If your weight has dropped down, or you've lost your curve, it will hurt.
  • Pay attention to the temptation to use momentum or worse, yank on your feet for help. This latter notion could hurt your back. While you don't use momentum, you do want to use rhythm. Getting a slow, rhythmic flow going in this exercise will make it easier and help you feel the dynamic of the deep abdominal muscles working.

Roll Back and Repeat

Exhale to roll back.

Now you are underway. Keep a nice flow going with your breath.

Repeat 6 times.

Foot Notes for Pilates Crab

In Joseph Pilates' book, Return to Life Through Contrology, he shows the hands grasping the feet from underneath, as does the PMA certification study guide. I like this position because it helps keep the chest open and I find it easier to control.

However, in Rael Isakowitz' excellent book, Pilates, the hands are shown on top of the feet as our model, Lynda Lippin, shows here. There is a lot to be learned from both positions. Try them out. You may discover that you prefer one over the other, or you may end up alternating them for a tiny bit of variety in your crab exercise.

The crab is a rolling exercise, and it may make you feel a little crabby. Rolling exercises are notoriously challenging for some of us. Please refer to my Tips for Rolling Exercises for more insight into these great abdominal workout moves.

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