How to Do the Crab in Pilates

Proper Form, Variations, and Common Mistakes

Verywell / Ben Goldstein

verywell / Ben Goldstein 

Targets: Abdominals

Level: Advanced

The crab is a Pilates mat exercise that requires total control from the core, giving you a great abdominal workout. Crab builds on other rolling exercises, which you should learn before attempting this move.


The crab strengthens your abdominal muscles, including the obliques. It also provides a stretch to the lower back. Building a strong core is essential for good posture and overall fitness.

Step-By-Step Instructions

  1. Sit up straight, bend your knees and cross your legs at the ankles.
  2. Bring your knees to your shoulders and grasp your feet with your hands. 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.
  3. Curl into a ball like you would for rolling like a ball: Head down, abs scooped in, tailbone curving up, long curved spine. Exhale to deepen your curl and get ready to roll.
  4. 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.
  5. Let go of your feet and switch the cross of the legs at the top of the movement. Grasp your feet again and continue.
  6. Exhale to roll forward. Stay curled and keep rolling forward up and over your legs.
  7. Inhale as your head comes to the mat.
  8. Exhale to roll back. Keep your breath flowing and repeat 6 times.

Common Mistakes

Maintain your form throughout the exercise and always keep your Pilates principles in mind, especially precision and control. In particular, watch out for these pitfalls, especially as you are rolling forward (steps 6 and 7).

Losing Control of the Upper Abs

Keep scooping in/up and rolling over your ankles will be easy. If your weight has dropped down, or you've lost your curve, it will hurt.

Using Momentum

Pay attention to the temptation to use momentum as you are rolling forward, or worse, to yank on your feet. Pulling your feet could hurt your back.

Instead of momentum, 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.

Modifications and Variations

In Joseph Pilates' book, "Return to Life Through Contrology," he shows the hands grasping the feet from underneath. However, in Rael Isakowitz's book, "Pilates," the hands are shown on top of the feet. Try them both. You may discover that you prefer one over the other, or you may alternate them for a bit of variety in your crab exercise.

Do You Need a Modification?

Work up to crab by practicing other rolling exercises, such as rolling like a ball, open leg rocker, and seal. Once you feel comfortable doing these exercises, you can begin to work on crab.

Are You up for a Challenge?

Some versions of crab include an extension of the legs at the top of the roll back (step 4). As your head comes to the mat (step 7 above), you can also do a small neck stretch.

Safety and Precautions

Crab is not appropriate for those with osteoporosis or osteopenia. If you have a back injury, be cautious and get help from a Pilates instructor or physical therapist.

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.