How to Do Criss Cross in Pilates

Proper Form, Variations, and Common Mistakes

Verywell / Ben Goldstein

 verywell / Ben Goldstein

Targets: Obliques

Level: Beginner

Criss cross is a Pilates mat exercise that focuses on the abdominals with a special emphasis on the obliques. The obliques aid in posture stabilization to some degree, but they are more involved in flexion and rotation of the spine. One benefit of working the obliques is that they help define the waist. It is good to include exercises that target the obliques in any ab workout.


The obliques are two sets of abdominal muscles, the internal obliques and the external obliques. They run in a diagonal along your sides from the lower ribs to the tops of the hip bones. They are put to work in compressing the abdomen and forward bending (flexion) but also in bending to the side and twisting your torso.

Toned obliques give shape to your waistline. Strengthening these muscles help ensure you are doing a complete ab workout. In daily life, you need strong obliques to help you with bending and twisting movements.

Young woman exercising in gym
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Step-by-Step Instructions

Lie on your back in neutral spine.

  1. Bend your knees and bring your shins up so that they are parallel to the floor.
  2. Place your hands behind your head, supporting the base of the skull. Keep the elbows wide.
  3. Use an exhale to pull your abs into a deep scoop, and leaving the pelvis in a neutral position (not tucked or tipped), curl the chin and shoulders off the mat up to the base of the shoulder blades. Ensure your shoulder blades are kept down.
  4. Inhale: Your upper body is in a full curve, your abs are pulling your belly button down to your spine, and your legs are in tabletop position.
  5. Exhale: Reach your left leg out long, and as you keep the elbows wide, rotate your torso toward the bent right knee so that your left armpit is reaching toward the knee.
  6. Inhale: Inhale as you switch legs and bring the trunk through center.
  7. Exhale: Extend the right leg. Rotate your upper body toward the left knee. Keep your chest open and elbows wide the whole time.
  8. Start with six repetitions and work your way up to 10.

Common Mistakes

Avoid these errors to get the most from this exercise and prevent strain.

Not Maintaining Stable Pelvis

You must keep a stable, neutral pelvis as you rotate the spine. No tucking, tilting, or rocking.

Hunching Shoulders

Keep a lot of length between your shoulders and your ears. Imagine that your back is very wide and that your shoulder blades are sliding down your back as you are raising up off the mat.

Using Shoulders and Elbows Instead of Abs

As you do the rotations, resist the urge to hold yourself up and do the motion with your shoulders and arms instead of your abs. Make this exercise about the abs. Keep your elbows extended and don't fold them inward during the motion.

Modifications and Variations

You can ask your Pilates instructor for ways to make this exercise more accessible or to give you a further challenge.

Need a Modification?

The higher you work your legs, the easier the exercise will be on your lower back. Keep your legs high until you have enough abdominal strength to maintain a neutral pelvis throughout the exercise.

Try working just the upper body part of the exercise. You can leave your feet flat on the floor, with the knees bent and the legs parallel.

If you have difficulty doing criss cross at first, start with these moves:

  • Single leg stretch will give you the curl up and the switching of the legs, without the extra difficulty of the rotation.
  • Saw will help you develop a good sense of rotating the spine with an open chest and stable pelvis.

Up for a Challenge?

Keeping the legs lower will give you more of a challenge. Be sure you are using good form before you progress.

Safety and Precautions

Avoid this exercise if you have osteoporosis or a herniated disc. If you have any back or neck problems, talk to your doctor or physical therapist about whether this exercise is appropriate for you. Be aware of how your lower back is feeling and stop the exercise if you find yourself straining it. Avoid this exercise after the first trimester of pregnancy, as soon as the belly expands. Stop this exercise if you feel any sharp pain.

Try It Out

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

3 Sources
Verywell Fit uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Sugaya T, Sakamoto M, Nakazawa R, Wada N. Relationship between spinal range of motion and trunk muscle activity during trunk rotationJ Phys Ther Sci. 2016;28(2):589-595. doi:10.1589/jpts.28.589

  2. Hosford B. National Federation of Professional Trainers. Understanding and Training External and Internal Obliques

  3. Huxel Bliven KC, Anderson BE. Core stability training for injury preventionSports Health. 2013;5(6):514-522. doi:10.1177/1941738113481200

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.