How to Do the Seal in Pilates

Proper Form, Variations, and Common Mistakes

Verywell / Ben Goldstein

Targets: Abdominals

Level: Intermediate

The seal is a fun and challenging Pilates mat exercise. This full spinal rolling exercise requires you to control your body and avoid momentum all while moving back and forth. You must also work the body symmetrically in both directions while relying solely on abdominal strength. Seal is a great way to test your core strength and control.


Seal will challenge you to maintain your C-curve and abdominal contraction. You will build the ability to control your movements and find your balance point. Like other rolling exercises, it helps massage your spine and make it more flexible, which helps with posture and possibly even injury prevention.

Step-by-Step Instructions

If you have healthy hips, knees, and ankles, you can use the classical preparation for this exercise. From standing upright, cross your arms in front of you, and then cross your legs. Slowly lower yourself to the edge of the mat to a seated position. If this seems like too much to attack all at once, let it go and instead begin seated on the mat.

  1. Sit up at the front of your mat. Draw your feet in towards your center.

  2. Dive your hands through your legs and take hold of the outsides of your ankles.

  3. Rock back just enough that your feet come off the mat and find your balance. Your feet remain close together but your knees are shoulder-width apart. Get your balance here. This is where the work is done.

  4. Draw your abdominals in strongly and round your lower back, but don't hang back off your arms. Pull your legs and feet close to you to get ready to roll.

  5. Scoop your abs and make a C-curve shape with your torso. Your gaze is down towards your feet. Your feet should be two inches off the mat. To begin, clap your feet together 3 times.

  6. Inhale: Initiating the movement with your lower abs, smoothly roll back onto your shoulders (not your neck). Clap your feet together again 3 times at the top.

  7. Exhale: Use your deep abdominal muscles and your exhale to help you roll back up. Aim your feet towards the mat in front of you as you roll forward to your starting position. Pause for a balance.

  8. Repeat 4 to 6 times. Use the clapping of the feet to keep the rhythm of the move.

    Common Mistakes

    For safety and to make the most of this exercise, be aware of these common mistakes:

    Losing Your C-Curve

    Make sure that you stay curved the whole time; never throw your head and shoulders back.

    Using Momentum

    Go backward by deepening the lower abs. Come back up by working the abs and the breath, not by throwing your legs or pulling up with your back. 

    Too Much Padding

    You will want a mat that gives you adequate padding for your spine, but not so much that it throws you off your line.

    Modifications and Variations

    Need a Modification?

    If you have back or neck issues, you should end at the prep step with feet just off the mat, balancing. Taking the preparatory position and holding it will provide a very good abdominal workout.

    You can omit the claps if you haven't yet achieved good balance.

    Up for a Challenge?

    Use your last seal repetition to come upright to standing in one fluid move. This is done by releasing your feet at the peak of the roll and crossing your arms and legs as you roll forward deliberately into a full standing position.

    Safety and Precautions

    Avoid this exercise if you have back or neck problems or osteoporosis. When doing this exercise, be sure you are rolling onto your shoulder blades and not onto your neck, head, or shoulders.

    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.