Swimming Pilates Mat Exercise

swimming pilates exercise
Photo: Ben Goldstein / Model: Melissa Castro Schmidt

Swimming at the Beg/Intermediate Level

Swimming is a fun exercise, but it is also quite challenging as it brings every part of the body into play. Luckily, swimming is also easy to modify.

Swimming makes a great counter stretch for the many Pilates Mat exercises that require forward flexion.

  • Lie on your stomach with the legs straight and together.
  • Keeping your shoulder blades settled in your back and your shoulders away from your ears, stretch your arms straight overhead.
  • Pull your abs in so that you lift your belly button up away from the floor.
  • Reaching out from the center, extend your arms and legs so far in opposite directions that they naturally come up off the floor. At the same time, get so much length in your spine that your head moves up off the mat as an extension of the reach of your spine. Keep your face down toward the mat; don't crease your neck.
  • Continue to reach your arms and legs out very long from your center as you alternate right arm/left leg, then left arm/right leg, pumping them up and down in small pulses.
  • Coordinate your breath with the movement so that you are breathing in for a count of 5 kicks and reaches, and out for a count of 5.
  • Hopefully, you feel like you are simulating swimming!
  • Do 2 or 3 cycles of 5 counts of moving and breathing in, and 5 counts moving and breathing out.

    Tips and Modifications


    • Keep everything long, long, long, reaching from your center.
    • Keep your head and neck working as extensions of your spine and don't break the line at the neck.
    • Protect your lower back by keeping your tailbone moving down toward the mat.
    • If the breathing pattern is too complicated at first, leave it out.

    Modifications for Swimming

    • Try working with just the top or bottom half of your body. In the image above, Susie is working just the top half of her body as she anchors the movement by keeping her belly lifted and tailbone moving down toward the mat.
    • Those with upper back and neck issues may want to work only the lower half of the body.
    • Try keeping your forehead on the mat and working just the legs. Reach each leg out long, one at a time, far enough that they raise just an inch or two off the mat. Once you are comfortable with that, try doing the alternating leg movements in quicker succession.
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