How to Do the Saw in Pilates

Proper Form, Variations, and Common Mistakes

the saw in pilates

Verywell / Ben Goldstein

The Saw
Verywell / Ben Goldstein

Targets: Back, hamstrings

Level: Beginner

The saw is a Pilates mat exercise involving an intricate back and hamstring stretch. It is essential for all Pilates beginners and is a wonderful way to experience oppositional stretch, where the chest and upper back are pulled open by arms reaching in opposite directions.

As you become more familiar with the exercise, the oppositional dynamic between the front shoulder and the opposite hip becomes very interesting. In the classic Pilates mat sequence, the saw is preceded by the corkscrew and followed by the swan.


The saw exercise strengthens the muscles of the spine, and stretches the hamstrings, hips, and deep abdominal muscles. It can help improve your posture and promote a more stable body with controlled movement throughout.

The saw is an important lesson in pelvic stability as well. While there is a lot of activity in the upper body, the abdominals keep the hips still and even throughout the exercise.


Watch Now: The Pilates Saw is the Ultimate Stretch

Step-by-Step Instructions

You will begin this exercise by sitting on an exercise mat.

  1. Sit up straight on your sit bones. Send energy down through the mat and up through the top of your head.

  2. Extend your legs in front of you, feet about shoulder width apart. Stretch your feet and spread your toes and then relax them.

  3. Stretch your arms out to the side, even with your shoulders, palms facing forward.

  4. Inhale and twist to the right. Get taller as you turn your whole torso, but use your abs to keep your hips steady and even with each other. As you turn, keep your pelvis steady and make sure your torso does not lean.

  5. Exhale: Let your gaze follow your back hand into the turn, spiraling your upper torso so that you are almost curling into yourself. Imagine you are wringing the stale air out of your body as you twist. This takes a lot of support from your abs, and the action will lift your back arm further.

    Allow the stretch to take you forward as you reach the pinky finger of your front hand across the outside of the opposite foot to touch your little toe (if you can). Do not tilt forward in an effort to reach the foot. Twist as far as you can, but always keep your sit bones against the mat.

    Exhale a little more as you reach a little farther.

  6. Once your reach extends to its furthest point, maintain your turned position as you inhale and return to sitting.

  7. Exhale and undo your turn, coming back to the starting position.

  8. Repeat this exercise 3 times on each side.

Common Mistakes

Don't let your knees roll inward. Be sure not to round your shoulders or tilt your neck.

As you twist, concentrate on keeping even pressure on each side of your pelvis rather than rocking to one side. You want your hips to be still and your butt to remain on the mat.

Modifications and Variations

If you have tight hamstrings, you may need to prop your hips up on a folded towel. Or, you may sit with legs crossed.

If you have shoulder pain or issues, you can try a variation of the saw. It follows the same motion, but the arms are up to the chest or out to the sides with your hands resting on your shoulders.

Safety and Precautions

If you feel any pain during the exercise, gently come out of the posture. If it feels like you are stretching your lower back too much, you can bend your knees.

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.