Pilates Rocking Exercise

The Pilates rocking exercise is an advanced exercise that is a strong back extension.

The muscles it focuses on are the back extensors, and it will also involve the glutes of the buttocks and hamstrings at the back of the thighs. You should avoid this exercise if you have any concerns about back or knee injuries or pain.

How to Perform the Pilates Rocking Exercise

The Pilates rocking exercise.
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Begin lying on your belly with your head turned to one side and your arms along your sides.

  • Take a moment to lengthen your spine and engage your abdominal muscles. Bring your mind to the midline of your body.
  • Keep your head down for now. Bend one knee and grasp your ankle. Bend the other knee and grasp that ankle.
  • As much as possible you will keep your legs parallel throughout the exercise. So you must engage your inner thighs.
  • On an inhale: Press your ankles into your hands as you simultaneously lift your chest and knees away from the mat.

This is a long back extension with your neck extending through your shoulder girdle as your arms reach back, chest open and face forward.

The lift of the legs has to come from an activation of the back of the leg, especially where the back of the leg and buttock come together. Don't just pull on your knees.

Feel that there is lengthening of the front and back body that creates an arc because you are holding your ankles - this exercise is not a back cruncher! Your lifted abs also protect your low back.

How Does the Pilates Rocking Position Feel?

Just getting into Pilates rocking position is an advanced exercise. If it feels delicious, great. If not, this may be as far as you want to go.

  • Ready to rock? 

If it doesn't feel good, you may need to build up to Pilates rocking. These Pilates mat exercises will help:

  • 5 Back Extension Exercises: These will strengthen your back and act as a counterbalance to the forward bending exercises common in Pilates as well as any slouching posture and computer hunching you do in daily life. They include the Dart, Swan, Swimming, Cow, and Plank.
  • Pelvic Curl
  • Single Leg Kick
  • Lunge

Breathe and Rock

A high chest position while rocking.
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Once you've gotten into starting position for the Pilates rocking exercise and it feels good enough that you know you can continue, you can progress to doing the actual rocking.

Now add the rocking part of the exercise. Hold the beautiful crescent shape you created in step 1. Keep your legs as close to parallel as you can.

  • Exhale to rock forward. Inhale to lift.
  • The rocking is accomplished mostly with the breath and subtle shifts in the way you use your abdominal and back muscles - much like you do in Pilates swan dive.
  • The rocking does not come from alternately dropping the upper body front then punching out with the legs, which is what many want to do before they get their mind connected with the movement. Take your time and find it from inside.
  • Once you get going you can exaggerate the movement to get a high lift of the legs as you rock forward, and a high, open chest as you rock back.

In the classical Pilates mat sequence, rocking is preceded by crab and followed by control balance. Control balance is also a very difficult exercise. You might want to try child's pose as a counter stretch after rocking.

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