How to Do the Dart in Pilates

Proper Form, Variations, and Common Mistakes

 Verywell / Ben Goldstein

Targets: Back extension

Level: Beginner

The Pilates dart mat exercise is a back-strengthening exercise. You lay prone and raise your upper body from the mat, supported with lifted abs and a stable pelvis. It one of the moves frequently recommended for people with back pain because it strengthens all of the back extension muscles in both the upper and lower back. It will train you to protect your lower back and support a long spine. Once you get strength and stability from dart, you can build on it to do more Pilates back extension exercises like swimming, swan, and double leg kick.


The latissimus dorsi and trapezius extensor muscles in the back are used in the dart exercise, stretching and pulling open the front of the rib cage. You are also involving the gluteus maximus in the buttocks. Both contribute to elongating the spine and stabilizing the torso. This exercise can help you maintain good posture. For certain types of back pain, it may be recommended by a physical therapist.

Step-by-Step Instructions

You will need to do this exercise on a firm, padded surface.

  1. Lie on your stomach with your legs together. Arms along your sides.
  2. Lift your abdominal muscles away from the mat. Inhale.
  3. Exhale. Keep your abdominal muscles pulled in. Extend energy through your spine and out the top of your head to lift your upper body slightly off the mat. Anchor your pubic bone to the mat to protect your lower back. Your legs and glutes are engaged as part of the stability of the lower body but don't over-squeeze them. Your head is an extension of your spine. Your gaze will be down. Your shoulder blades will slide down your back as your arms reach behind you like they are being blown back.
  4. Hold for an inhale.
  5. Exhale to lengthen and lower your body to the floor.
  6. Repeat this exercise three times.

Common Mistakes

Avoid these errors so you get the most out of this exercise and prevent strain.

Creasing Neck

Keeping your gaze down, with your neck long and aligned with your spine. You do not want to hyperextend your neck vertebrae.

Crunching Lower Back

Do not crunch your low back—you need to keep your spine elongated and not hyperextended. You might also think of sending your tailbone down toward the floor to keep the lower spine long.

Modifications and Variations

If you find this exercise too difficult or it seems you could go deeper, talk to your Pilates instructor about ways to modify it or alternative exercises.

Need a Modification?

If you are recovering from back pain and you are still uncomfortable not having your hands under you for support, you might try a similar exercise, swan prep.

Up for a Challenge

If you feel stable and have no pain, open your chest and lift your gaze a little more to get that wonderful "flight feeling." Just be sure your neck stays long and soft.

If dart felt great, move on to Pilates swimming. It is a dryland swimming move that provides back extension and it is also done on the exercise mat, laying on your stomach.

Safety and Precautions

Avoid this exercise if you should not lie prone, such as after the first trimester of pregnancy. If you have an injury to your back or neck, talk to your doctor or physical therapist to see what exercises are appropriate. Stop this exercise if you feel any pain.

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.