How to Do Tabletop Legs in Pilates: Proper Form, Variations, and Common Mistakes

Verywell / Ben Goldstein

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Also Known As: Tabletop position, table top legs

Targets: Abdominals

Equipment Needed: Mat, foam roller (optional)

Level: Beginner

Tabletop legs is the starting position for various Pilates mat exercises as well as being used as a modification or even as an exercise in its own right. In the tabletop legs position, you are face up with your back on the mat with your knees bent so that your thighs are perpendicular to the floor and the shins are parallel to the floor. The legs should squeeze gently together so that the inner thighs are engaged.

It is called tabletop because your lower legs are forming the flat, level top of a table while your thighs are forming the straight, perpendicular legs of a table, connecting you to the ground. You can perform the Pilates hundred either with the legs at a 45-degree angle or the legs in tabletop position. Criss cross starts in neutral spine position and moves to tabletop to perform the exercise. The Pilates crunch, toe taps, and lower back stretch also use tabletop legs.

How to Do Tabletop Legs

All you need is a yoga mat to begin. Place your yoga mat on the floor and lay down on your back with your arms at your sides.

  1. Begin with your back on the mat with knees bent and feet flat on the floor. Your spine should be neutral and shoulders relaxed. Inhale.
  2. Raise one leg as you exhale, deepening your ribs and contracting your abdomen. You want your thigh to be straight up with your knee over your hip with your knee bent, so your shins are at 90 degrees with your ankle and in line with your knee.
  3. Lift your other leg into the same position.
  4. Inhale and exhale while holding the position for 10 seconds or more.
  5. Lower your legs one at a time back to the floor as you exhale.

Benefits of Tabletop Legs

The tabletop position challenges the transverse abdominus muscle, which is a deep core muscle that is difficult to engage in many typical ab exercises. It builds strength and stability in your abs and back.

Activating and strengthening your transverse abdominus muscles also helps to decrease and prevent lower back pain. Consistent training of this muscle group can aid in overall improved back health and pain management.

One of the key benefits of tabletop legs is engaging and strengthening muscles that help support lower back health.

This position may be used in physical therapy to rehabilitate from injuries. It can also be the base position for other exercises like the dead bug exercise and the hundred move in Pilates.

Other Variations of Tabletop Legs

The tabletop legs move can be performed in many ways and adjusted to your level of fitness and lower back strength. Here are some variations you may want to try.

Flex Your Foot

You can flex or point your foot at the ankle, as desired. If you are prone to foot cramps, flex the foot and curl your toes towards your head so the sole of the foot is stretched.

Adjust Your Tailbone

If you have difficulty maintaining a neutral spine, make a triangle with your thumb and first fingers and place this under your tailbone. This will help you maintain optimal position and will also help you begin to get a sense of what a neutral spine should feel like in this position.

Add a Foam Roller

For more challenge, you could lie with a foam roller the length of your spine. This action would add instability to the tabletop exercise which increases the intensity and difficulty.

Common Mistakes

Some people think tabletop legs is so straightforward you couldn't possibly do it wrong. But there are a couple of things to be aware of so you get the most from this move while staying as safe as possible. Avoid these errors so you can maximize the benefits of this move.

Misalignment

Be sure that your thighs are as vertical as possible, knees aligned over hips, shins parallel to the ground rather than slanted up or down. If you want to test your form, try balancing a foam roller perpendicular to your shins. You should be able to balance it there without it rolling toward your knees or feet.

Doming the Abdomen

As you bring each leg up, you may dome out your abdomen if you are not paying attention. Make sure to engage your core muscles to keep this area from doming. This step is particularly important during the moments when you lift your second leg into the tabletop position.

Safety and Precautions

This position should be safe for most people, but if you experience any pain, you should gently come out of the position. It is normal to feel tension in your abdominals as they are being challenged, but it shouldn't be painful.

People who are pregnant can do tabletop legs in the early trimester of pregnancy, but should avoid any position that includes being flat on your back, such as the tabletop legs position, in the second and third trimesters. This can compress the inferior vena cava, restricting blood flow to the fetus,

Try It Out

Incorporate this move and similar ones into one of these popular workouts:

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3 Sources
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  2. Lynders C. The critical role of development of the transversus abdominis in the prevention and treatment of low back pain. HSS J. 2019;15(3):214-220. doi:10.1007/s11420-019-09717-8

  3. Warland J. Back to basics: Avoiding the supine position in pregnancy. J Physiol. 2017;595(4):1017-1018. doi:10.1113/JP273705