How to Do the Pilates Stance in Pilates

Proper Form, Variations, and Common Mistakes

Woman standing on yoga mat in Pilates stance

 Verywell / Ben Goldstein 

Targets: Legs, hips and core

Level: Beginner

Pilates stance is a position of the legs used in many Pilates exercises. In Pilates stance, the legs are together, straight, and rotated outward from the top of the thigh. This brings the heels together with the toes pointing slightly out (the Pilates V), following the line of the knee. This leg position is similar to, but not as extreme as, ballet's first position. The feet may be flexed or softly pointed. The stance is used in set up and preparation for exercises and as a neutral position.


The title, "Pilates stance" is a bit of an informal moniker rather than an official title for the "v" shape of the feet in most Pilates exercises. Neutral body alignment is emphasized in all Pilates exercises. The Pilates stance was not one that Joseph Pilates invented, so it should never be made into a possessive by using an apostrophe, Pilates' stance. Several authors say that it came from his observation that when a skeleton hangs suspended from the ground, the natural position is this slight outward rotation of the feet. If the feet were aligned straight, they would be fighting the neutral position of the skeleton.

The Pilates stance is an exercise-ready position, it's not meant to be a position you use whenever standing throughout the normal day. It's an active preparation position, setting up the body for further exercise motion. Christine E. Di Lorenzo says in an analysis of Pilates for rehabilitation, "In the Pilates stance, body weight is maintained slightly forward on the balls of the feet. With the core already engaged and with alignment optimal, the spine is prepared and protected for performing more skilled tasks."

Pilates stance isn't an official exercise, per se. It's more an exercise in being conscientious about your body's alignment and positioning during all other Pilates exercises. It requires the engagement of the hips, glutes, quads, hamstrings, core, and even your feet. Mastering the Pilates stance, when appropriate for you, can help you perform other Pilates exercises with proper form and care while also allowing your body to maintain a natural position during exercises.

Pilates stance will also help you feel your connection to your sit bones and the connection between the sit bones and the heels—which is a very powerful line of energy. Some people also find that working in this slightly turned out position helps relieve over-activity of the hip flexors in some exercises.

Step-by-Step Instructions

Pilates stance is a powerful position. To achieve it, you must activate the gluteal muscles of the buttocks as well and the ​deep six hip muscles.

You can perform the stance while seated, standing, or lying down, and it requires nothing other than your own body, and perhaps a mat (if seated or lying) to perform it.

  1. Stand (or, conversely, sit) tall. Draw the pelvic floor up, pull the abdominals in and up, and hug the inner thighs together. When you stand in Pilates stance, allow your body weight to fall evenly through your feet—it shouldn't be focused in your heels.
  2. Allow your hips to rotate outward slightly, so your heels come together and your toes form a small "v" shape. Other points of good posture are also in place. If seen from the side, you should be able to draw a straight line from the ankle to the hip, shoulder, and ear.
  3. Relax and point your toes forward with your feet hip-distance apart to release the position.

Common Mistakes

If you don't have an injury or a structural issue that prevents you from performing the Pilates stance, it's a basic position that's hartd to mess up. That said, check for these minor issues.

Too Large of a Turn Out

Individuals who have taken ballet classes, or who are familiar with first position in ballet, may be inclined to turn their feet out further than necessary. You want a narrow "v" between your feet rather than a wide, obtuse angle.

Failing to Activate the Core

It's tempting to simply engage your glutes and thighs and turn your toes outward, but if your abdominals and core aren't engaged, you may be sacrificing good posture and alignment. Start the exercise by tucking your pelvis, drawing your abdominals toward your spine, and making sure your posture is tall and strong. Once you've done that, then engage your glutes and turn your toes out slightly.

Modifications and Variations

The modification and variation for Pilates stance is the same, regardless of your ability level, but you might choose to engage in it for different reasons. For instance, if you have a knee injury or you're naturally knock-kneed, the slight turnout might be uncomfortable or even painful to perform. In this case, allow your toes to point straight ahead and keep your feet hip-distance apart. This is a complete acceptable adaptation of the stance.

Conversely, if you're a ballet dancer or someone who regularly stands or works in a position with a strong turn out at the hips, the toes-straight, feet hip-distance apart stance may actually challenge you to a greater extent than the traditional Pilates V.

Safety and Precautions

The only thing to pay attention to when performing the Pilates stance is if it causes or exacerbates any pain you've been feeling. If, for any reason, the position hurts beyond what would be considered "muscle burn," try the alternate version with your feet hip-distance apart and your toes pointing forward.

Try It Out

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

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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.