Pilates and Rotation, Part 2: Classical Exercise Challenge


When rotating our torsos, most of us find that we must retract the shoulders and/or shift our hips in order to turn our bodies. Moving in this way prevents us from accessing the many joints in our spine. Each vertebra has one joint on each side. There are seven cervical vertebrae (twelve thoracic and five lumbar). With these twenty-four vertebrae, the spine contains forty-eight joints in all. Each of these joints are synovial joints.

This means that each joint is surrounded by a capsule of connective tissue that produces a fluid to nourish and lubricate the joint. The joint surfaces are coated with cartilage, allowing the joints to move and articulate against each other. It’s basically an internal oiling system for the human body. If we don’t use these joints properly and frequently, the body will stop producing the synovial fluid, which will lead to all sort of problems (including the stiffness than can make our backs become as rigid as a board).

Our Pilates practice helps us maintain proper rotational skills in our daily life. It impacts every time we turn to look behind us, reach for our seat belt, etc. Rotation is also a main facet of many sports such as tennis, kayaking, or golf. If we habitually use bad rotational mechanics in the actions we perform every day, the body will start to break down and become fatigued and painful.

Our Goal:

In a previous Focus on FAQs post we practiced the pre-Pilates rotation exercises. This time we’ll build on that work and put those skills to the test with a few classical exercises.

Here’s How:

Exercise – The Spine Twist
• On a mat, sit up as tall as possible with your arms stretched out from your side.
• Keep your legs straight out in front and “glue” them together.
• Flex your feet by pointing your toes toward your torso.
(If you experience tight shoulders, lower back or hamstrings, see the modifications below.)
• Keep your sits bones planted and your pelvis and hips still and square.
• Inhale and start the rotation from lumbar vertebra five (directly in line with your belly button). (If your feet are sliding against one another, this is an indication that your pelvis is not staying square.)
• As you rotate, imagine you are climbing the spiral staircase of your spine. Your eyes should find the top stair of your spiral staircase as you rotate around.
• Exhale deeply as you come back to center. Reach the crown of the head to the ceiling and get as much length in your body as possible.


• If you experience tight shoulders, place your fingertips on top of your shoulders with the elbows pointing to either side of the room. Another option is to put your hands behind your head with the fingers laced or cross your arms over your chest with the elbows lifting slightly to the ceiling.

• If you experience a tight lower back and/or hamstrings, sit on one or two folded blankets and soften the knees.

Exercise – The Spine Twist Variation

• Do the exercise as described above, but on the rotation, ad a slight pulsing movement. Imagine your torso as a sprinkler shooting water across a lawn.

Exercise – Crisscross Abdominals

You may recognize this exercise as one you’ve seen being done in the gym – most likely too quickly and with improper form. We’re going to focus on performing the Pilates Crisscross slowly, deliberately, and with complete control. The exercise is much more difficult this way (and therefore more effective) because you are not able to rely on your momentum to get you through.

• Lie supine on a mat with the legs in table top and the hands laced behind the head.
• Exhale and roll the front ribs into the back ribs to bring the head and shoulders up.
• Keep the elbows stretched back.
• Anchor just below the tips of the shoulder blades.
• Inhale as you extend your right leg out above the mat and twist your upper body until the right armpit faces the bent left knee.
• As you turn, make sure you lift from below the shoulder to reach towards the knee instead of just moving from the shoulder socket.
• Look back at your left elbow to increase the stretch and hold the position as you exhale.
• Switch sides as you inhale.
• Do five to ten sets.

Hot Tip:

Here’s a tip for cross training the breath. As we rotate, our spine becomes naturally compressed. In order to counter act this, try inhaling as you rotate. A deep inhale will involuntarily lengthen your spine. This helps to counter the compression caused by the rotation to find a little more length in the rotation.

You should also cross train the breath by exhaling as you rotate, but be sure you don’t sink into your back and lose length.

~ by Jennifer Gianni

We hope you enjoyed these tips! Let us know your thoughts below.

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  1. Heather

    Look forward to trying some of these with my 76 year old male client who is finally (after 10 weeks of Pilates), able to rotate a bit from the spine and not hips or shoulders!

  2. Lacy_766

    Great descriptions of rotation–it’s all in the details of these exercises!

  3. ginger

    Awesome! In my class I always give a tip or read a FAQ or two..I am going to use this information about the synovial fluid in the spine!
    You Rock!

  4. JenniferGianni

    Thanks for all the great feed back! You Ladies Rock. One of the best Skill Gifts we can give to our clients is side bending and rotation. As we get older and more rigid we lose our spacial awareness of these very important and complex movements that we honed when we were infants. We have to remind our clients in very safe and detailed ways about these again. The Side Bend and Rotational movements will keep us growing old with grace and vigor.