Pilates Exercises for Twisting and Improving Rotation of the Spine

by | Sep 20, 2010 | Pilates, Pilates Exercises, Techniques & Teaching Tips | 0 comments

In a workshop a few years ago with my Pilates mentor, Dianne Miller, she made a comment that has really stuck in my brain.

“Twisting exercises facilitate improved flexion and extension of the spine.”

Don’t know why I never realized that little gem on my own, but how true it is.

Think about getting water out of a wet washcloth.  We don’t just fold it over to get the water out.  No, we twist it, then bend it to maximize wringing the water out.  And if you think about it, that’s exactly what we’re doing in the Criss-Cross and Saw exercises during Pilates Matwork!

Not every spine rotation exercise needs to twist AND bend for maximum benefits.  It’s important to learn how to just do good twisting first to get the whole back involved in the movement.  Twisting exercises where the spine stays in a tall, neutral position are the best exercises to start with.

My favorite preparatory exercises for improving spine rotation in a lying down position are:

  • 2 Knee Drop
  • X-Stretch
  • Tic-Toc

My favorite seated twisting exercise is:

  • Simple Twist

To improve spine rotation during Pilates Matwork:

  • Criss-Cross
  • Saw (both the rounding and hinging versions)
  • Corkscrew
  • Twist II
  • Can-Can

And for practicing twisting on the Pilates Equipment:

  • Stomach Massage Twist
  • Short Box Twist
  • Chair – Footwork w/Simple Twist
  • 1-Arm  Washer-Woman w/Spiral Twist
  • Chair – Teaser w/Twist
  • Cadillac – The Saw
  • Cadillac – The Circular Saw/Swan-Lake Saw
  • Cadillac – Mermaid w/Twist
  • Spine Corrector

While there are other great twisting exercises in the Pilates repertoire of exercises, and other great non-Pilates exercises you can do to improve your rotation.  These tend to be the one’s that I gravitate to the most when incorporating more rotation into my Pilates exercise programs.

And as I look at the  twisting exercises on my list, I’m realizing that not only do they all rotate the spine, but the exercises I have picked are  a combination of passive and active movement choices.

  • The prep exercises are all passive, which means the weight of the legs (or arms) moving through space is what facilitates the rotation of the spine.
  • The seated twist is an active spine twisting exercise, the oblique muscles and spine rotators are working to rotate the torso.
  • The Pilates Matwork exercises are a combination of active and passive movements.  (Corkscrew and Can-Can are passive, and the rest are active rotation exercises.)
  • And on the Pilates equipment exercise list, most of the exercises are active rotation.

I see a good progression in helping the body figure out how to move freely, and support the effort of improving spine rotation by starting with exercises on the prep list, teaching Simple Twist, then moving into Pilates exercises that seem most appropriate for each individual.

So many people are stiff, and not very flexible through their back.  This lack of mobility affects everything from how we walk, our ability to check for traffic behind us when we’re driving, digestion, neck and lower back pain, poor posture….and more. (Not to mention challenges with the basic Pilates exercises like the Roll-Up, Neck Pull, Teaser, and Rolling Like a Ball, or getting balanced back extension for Swan.)

The ability to freely move the spine in all directions helps improve whole-body health, which is what Pilates is all about.  Exercises that move the spine in all directions should be included in every Pilates training session (flexion, extension, side bending, and rotation)  But a little extra focus on twisting the spine, might make it easier to get even more benefits from your other exercises.

Joseph Pilates said, “If your spine is inflexibly stiff at 30, you are old.  If it is completely flexible at 60, you are young.”

Twisting exercises can help improve the flexibility of the spine so that regardless of your age, you will feel, act, move, and be – youthful and healthy!


What are your favorite Pilates twisting exercises?  Drop me a comment and share!

Aliesa George: Over the past three decades, Aliesa George has helped assist people with their personal health journeys by sharing, teaching, and developing Pilates, Foot Fitness, and other Mind-Body programs.



  1. Pilates rotations | Pilates Scene - [...] repertoire reminders of the rotational and twisting work Pilates offers. Read through the list of exercises to prepare and…

Submit a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

10% Off

Sign up now to get 10% off your first purchase.

Get updates on discounts, events, early access to new products, and more.