The pelvic curl is a foundational move in Pilates and one of the first exercises I teach to all my clients. It is great for those with general stiffness, arthritis of the spine, weak core, tightness of the back muscles, and/or tightness of the hip flexors. The pelvic curl is relatively simple, yet emphasizes the correct recruitment of the core, articulation of the spine, mobilization of the pelvic region, and coordination of the breath pattern with movement. Though challenging to execute correctly, even beginning attempts are beneficial for learning the concept of neutral spine and core control.
Our objectives with the pelvic curl are to mobilize the spine and pelvic region in order to feel more mobile, stable, and flexible, while also learning to feel subtle movements in the spine, vertebra by vertebra (known as spinal articulation), for optimal function. The muscles we will be working with in this exercise are the abdominals, hamstrings, and gluteus.
Contraindications: If you have any back pain, please check with your doctor or physical therapist before undertaking this routine. Those with acute lumbar disk pathology or osteoporosis should not attempt this routine.
Instructions: Lie on mat with knees bent, feet hip width apart, arms at your sides with palms down and the pelvis in neutral position (photo a).
Inhale to prepare and while exhaling, pull the lower abdominals deeply in towards the lower back, press the lower back into mat, and on the same exhale, begin to curl pelvis and spine off the mat, slowly lifting the hips, then the vertebrae off of the mat, one by one. Inhale and hold at the top, the pelvis will be at maximum posterior tilt and you might feel a stretch in the hip flexors on the front of the upper legs (photo b).
Exhale and begin to melt and lower the spine down slowly, starting with thoracic vertebra in your upper back, and rolling down gently, one vertebra at a time until the tail bone touches the mat. Repeat 5 to 8 times, with the movements following your breaths.
If you have disk pathologies, omit the posterior tilt (rounding of the lower back) and maintain the spine and pelvis in a neutral position as you lift off the floor (photo c).
To help with keeping your knees from splaying out to the sides, place a ball/ pillow between knees. This also helps to engage, strengthen, and tone the inner thighs (photo d) .
More advanced versions of the pelvic curl can be attempted after you have mastered the basic versions. Some of the more challenging versions:
Reach the arms overhead as the pelvis lifts to challenge more upper spine control (Photo d).
Single leg pelvic curl, with raised leg in tabletop position (Photo e). Try to keep the hips as level as possible in this version.
Pelvic curl with feet on foam roller (Photo f). Try to keep the foam roller from moving, by engaging the muscles in the lower legs, ankles, and feet.
Darina’ s pelvic curl tips:
Move slowly, don’t rush.
Focus on spinal articulation to create more space between each vertebra. Visualize the lowering of the spine like a chain being gently lowered to the ground.
Keep your neck and shoulders as relaxed as possible.
Breath and have fun!
The pelvic curl looks simple, but is surprisingly challenging. It builds muscle strength, while also creating length, stability, and flexibility in the spine. The founder of the Pilates Method, Joseph Pilates, was fond of saying that you are only as healthy as the health of your spine. The pelvic curl is a great place to start on your journey to spinal health!