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How to Do the Swan in Pilates

The Swan is a Pilates mat exercise that strengthens and stretches your back. It also opens and expands the chest, abdomen, and hip flexors. It is the preparatory position for the more advanced exercise, the Swan Dive. The Swan is also sometimes called "Swan Prep," "Swan Dive Prep," or "Rising Swan." It is also similar to the yoga pose called "Cobra" (Salabhasana). This pose counteracts the forward bending exercises that come earlier in the classic Pilates mat sequence. It also neutralizes and balances the spine, chest, and shoulders after sitting in a slouched position, such as when driving or at a desk, for an extended period of time.


  1. Begin by lying face-down on your mat with your legs extended behind you. Spread your feet a few inches apart and rest the tops of your feet on the mat. Do not tuck your toes.
  2. Place your hands beneath your shoulders and point your fingers toward the top of the mat. Keep your elbows in close to the sides of your body.
  3. Press your pubic bone and the tops of your feet down into the mat. Engage your pelvic floor.
  4. On an inhalation, begin to peel your body off the mat. Lift your head first, then your breastbone, ribcage, and finally your abdomen. Let your arms begin to straighten naturally as you lift your torso. Work toward lifting your lower ribs and navel off the mat. Keep your hands on the mat and keep your elbows close to your body.
  5. Pull your shoulder blades toward each other and down away from your ears. Do not crunch your neck. If you have neck pain, keep your gaze forward. Those with more flexibility can look up toward the ceiling.
  6. Keep your legs and tailbone extended behind you.
  7. On an exhalation, gently release your torso back to the floor in the reverse sequence: Navel and lower belly first, then your lower ribs, breastbone, and finally, place your forehead on the mat.
  8. Repeat up to five times. To release, exhale as you slowly lower your chest and forehead to the mat. Turn your head to the right and rest your left ear on the mat. Relax your arms alongside your body.
Hot Tip: Use Your Back

Work toward lifting yourself off the mat by using the strength of your back muscles only. There should be almost no weight on your hands — you should be able to lift your palms off the mat for a moment while in the pose.

Modifications & Tips

The Swan will open up your chest and abdomen, stretch your spine, and prepare you for the Swan Dive. Keep the following information in mind when practicing this exercise:

  • Only straighten your arms as much as your body allows. Deepen the stretch as your practice advances, but avoid straining your back. If your flexibility permits, you can straighten your arms all the way while maintaining the connection of the front of your pelvis and legs with the floor.
  • Keep your thighs and pelvic floor engaged throughout the exercise.
  • Coordinate your breath with your movement.
  • Take it slowly and only practice this exercise when you are sufficiently warmed up.

Find Your Grace

The Swan can be a great way to counteract a long day of sitting in front of a computer, driving, or traveling. It stretches out your chest and spine, rejuvenating your entire body. As you release stress and tension from your back, neck, and shoulders, you might even find that it invigorates your mind, as well!

The Swan is a Pilates mat exercise that strengthens the entire back side of the body, and opens the chest and shoulders. Read this guide to learn all about this move!
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