Get Strong with Pilates Side Bends

Pilates Side Bend: Intro


In our rapidly forward moving lives it's easy to get trapped in an exercise routine that does just one thing or moves in a single way. Most of our sustained cardio workouts do exactly that, keep us moving in a specific pattern for a prolonged period of time. If you find that you have fallen into that exact habit, and even if you haven't, it's a good idea to have a few moves in your back pocket that address the other planes of motion that your body regularly requires. Planks, it's time to move over. Meet the Side Bend, one of those precious moves that requires strength, balance and stamina in a relatively uncommon position. Perform it regularly and train your body to function in every direction, instead of just one.

To begin, sit sideways on your mat or padded surface with one hand on the Mat and your legs bent slightly out away from you.

Pilates Side Bend: Step 1



In one smooth move shift your weight onto your supporting hand and lift your hips up extending your legs to balance on the outer edge of your bottom foot.  Your body should assume a completely straight line. Hold yourself strong with your abdominals.  Having trouble balancing? Simply separate your feet to increase your base of support. If you find you can balance with both feet stacked but not without a wiggle or shimmy, go for it. A little wiggle or shake is no reason to modify. It just means you are rising to the challenge.


This is a smooth controlled movement in the spirit of Joseph Pilates' system of Contrology.  Avoid any jerking or sudden movements as you glide up to your peak height from a seated position. 


The torso is strong and stable here. Avoid the tendency to fold forward or look down. The chest remains open and the shoulders, hips and legs are stacked vertically, one atop the other. Flexing the bottom foot helps you to balance.


Pay attention to the underside of your waist. It's tempting to sink the hips low or to collapse into your supporting shoulder socket. Instead keep pushing the floor away from you which will have the effect of lifting you up higher.  If the wrist or shoulder protests, see the "Tips and Tricks" at the end of this article.

Pilates Side Bend: Step 2



From the peak of your lift gaze down along your legs and lower your calf, thigh and hip towards the mat. Rise back up to your straight line and repeat two more times. Try to get lower with each repetition aiming the hip to touch the mat. For many this is the hardest part of the move. If you feel like your body is rocking forward or backward, that's normal. Fight for a balance point as close to dead center as you can get it. 


Continue to move smoothly  as you lower and steadily as you lift. When done briskly swing the legs to the other side and begin again.


The body remains in straight line from head to feet. Be sure the supporting arm is directly under the shoulder. As much as possible stack the legs and feet directly over one another. Press the hips up against gravity to stabilize the body.


Pay attention to the upper body. As you move downwards, keep the neck long and the bottom shoulder strongly pressing down. 

Pilates Side Bend: Tips and Tricks



  • Start in pieces. No need to execute the full move at the get-go. Begin with the side plank and save the rest for later.
  • If it's too hard to execute, try separating the feet stepping the top foot forward of the bottom foot. You should have better balance and more support with this wider base.
  • Tough on the wrists?  A common complaint. Try a modification. Come lower onto your elbow instead of your hand. Point your fist and forearm forward. Be aware that this angle is actually harder on the core muscles but easier on the arm and wrist.
  • Figured it out already? Add on a little extra. From the peak of your last lift, float the top arm up to the ceiling and over your head reaching long. Smoothly lower the arm and return to the mat to begin again.
  • To learn the entire Pilates Mat, start at the beginning. Use an at home Pilates book as your guide. 

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