Pilates exercises to do with caution

In general, Pilates is a good choice for improving core strength and reducing back pain. However, some Pilates exercises are only safe to do if you already have a strong core and pain-free back.  There are 34 classic Pilates exercises and many of these are very advanced.  Often, Pilates programs use modified, safer versions of these.  If you want to do classic Pilates, then it helps to understand what safety issues there are and how to exercise safely.  The following is a list of exercises to be careful of.

#1 Straight leg curling up exercises (original Pilates exercises the roll up and the neck pull)

Pilates in Chelmsford | neck pull

Straight leg curl ups are usually avoided in fitness programs. Bending the knees and putting the feet flat on the floor puts the lower back in a much safer position for curl ups. You need very good core control and hamstring flexibility to do straight leg sit ups safely.

How to do these exercises safely

Although bending the knees takes the strain off the lower back, it’s not an ideal solution.  It just turns the exercises into an ordinary curl up.  This takes away some of the flow and control of the straight leg Pilates exercises.  There are two things you can do to work towards these exercises.  You can do hamstring stretches to improve your flexibility.  To work on the strength and control you need for this exercise, curl up with your knees bent, then curl back down with straight legs.  You need to make sure you do this smoothly and under control.  You should focus on working through each of your vertebra – what Pilates called “segmental control”.  When you are able to curl down in a smooth and controlled way, you can move on to curling up.

#2 Prone exercises with upper body and legs lifted (original Pilates exercises – the swan dive, double leg kick, swimming and rocking)

All these exercises involve lifting the upper and lower body at the same time while in the prone (face down) position. This causes the spine to arch, which can lead to lower back injury.  The swan dive and rocking are particularly unsuitable for inexperienced exercisers.

How to do these exercises safely

Avoid lifting both halves of your body at the same time.  Lift either upper or lower body only.  Or, you can lift opposite arm and leg at the same time.  Even with these modification, you should make sure you work in a controlled way and don’t arch your lower back excessively.

#3 The leg pull exercises (original Pilates exercises – prone and supine leg pull)

Supine leg pull | Chelmsford Pilates


Both of these can put strain on the supporting knee.

How to do these exercises safely

Lifting the leg from shoulder bridge position is an alternative to the supine leg pull.  You can do a simple plank hold instead of the prone leg pull, or straight leg lifts from the all-4s kneeling position.  None of these alternatives challenge the core muscles as much as the leg pull exercises, but there are plenty of other exercises you can do to challenge your core.

#4 Exercises which take the legs over the head (original Pilates exercises – roll over, corkscrew, scissors, bicycle, jack knife, boomerang and control balance)

Boomerang | Pilates chelmsford


In all of these you need to be careful that you aren’t putting any strain on your neck. They also require good flexibility in the back of the legs and strong core muscles. Unless you are very fit and strong and want to challenge your core strength, flexibility, balance and coordination you should avoid these exercises.

How to do these exercises safely

There are plenty of other exercises you can do that work the muscles involved in these exercises.  However, when done properly these exercises also train movement control and coordination.  If you want to be able to perform the exercises properly and safely, you should work up to them.  This means developing hamstring flexibility, abdominal strength and segmental control.  Good exercises for this are static hamstring stretches, reverse curls and the shoulder bridge.

Remember that doing exercises that are too advanced can do more harm than good.  We need to challenge our bodies to improve fitness, but in a safe and appropriate way.

Learn about how to build a strong foundation for fitness with corrective exercise