A-Z of Pilates - E is for Erector Spinae

The erector spinae consists of three long, thin muscle groups running vertically up each side of the vertebral column extending from the lower back of the skull all the way down to the pelvis. Collectively, they are the prime movers when we do spinal extension and spinal lateral flexion. These muscles help us in the action of bending forward  as well as sideways at the waist, and then returning the back to a straight upright position. They play an important role in improving and maintaining good posture, hence the inclusion of strengthening and extension exercises for the back in a Pilates class.



Exercise for extension of the spine: Diamond Press




This is a super little exercise that works on reversing the effects of being hunched over all day, releasing tension and encouraging the upper back to lengthen and straighten.


Set up:


Lie face down on a mat and bend your elbows so that your arms are in a diamond shape.


Your forefingers are touching each other, as are your thumbs and the palms of the hands are flat on the mat. Rest your forehead on your forefingers so that your nose is resting on your thumbs. Imagine looking down to see the head framed in a diamond shape made by the arms.


Make sure that your legs are hip width apart and that your toes, knees and hips stay in contact with the floor throughout the exercise.


  • Create a centre core connection by take a deep breath and on exhale engaging and ‘lifting’ the lower abdominals away from the mat towards the spine, zipping up the pelvic floor and closing the ribs. Think of gently drawing the abdominals away from a hot spot underneath the body.
  • Inhale to prepare. On exhale lengthen through the upper spine. Nudge your nose slightly forward and lift the upper body and head away from the mat keeping the gaze down and the lower ribs in contact with the mat. Inhale again and on your exhale direct you breastbone and chest forward to lengthen and extend your spine at the same time as gently sliding your shoulder blades down your back.
  • Inhale and on your exhale lower your head and chest sequentially back down to the mat.


Hints and tips:


Whilst executing the exercise it may help to imagine a piece of string pulling gently upwards from the middle of the shoulder blades to lift the head and chest.


Keep looking down to the floor so that your head and neck are in alignment and the back of the neck does not shorten and flex.


The arms are there to support you lightly and not to help you push up away from the mat.


The length and extension through the spine is far more important than the actual height of your extension.


Your legs and glute muscles should remain relaxed and you should maintain your core connection throughout.


Exercise for strengthening the back muscles: Prone Dart


IMG 0194


This exercise really focuses on postural strength through the back and the whole of the body.



Set up:



Lie face down on the mat. Rest your forehead on the mat with the arms placed down along the side of the body and the palms of the hands facing upwards to the ceiling. The legs are relaxed with heels dropped outwards to the side and the toes touching.




  • Breathe in and lengthen the tail-bone towards the back wall at the same time as engaging and ‘lifting’ lower abdominals in your core connection.
  • On exhale bring your heels and legs together connecting the inner thighs and activating the leg and glute muscles. Lengthen through the legs pulling up the knees and pointing your toes. Keeping your gaze down, lift your head, neck and upper spine away from the floor. The palms of the hands turn towards the thighs and lengthen towards the feet, gently drawing the shoulder blades down the back.
  • Inhale as you hold the position feeling the head and chest reaching away from the toes. Exhale as you return your head and chest to the floor and releasing your legs and arms back to their starting position.


Hints and Tips:


Imagine the top of your head is the point of a dart and the body is streamlined and active behind.


Keep the lift in the abdominal to avoid any compression of the spine and keep the length in the body as it returns to the floor with control.


Keep the feet in contact with the mat throughout the exercise.


The height of the head and chest away from the floor is low and long to maintain length and strength through the body.


This entry was posted on November 15, 2017