8 Pilates back exercises for a strong back

These eight Pilates back exercises will help you to create a strong back. The exercises are mainly focussed on training the back muscles and together form a powerfull Pilates workout for the back. We are targetting the whole back, including upper back and lower back. In most exercises we will try to find abdominal support. Great exercise serie for strengthening the back! For other exercises on topic, go to the Pilates exercise series section with series like 11 exercises for a weak lower back and 20 basic Pilates exercises. Also check out the Pilates workouts. Don’t do these exercises if you have a (back) injury.

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8 back exercises

8 single back exercises

These eight back exercises work on strengthening the back muscles while searching for the right posture and proper support. This is what makes Pilates back exercises so special. A strong back means much more then just having thick back muscles. Please note that training along is at own risk. It can be dangerous and hazardous for your health. Also make sure you see a physician first to make sure you’re fit enough to do these exercises. So keep it safe!


1. Back extension lift

back exercise 1

Try to extend and lift the spine while looking down in this Pilates exercise, therefore creating the least amount of pressure possible on the back of the neck. Try to find support from the upper back for the neck. Keep your legs pressed into the mat for legs and glutes support. Lengthen the lower spine for abdominal support. Feel the abs working, especially around the waist. Don’t come up to far and keep looking down. Inhale when coming up, exhale when going down. Keep the head elevated all the time. This back exercise works for the entire back and triggers a healty posture. It also creates neck and head support from the upper back.

2. Upper back and shoulders

Back exercise 2

In this Pilates exercise, lift the legs while pushing out the upper legs (backward) and feel abdominal support by this action. Extend the spine and come up with the upper body and legs. Turn one shoulder out toward the ceiling and back. You need to feel the back of the shoulders, upper back, lower back, ab-support, and back of the legs. Don’t twist your neck, watch out for neckpain. This exercise targets the whole back and the upper back and back of the shoulders in particular. It’s needs a bit of adjustment to find the right spot between the shoulderblades. Try to pull back the shoulders for this upper back muscle training.

3. Pilates swimming

Back exercise 3

Push out the upper legs backward and lift the legs. Find support on the ribs at the front of the body and then lift the arms as well. Hold al limbs of the floor and move: left arm up with the right leg up and vice versa. (cross). Make sure you feel abdominal support from extending the lower spine and feel the upper back muscles from lengthening the upper spine. Stabalize the head, shoulders and hips while moving with the arms and legs. Move up and down, not side to side. Check the preview here on this page to see live action. Don’t forget to breathe! The Swimming is a famous exercise in Pilates. It trains lateral back stabilizing and works on the core back muscles as well. If you stay low, it’s easier to find abdominal support as well. Great exercise!

4. Moving sfinx lower back

Back exercise 4

Great Pilates exercise for the lower back lateral muscles. Just start off with the Sfinx position (leaning on forearms), then extend the spine (unless you feel too much pressure on the lower back, then stop immediately), and then lift one arm at the time. The lower back will have to work hard to counter this imbalane. Make sure that the (lower) abs are doing their job as well. This should happen by itself if you keep the spine lengthened while curved back. So really try to push out the top of the head towards the ceiling. Feel the hips and legs shifting and feel the lower back muscles working. Try to keep the hips and pelvis as stable as possible. You will move, holding still is impossible! This back exercise is targeting the lower back on the sides. It’s also a great posture exercis because your body will learn to use the abs while bending back. If you just lay there, its also a nice relaxation for the lower back.

5. Free fall

back exercise 5

The free fall exercise, or the ‘Parachute’ is not a Pilates exercise! However, it feels great and abdominal support is not needed as long as the legs are spread out wide. This will prevent too much lower back pressure. What’s nice here is that you feel the whole back of the body, including the back of the legs and glutes. After a couple of repetitions you will feel it’s harder to come up as high as the first couple of times. That’s you cue to stop. Don’t throw the back of the head into the back of the neck. This back exercise really works the back muscles and especially the lower back. It’s a nice exercise to mix in during a training, however, don’t do it to much. It’s better to train the back muscles in a manner that generates a proper posture. Training the back muscles like this creats back muscle tension and can be, in the long run, create neck or back tension and problems. But once in a while, it’s a fun exercise!

6. Pilates walking plank

back exercise 8

The Pilates walking plank exercise switches between the Pilates way of exercising and the non-Pilates way. For safety, just do the pilates way and go in to plank pose with a straight back. Lengthen the upper legs as well and then lift one leg at the time. You will feel a sfift in balance. Try to hold this balance from the lower back and abs. Don’t come up too far with the legs. You shouln’t push against the pelvis and thus creating a pelvic tilt. So just the legs move , one at the time (of course). It’s all about the hip-and plevic stability and connecting this stability all the way up to the shoulders. Feel your whole upperbody stabilizing whil training the lower back lateral stability. Make sure you shoulders are stable. Don’t hang in the shoulders.

7. Upper back elbow lift

back exercise 7

This might look like nothing is happening! However, the elbows are hovering above the mat here! Try doing this with the elbow pointing out (sideways) first, because there is a lot of pressure on the shoulders here. It also should not feel like a stretch of the shoulders, so you need some flexibility in the shoulders to do this exercise when you point the elbows foreward like in the picture. This exercise tries to put a lot of weight and pressure on the upper back while keeping the legs and lower back relaxed. Try to find support from the ribs. It should feel heavy when you only use the upper back to hold the arms up. Make sure your legs don’t tense when you try to lift the elbows. Stop if you feel neck- or shoulderpain.This strange looking exercise targets the upper back and is great for training upper back support for the head and neck.

8. Pilates lower back push up

back exercise 8

When pushing up, one should always have a straight back. In this exercise we deviate from this general rule. We start of lying on elbows and toes (or knees). Because we don’t use the arms for the push up, we shift our focus to the lower back. What we need to do here, is push the tailbone back (not up). If you do this correctly, you should feel abdominal support. Then lift the lower back to come in to push-up/plank position (elbows/forearms on the mat). The point of this exercise is to work the lower back muscles with abdominal support and to train a healty way of getting out of an pressured lower back position. If it feels like there’s to much pressure on the lower back, then try to do it on your knees or don’t do it at all! Watch out for lower back pain.

More Pilates exercises and workouts

That’s it for the back exercises on this page. You can also create your own Pilates workout by taking exercises from the Pilates exercises encyclopedia. They are grouped in ab exercises, back exercises, neck and shoulder exercises and general exercises. Amongst those exercises are the 20 basic Pilates exercises. Along with the Pilates for beginners, this is a great way to start doing Pilates. If you want to work on the lower back because of lower back pain or tension, then see the Pilates for the lower back page. You will find exercise series there like 11 Pilates exercises for a weak lower back. For Pilates exercises on topic, check out the Pilates exercise series. There are also free Pilates exercises and workouts to do for which you can sign up on those pages. Top 5 Pilates exercises for at home and 5 great Pilates workouts for at home are two examples. And of course there are a lot of great Pilates workouts to do.