Pilates Mat Exercise #15: The Swan and the 2-way Stretch

Pilates Mat Exercise #15: Swan and the 2-way Stretch

Recently in the UK, I found myself surrounded by swans.

Whole families of lovely, photogenic-but-possibly-surly actual swans fill up at least a third of the photos from my trip.

Just today in fact, courtesy of Karen Frischmann, I learned the collective term for swans: a lamentation of swans. It's amazing what you can learn while doing your Mat exercises!

Interesting. There's enough swan shots for numerous posts about an exercise I never really liked that much.

However, the Swan is starting to become a bit warmer and fuzzier, and while I'm in the mood, let's dive in!

Why Swan now?

In the Order of the Pilates Mat exercises the Swan is the first exercise to place you onto your stomach.

You've already found your scoop lying on your back, rolling and sitting up.

Leave it to Joe Pilates to make us find our lift in a prone position. Enjoy the moment – soon you'll be expected to scoop in a side lying position as well.

But for now you've got to hoist your stomach in and up off the Mat.

No easy task.

How to possibly find the 2-way stretch?

a.k.a. Is that my stomach pooching out onto the mat? (It is.)

Gravity is not your friend here.

But it's a perfect time to commune with our most trusted ally…

Pilates Mat Exercise #15: Swan and the 2-way Stretch

You've got 2 best buddies: Lift and Length.

Finding the 2-way Stretch

Before getting all bunched up about the Swan, or even worse, the Swan Dive, take a moment to gather your thoughts and your powerhouse.

Remember the length you have when lying on your back: pre-Hundred and pre-Roll Up. On your back you've got the Mat behind you for feedback about how your scoop is working.

Now that you are on your stomach work to recreate that same length. It's in there!

Reach the toes away and along the Mat behind you. When done effectively you may feel your seat begin to work. You'll need the lower body to be fiercely strong in the Swan.

It may look like this is an exercise for the upper body.

Pilates Mat Exercise #15: The Swan and the 2-way Stretch


What do we know about the Pilates method?

Full. Body. Exercise.

That part of you that looks like it's just lying on the Mat? It must do nearly all the work here.

Reaching the toes to turn on the seat is the lower body part of your 2-way stretch.

Now your waistline has got something from which to lift in, up and away for some full-on dynamic opposition.

In! Up! And away!

Begin with length and use it to lift up into the Swan as much as you can without making it a push up.

Make your lift and length take you up and away from the Mat and your lower body.

Don't give up the reach of the lower body.

Trust me, you need it.

Where to look for your 2-way Stretch

For the upper body, the 2-way stretch is often described as the connection of the arm into the back.

You can find your upper body half of the 2-way stretch by beginning at your waistline: the low stomach and the low back.

Imagine that your lift of the waist reaches all the way to your fingertips.

Swan Speak?

  • Aim to connect your hands (either on handles or beside the mat) to your waistline to shift the focus away from the arms and shoulders.
  • Lengthen along the mat first. It will help your lift and encourage the arms to be more submissive to your scoop.
  • You may reach a point on the way up where you cannot lift higher without compromising your 2-way stretch.

Perfectly fine for now. Patience, swan friends.

Lower body?

The lower body really begins at the upper stomach/back of ribs and continues all the way down through the long reach of the tailbone and to the toes.

The connection of the lower body into the center is more tangible when you are standing on your feet or if you have them firmly placed against an apparatus.

Swan speak?

Sadly, Swan on the mat is not a terribly advantageous exercise for cultivating the connection of the lower body.

Where might we find a similar exercise with a connection to cultivate the lower body?

Ah, so many possibilities…

Today I will choose the Spread Eagle on the Cadillac.

Pilates Mat Exercise #15: The Swan and the 2-way Stretch

It's the same shape as our simple Swan on the mat and the Pulling Straps on the Reformer. Pulling Straps follows the Swan in the Order of the Reformer Exercises.

Hmm. I bet that's not an accident…

  • Stand firmly on your feet in the starting position.
  • Use your stomach to push into your feet and lift yourself into part 2 of the exercise where we'll find help for our Swan.
  • Stand firmly on your feet. I mean it.
  • Push down into the feet and lift the sternum up, up UP!
  • Pretend you are using the lift of your waist to “lift off the Mat” as you must in the Swan.
  • Feel what the standing connection of the lower body does to your powerhouse. It will teach it how to turn on. You'll use this feeling when you are back at your Swan bereft of a lower body connection.
  • See how you do!

A word about hand placement for the Spread Eagle

Joe Pilates was adamant about the hand placement for the Spread Eagle.

The shape of this exercise is not a full backbend. The backbend is in the upper back only: exactly the same shape as our basic Swan on the mat and the Pulling Straps done on the Long Box on the Reformer.

On my Gratz Cadillac I hold right under the eyebolt for the leg springs.

On other apparatus, aim to hold on where your arms can be fully extended down towards your sides.

This will make it impossible to fling yourself into a full backbend. The arms will extend down and your sternum will lift up in opposition.

A work in progress…

I've learned so much about the Swan and my own body over the last 5 years.

My strength and control has improved tremendously and I enjoy working on Swan all around the studio more than I ever thought possible.

I urge you to explore all versions of the Swan exercise on every apparatus.

When you workout, notice when you find yourself in the same shape as Swan even if it's a different exercise.

You'll find strengths in other related exercises that may serve you well, especially in the more challenging Swans.

Rock your Lower Body

Stay tuned for more tips and strategies to connect the lower body into the center.

I'm excited about my future post on the magical Pilates 2×4 exercises. They are sure to rock your Pilates world.

Sick of Swans?

Lay it on me in a comment below, I am happy to help!

Further Reading:

Upcoming Workshop:

On the Order of the Pilates Reformer Exercises

Pilates Mat Exercise #15: The Swan and the 2-way Stretch

I am super excited for my upcoming workshop on Sunday, November 29, 2015. I'll be teaching in Raleigh, NC for the first time at Laurabpilates Studio.

Find out more info and register here.

Looking forward to seeing you there!

Pilates Inspiration Delivered Every Week

Like what you read here? Get new posts, workshop updates + good vibes in your inbox.
  • This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.


  1. Flying eagle. I shall try this! ANYthing to help with Swan. You know what I find so interesting…when I used to do Yoga, the Updog and Cobra seemed so “easy” just popped right up into them….but the Swan…the Swan. I’m not skooled enough in either Pilates or Yoga to know the difference happening in the body; all I know is the Swan brings immense challenge while the others, not so much. I think it has to do with muscle engagement, alignment, feet placement, length, etc..perhaps I only used the arms to push up in Yoga? It’s a fascinating exercise. and bird! 🙂

    • Yes – that’s the difficult part with the Swan. It takes a ton of lift to create the position and not push with the arms. I learn more about it with every workout! Give it a go with the Flying Eagle and see how it affects your 2-way stretch in the exercise. Bonne Chance!

Speak Your Mind


This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Subscribe to receive a Special Bonus Blogpost
How to Fall in Love with the Exercises you Hate
We respect your privacy and never share your information.