Basic Principles of Set Up


The pilates breathing technique helps in the execution of the exercises more effectively and easily. It is breathe in through the nose and out through the mouth. The rib cage lifts and expands outwards at the sides on the ‘in breath’ with light abdominal engagement.  On the ‘out breath’, the rib cage closes in and down.

When new to pilates it is best to use the 4 breath pattern whereby the first breath ‘in’ creates stability and awareness. Typically an exercise with conscious breathing unfolds like this:

Breathe in – to prepare (and stabilise)
Breathe out – to move a limb
Breathe in – to hold a limb
Breathe out – to lower and complete a move

Pelvic Placement

Our spine has a natural S-shape – great for shock absorption - these curves can flatten out as we age.  So when doing our pilates workout we need to be aware of our neutral and imprinted spine as these 2 positions give stability to our pelvis and lower lumbar spine.  Very important to gain and maintained good back health.

When we are standing, neutral spine is when our pelvis is in the optimum position, which is in the middle.  Often though, we either have our pelvis tilted back or tucked under, whereas it needs to be between these 2 positions.

To achieve neutral spine when we are preparing for our pilates workout, we lie on our back with our sacrum (lowest part of back) lying on the mat and the natural curve of our spine may remain.  With good breathing techniques and light engagement of our core, we should feel no muscular strain in our back.  If we do or we are new to pilates and we need to support our backs as much as possible, we should adjust our set up so our back comes to the imprinted position, whereby our lumbar back is imprinted (flat) to the mat.  We achieve this with a downward tilt in our pelvic position and an engagement (tightening) of the waist muscles …the video clip will help visualisation.   

Rib Cage Placement

As the abdominal muscles attach to the lower ribs, they must be activated (light contraction of the abdominals) to maintain the rib cage and the upper spine in good alignment. 

When lying on your back, let the ribs rest naturally on your mat.  If your arms are required to be raised overhead for an exercise, only let them go as far back overhead as is possible while maintaining the light abdominal contraction with the rib cage - this will prevent the ribs from ‘popping’ or lifting away from the mat.

Shoulder Blades (Scapular Stabilization)

The shoulder blades and the muscles around them give stability to the shoulders and assist in movement of the arms.  There are 17 muscles which attach to the shoulder blades from the neck, shoulders, back and arms.  Any areas of muscle tension can affect the mechanics of your shoulder blades.

The shoulder blades should lie flat on your rib cage and glide across it as they move without coming away from your rib cage (avoiding winging).  There should be a sense of width across the shoulders and with the shoulder blades settled down into imaginary ‘back pockets’.  So avoiding holding tension and unknowingly shrugging or lifting the shoulders.

Head Placement

When standing, the head should be balance directly above the shoulders, with no forward projection of the head.  This prevents over-strain or tension of and around the neck muscles.

When setting up for a pilates exercise lying on your back, there is the need to lower or ‘tuck’ the chin towards the chest a little to keep the length in the neck spine to avoid over flexion/extension which leads to tension (so imagine holding a small satsuma beneath your chin to achieve the ‘tuck’ position!).

So when executing an exercise from lying on your front, the length in neck spine is still needed so always keep the eyes looking forward but towards the mat, even when lifting shoulders off the mat.