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  • Sharon Parsons

Do you speak Pilates?

If you are new to Pilates, you may feel like the instructor is speaking another language. Practicing the verbal cues they use will allow your body to develop a quicker response. Learning a new skill takes time (and the learning curve with Pilates can be steep) but the results are worth the patience. Teachers use specific keywords, phrases, commands, and imagery to illustrate how a move should be executed. These terms have been passed on from through the instruction world and now form a universal Pilates language. These terms will help you better understand your instructor and your practice, wherever in the world you are doing your Pilates!


Describes the muscles of the abdominals, back, and hips. This zone is integral in developing power, strength, coordination, balance, centring, and control.


A concept that refers to a sense of balance between both sides of the body, front to back. For example, in Single-Leg Circles, a focus on centering anchors both shoulders and the opposite hip to the mat.


The torso. More specifically, the bones of the hips and shoulders. Keeping these level (avoiding one hip or shoulder sitting higher than its counterpart) leads to better alignment. The box guides our range of motion, keeping us within a safe range without over-stretching the joints.


Refers to the state in which both hip bones and the pubic bone are in the same plane when lying down or sitting. Neither arched, nor rounded. Engaging the horizontal pelvis switches on the Powerhouse.

Action Phrases:

"BONE BY BONE" OR "STRING OF PEARLS/BEADS" These are phrases that encourage the spine's segmental flexibility in exercises like the Roll-Up or the Roll Back. Focusing on each vertebra as an individual unit helps us to imagine each section moving sequentially: upper back, upper mid-back, middle back, lower-mid back, and lower back.

"COLLARBONES WIDE" This visual creates the maximum amount of space from shoulder to shoulder. It's the opposite of a rounded, "seated at desk" posture. Think of moving the outer ends of the collarbones away from one another. "IN AND UP" Another term for the bracing action of the Powerhouse. "LIFT THROUGH THE CROWN OF YOUR HEAD" A reminder to elongate or lengthen the entire body from the feet (when standing) or the tailbone (when seated) up and out the top of the head. You may also hear "tall spine."


Tugging the belly button downwards (when lying on your back) or pulling it in (while standing or sitting) contracts the abdominals. Bringing the abdominals closer to the spine supports the trunk when lifting or twisting.

"RIBS IN" For optimal alignment, the ribcage should not extend in front of (or behind) the hip bones, but rather be in line with the hip bones. You may also hear, "Knit the ribs together."


This term refers to the girdle-like function of intensely contracting the abdominal and back muscles. The muscles of the powerhouse region protect and support the spine.


Imagine doing up a pair of tight pants. Everyone can relate to this cue! Even imagining it probably just made you pull your abdominals in and up.

These are a few of the phrases you may come to recognize in your instructor's repertoire. They will alter the tempo or volume of their verbal cues to change the quality or speed of required movement. They may also incorporate physical cueing to engage specific body parts, or to guide a student through an exercise.

They might match their breath to yours, depending on the intensity of the workout. Finally, their animated facial expressions and an emphasis on eye contact will always be employed to provide intention and encouragement (even online!). A skilled Pilates instructor will use all of these methods over the course of a workout to cultivate a fun and dynamic experience for their students.

As always, enjoy the work!