Helpful Hints for the Half Swan

instructors-167This gem of a Pilates exercise never quite gets the props we think it deserves, and yet no Pilates mat class is complete without it.  Sometimes called the Breast Stroke Prep (Stott Pilates(r)), or Cobra (yoga), or Sphinx (GYROTONIC(r)), the Half Swan targets the muscles of the upper back to create better posture and create a counterbalance to the usually over-dominant muscles of the front of the body, namely the pectoralis major and anterior deltoids.

When performing the Half Swan, try not to rely too much on your arms — make it about your back!  A good way to test this is to lift your hands off the mat slightly once you’ve reached your maximum thoracic extension.  Notice we said YOUR maximum…. this is certainly no exercise to try to compare yourself to the person next to you, or on your Pilates video!  ….And this includes the two of us!  We naturally have a good range of extension available to us.  Those of you who’ve been following our podcasts and free online Pilates videos for a while know that the flipside of our wide range of extension is our very limited range of flexion.  Don’t compare!

Also, be careful of your neck!  It is VERY tempting to lift your chin up and/or lift your eyes to the ceiling…DON’T!  This will put alot of strain on your neck.  If you’re unsure if your neck is in the right place, please view our free online Pilates technique video.


Finally, Half Swan is an EXCELLENT exercise for those suffering from osteoporosis or poor posture in general.  If you fall in this category, doing Half Swan as shown in the podcast or picture may be challenging.  A rule of instructors-169thumb for all Pilates exercises:  if you can’t get into the start position comfortably, then don’t do it!  Instead, lie on your bed (firmer mattress preferred), or something at least 1-2 feet off the ground, with your ribcage at the edge, allowing our head and shoulders to fall toward the floor.  (as pictured)  This will be your start position.  Inhale to prepare, then, exhale to lift… even if you only lift a little bit, you are still working the right muscles.  The goal would be to get your full torso parallel to the floor.  Be patient with yourself, as this may take some time!  If you feel any strain or discomfort in your lower back, reduce the range of motion or hang less of your body off the bed or bench.  The muscles of the upper back, not the lower back, are the ones we want to target.

Do the Half Swan (or Breast Stroke prep, or Cobra, or Sphinx) consistently, and the muscles of your upper back will strengthen and your posture will improve!


January 19, 2009. Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Pilates on Fifth Postings, The Pilates Center of New York Postings, Postings.

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