Understanding Pilates terminology before you take your first class can help make the experience more enjoyable—and less confusing.
Below, we give you a glossary of some of the most commonly used Pilates terms (that you might hear your instructor use) to prepare you for class.
We promise there’s no quiz at the end, but there may be a special offer…
The c-curve refers to the shape your body takes and maintains during certain Pilates exercises on the Mat and Reformer. The c-curve position should be initiated by your abdominals. It sets the stage for a flexible spine and a strong core.
The term “box” was coined by Joe Pilates, the creator of Pilates, and refers to the line across your collarbone (from shoulder to shoulder) and the two lines that go down the sides of your torso, and then crossing your hip bones. The Pilates “box” is meant to bring awareness to your posture. It’s a way to keep your shoulders and hips level and even, like a box.
In Pilates, it’s important to learn to move from your center. In class you will hear this a lot—return to your center, be always in your center—whether you are standing, sitting, or lying down.
Imprinting is the action of rolling down your spine and articulating it to improve your spinal alignment during certain Pilates movements. Imprinting correctly should release tightness, improve your posture and help align your “box.”
You use your inner eye to become more aware of your surroundings, alignment and posture.
Simply put, these are the muscles located between your ribs.
This type of conscious breathing emphasizes the lateral expansion of your rib cage and expands the intercostal muscles. It’s done while maintaining a consistent inward pull of the deep abdominal muscles as you breath in and out.
Read more about the importance of breathing in Pilates.
In Pilates, your “midline” refers to the (imaginary) straight line that runs from the top of your head to the bottom of your feet.
This stance, thought of as a neutral position in Pilates, is used to set up and prepare for an exercise. When in Pilates stance, your legs are together, straight and rotated outward from the top of the thigh, bringing your heels together with the toes pointing slightly out (into a V-shape). You can think of this position like “first” position in ballet, but not quite as extreme.
This is your upper shoulder girdle, including your entire core from your upper ribcage to your lower pelvic area, pelvic-floor muscles, hips and glutes.
This piece of equipment—one of the most widely known Pilates apparatus—is made up of a unique combination of springs, pulleys, straps and a sliding carriage.
Learn more about the Reformer and other common types of Pilates equipment.
When you perform an abdominal scoop, you engage the pelvic floor and pull your abs inward and, at the same time, draw your belly button down towards your spine.
Tabletop is the starting position for many Pilates exercises performed on the Mat. When in “tabletop” position, you lay flat on your back with your knees bent at a 45-degree angle. Your thighs are perpendicular to the ground and your legs should gently squeeze together and engage the inner thighs.
The motion of drawing your abdominals in and up, like you’re zipping up a vest.
To “button-up” means to draw your ribs in and down—like you’re buttoning up a vest that is too small and drawing your ribs inward to fit.
New to Pilates and looking for a place to start? Now that you know all of the essential Pilates terms, you’re ready to crush your first class.
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