The Imprint Pilates exercise is commonly used to strengthen the core and relieve low back pain. Unfortunately, many people miss this one crucial step.
Physical therapists call it “pelvic tilt.” Pilates instructors call it “Imprint.” You can call it whatever you like, but this classic Pilates movement is an essential exercise for spinal therapy.
Even when I went to physical therapy for my broken neck, my therapists had me do the Imprint Pilates exercise. Little did they know, I had an extensive pre-existing relationship with Imprint.
I learned Imprint ages ago when I started working toward my Pilates certification. For years, I taught Imprint to my students. Then, one day, I discovered I was missing a key component to this valuable exercise.
Here’s the full story on how to do Imprint correctly. Don’t let this deceptively simple exercise fool you–there’s more to it than you think!
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Imprint is a fundamental Pilates exercise. In STOTT matwork, it is the second exercise you do (after breathing).
It is used at multiple points in a Mat class because it protects the low back from any strain or injury. In fact, if you have ever hurt your back and gone to physical therapy, this was probably one of the first exercises they gave you.
By practicing Imprint, you’re not just learning how to correctly engage muscles to reach your low back to the floor. You’re also learning how to move back to neutral afterward.
For many people, it’s this returning movement–this movement back to neutral–that’s the most important part of the exercise.
This, friends, was the part of the exercise that I was missing.
It’s really common for people to contract a muscle, then relax it. They think this lack of contraction will move them back to neutral, but it doesn’t!
Instead, you need to find the correct muscles (the opposite muscles from what you just used) to move yourself all the way back to neutral. If you skip this important step, you’re missing out on the best part of this exercise.
And, honestly, if you’re not using the right muscles as you move, you’re probably not going to fix the issue that’s causing your back pain.
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But first, before you can learn how to do Imprint, you have to learn how to find neutral with your pelvis.
How to Find Neutral
- Get on your back with your knees bent, feet in line with your SITs bones (the bony part of your bottom), and arms reaching long by your side.
- Make sure your pelvis is in neutral. To do this, connect your pointer fingers and thumbs to make a triangle. Place the heels of your hands on your pelvis and your connected pointer fingers on your pubic bone. Look at your hands. Are your thumbs and pointer fingers in the same plane? They should be. Make any adjustments you need to get to this neutral position. Once in neutral, you can leave your hands in this position to observe how your pelvis moves in and out of neutral or you can return your hands by your sides.
- Make sure your neck is in neutral. Your chin should not be tilted up above your forehead.
How to Do the Imprint Pilates Exercise
- Use Pilates breathing. Inhale through your nose, and exhale through pursed lips.
- Imagine a spot about one inch below your belly button. Inhale into the sides of your rib cage and, as you exhale, think of drawing that spot on a diagonal line down toward your spine. Your low back should reach toward the floor, although it probably won’t completely touch or press flat against it.
- Make sure that the muscles in the front of your hips (your psoas) and your glutes aren’t active. They aren’t supposed to work while you do the Imprint Pilates exercise.
- Inhale and find the muscles in your low back to return your pelvis to neutral. When you activate the correct muscles, you’ll feel your back start to lift away from the floor. If you’re not sure how to find the correct muscles for this movement, here’s an idea. Imagine you’re out with a person you don’t really like, and they put their hand on your low back. Possibly you would be polite and wouldn’t pull away or make a big deal about it, but inside of you, every fiber of your being would be trying to get away. This is the image that I use to get my pelvis to return to neutral.
- Repeat steps 2 and 3 while breathing. Make sure your neck stays in neutral and your shoulders stay away from your ears.
For the Visual Learners…
Below is a video of how to do the Imprint Pilates exercise. Sometimes, it’s just easier to do something when someone shows you and talks you through it.
Before You Do the Imprint Pilates Exercise, Don’t Forget…
This exercise is almost always used for a therapeutic purpose. As you move, pay attention to how you are moving your body, the muscles you are using, and how you feel as you move.
If you feel pain or extreme discomfort at any time, stop what you are doing and reevaluate how you’re moving. Make sure you were using your muscles to both move you into and out of Imprint.
After you’ve fine-tuned how you want to move, you can try practicing Imprint again. However, if you still feel pain, stop and contact your doctor.
Be aware, Imprint may not be the best exercise for you. This video explains why.
Want to Learn More?
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Do you practice the Imprint Pilates exercise? Let us know in the comments below.