The Mermaid exercise is an essential exercise for anyone wanting to relieve (or prevent) low back pain. Here’s how to do this exercise like a pro. Your back will thank you later.

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When I was a kid, I wanted to be a mermaid. Their grace, their ability to be in the ocean all day long, and the potential for all-you-can-eat lobster and shrimp pretty much sealed the deal for me.

And, although I fully respect the unique muscle strength a mermaid must have to glide through the ocean and then propel one’s self onto a large rock, I really wasn’t prepared to see Mermaid listed as a Pilates exercise.

What would it be?, I wondered.

Swimming was already on the list of exercises. So were Breast stroke preps. What else do mermaids do?

The answer turned out to be sitting. Sitting and bending to the side.

It was a real let-down. After having dreamed of being a mermaid as a child, I would now be living my dream by… sitting.

Sitting and bending.

But, what I didn’t realize is this simple Mermaid exercise is one of the best ways to relieve low back pain and keep a healthy spine.

Here’s more about how the Mermaid exercise relieves back pain, how to modify it for beginners, and how to do it like a pro.

Related: If you’re searching for simple, effective ways to relieve low back pain; sign up below to get your free copy of The Secret to IMMEDIATE + LASTING Pain Relief and learn my #1 trick to help clients relieve pain right now!

How does the Mermaid exercise relieve back pain?

No matter which version of the Mermaid exercise you choose, you’ll do a movement called side flexion. This is when your spine bends straight to the side without rotating your chest forward or backward.

You just bend straight to the side.

This type of movement is perfect for relieving back pain for several reasons.

  1. Your spine needs to bend forward, reach back, rotate to each side, and bend to each side in order to be totally healthy and well-balanced.
  2. In day-to-day life, we don’t tend to bend straight to the side very often. Therefore, when you find a good side bending exercise that you like, it’s good to incorporate it into your exercise program a few times a week.
  3. Several of your major, pain-causing back muscles are responsible for helping you bend to the side.

So, which low back muscles are the trouble makers?

When you’re trying to figure out exactly which of your low back muscles is causing your issues, you want to check out the

Cool fact: All three of these muscles work in a similar way. When one side of the muscle works, you bend to the side of the working muscle. But, when both sides of the muscle work, you reach back (kind of like when you stretch back in your chair).

Before the Mermaid Exercise …

Before you begin the Mermaid exercise, experiment to find the most comfortable seated position. You have several options.

  • Sit with your legs crossed. This is like the yoga pose Sukhasana.
  • If your hips are tight and your knees are higher than your hips, sit on a bolster or folded blanket with your legs crossed. You want to make sure to position yourself so that you’re comfortable.
  • You can sit in “Z sit.” To get into this position, bring your legs to the right side. Bend your knees. Position your right knee so that it is in line with your right hip. Bring the left knee in front of your left hip. You should feel the outside of the left shin and the inside of the right thigh against the mat.
  • Another option is to sit with your legs folded to one side. The bottom foot hooks over the top leg’s ankle.

How to Do the Mermaid Exercise Prep

mermaid with the legs crossed
  1. Take a seat. Press your bottom into the floor and feel yourself lift out of your hips.
  2. Use Pilates breathing to inhale through your nose and exhale through pursed lips.
  3. Hug your belly button to your spine.
  4. Inhale as you raise an arm. Make sure to keep your shoulder down away from your ear.
  5. As you exhale, press your bottom into the ground and feel yourself lift. Make a “C” as you lift up and over while you bend to the side.
  6. Inhale to come up to center.
  7. Exhale to lower the arm.
  8. Raise the opposite arm, so you can go to the other side.
  9. Complete 3-5 reps.

Pro Tip: Always make sure you have that feeling of lifting up and over something. You’re cruisin’ for a bruisin’ if you let yourself crumple and melt toward the floor during this exercise.

How to Do the Mermaid Exercise Like a Pro

mermaid with the legs tucked
Sometimes, I really don’t look good in pictures. But I promise this exercise is more fun than my face says.
  1. Take a seat. Start with your legs to the right side.
  2. Use Pilates breathing to inhale through your nose and exhale through pursed lips.
  3. Hug your belly button to your spine.
  4. Inhale as you raise your right arm. Make sure to keep your shoulder down away from your ear.
  5. As you exhale, think of lifting your rib cage up and over as you bend to the left. Let your left hand gently support you on the mat.
  6. Inhale to come back to center, keeping your right arm lifted.
  7. Exhale to lower your right arm.
  8. Inhale to lift your left arm. Keep your shoulder down away from your ear.
  9. As you exhale, think of lifting your rib cage up and over as you bend to the right. Let your right hand grab onto your legs to help support you.
  10. Inhale to come back to center, keeping your left arm lifted.
  11. Exhale to lower your left arm.
  12. Complete 3-5 repetitions on this side.
  13. Switch your legs to switch sides.
  14. Complete 3-5 repetitions on the other side.

Pro Tip: The whole key to correctly doing this exercise is finding that feeling of lifting your rib cage up and away from your hips before you bend to the side. This is what strengthens your back muscles and relieves low back pain.

mermaid with the legs tucked
If you’re curious, this is what the second part of this exercise looks like. Again, I promise it’s more fun than my face shows.

For the Visual Learners…

Sometimes, it’s just easier to watch someone do an exercise then follow along to their verbal directions.

I think when you watch this you’ll notice that I am, indeed, just like a mermaid.

Want to learn more exercises to relieve your back pain?

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About Sarah Stockett

Hi, I'm Sarah! I'm a certified Pilates and yoga instructor with a passion for pain relief. I believe you can use simple exercises to relieve your aches + pains. AND, I believe I can teach you how.