How to Do Pilates Side Bend Like a Pro

There are a ton of muscle working when you do Pilates Side bend. But, if you work the right ones, you’ll never have back or shoulder pain again.

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It happens time and time again. You watch the instructor, listening attentively. You think, I’ve got this.

And then, you crumple in a heap on your Mat.

No? Just me?

I remember learning how to do Pilates Side bend. Yes, it looks easy. However, if you’re not really focused on what you’re doing, if you’re not engaging the correct muscles, you too could be face-first on your Mat.

The thing is, once you figure out what your body needs to be doing, this exercise is fun—even exhilarating—and therapeutic.

If you’re searching for a DIY pain-relief exercise that can help your shoulders + low back, Side bends is a must!

Here’s more about how to use the Pilates Side bend exercise as shoulder therapy, as back therapy, and just for an overall good time.

Related: If you’re searching for exercises to help your back feel better because you’re in pain, check out my online course, Spinal Rejuvenation. You’ll learn everything you need to know to relieve hip and low back pain from the privacy of your own home.

You don’t need to wonder how to relieve your pain. Just click here to receive your free copy of The Secret to Immediate + Lasting Pain Relief.

The Magic Behind Pilates Side Bend

The reason why Side bend is such a great exercise is because it strengthens your core muscles and scapular stabilizers.

Your core muscles are responsible for a pain-free spine and hips. The core consists of your:

Plus, when you practice Side bend, you activate muscles around your shoulder girdle to stabilize your scapula (shoulder blade). This is especially beneficial for anyone struggling with shoulder pain.

But honestly, even if you’re not in pain right now, this exercise can still do your body a ton of good (and prevent future aches + pains from coming your way).

Relieving Pain with Pilates Side Bend

Side bend is a really great exercise to practice if you want strong shoulders and a flexible spine. However, if you’re new to this exercise, I want you to choose to focus on one area at a time.

Using Pilates Side Bend to Relieve Shoulder Pain

When you’re trying to relieve shoulder pain, you need to pay the most attention to what your shoulders are doing and how they feel as you move through this exercise.

Before you begin, take a moment to do your best to get your shoulders in a neutral position.

  • Think of broadening your collarbones or opening the front of your chest.
  • Look at the spot where your arm joins your shoulder. Does it seem rolled forward or is it open? (It needs to be open. If it’s not, subtly rotate your upper arm bone outward to get your shoulders into neutral.)
  • Make sure your shoulders are away from your ears.
  • Ensure your shoulder blades are resting on your back like a super-hero cape.

This is your set-up for before you even begin. You need to keep this form as your arms move and you lift into your Side bend.

Using Pilates Side Bend to Relieve Back Pain

When you’re using Pilates Side bend to relieve your back pain, you need to focus on your spine and how it’s moving during the exercise.

Keep in mind, this isn’t a side plank—you need to bend your body to the side.

And, as you bend, the goal isn’t to join ribs to hips. Instead, you want to create a sort of “C” shape, where you feel like your ribs and hips are reaching away from each other before they bend to the side.

But, before you do the full Side bend exercise, you need to do a couple rounds of the prep. This way, you’ll make sure you’re doing the exercise that’s best for your body.

How to Do Side Bend Prep

You want to do a couple of rounds of Side bend prep on each side before you do the full exercise. Just because it goes well on one side doesn’t guarantee it will on the other.

Remember: If you’re working on relieving shoulder pain, double and triple check your shoulder alignment before you get started. Then, pay attention to how your shoulder feels throughout the exercise. For back pain relief, make sure you’re reaching your rib cage to the ceiling like a “C” on its side. Reach, reach, reach and bend your spine!

getting ready to lift into side bend pilates prep
  1. Use traditional Pilates breathing to inhale through your nose and exhale through pursed lips.
  2. Have a seat on your bottom.
  3. Bend your right leg, and place your right foot on the floor. Tuck your left leg under you so your left heel comes close to your bottom. Your left knee and your right foot should be in about the same line.
  4. Make sure you can still feel both SITs bones on the ground.
  5. Place your left hand on the ground in line with your left knee. Roll your left shoulder blade onto your back. Push the floor away.
  6. Lengthen your spine and engage your abdominals.
  7. Reach your right arm out, palm up. Let it briefly rest on the top of your right knee.
  8. Inhale to lift your arm and hips. Press into your left hand, left knee, and right foot to help you lift. Reach your arm straight by your ear.
  9. Exhale and really try to create a curve at your waist.
  10. Inhale and reach your arm toward the ceiling.
  11. Exhale and lower yourself back to your starting position.
  12. Do 3-5 reps.
  13. Switch sides.

Related: If you’re searching for exercises to help your back feel better because you’re in pain, check out my online course, Spinal Rejuvenation. You’ll learn everything you need to know to relieve hip and low back pain from the privacy of your own home.

How to Do Pilates Side Bend

a picture of Pilates Side bend
  1. Use traditional Pilates breathing to inhale through your nose and exhale through pursed lips.
  2. Align your left hand, left knee, and right foot in a relatively straight line at the front of your mat. Your right arm rests on your right knee, palm up. This is exactly like the set-up for Side bend prep.
  3. Inhale, stabilize your left shoulder blade, press into your right foot, and lift your hips off the floor. Straighten both legs and engage your adductors (inner thighs) to bring your left leg firmly against your right. Reach your right arm overhead, and turn the palm to face the ground. Lift your rib cage toward the ceiling, creating side flexion of the spine.
  4. Exhale and return to your starting position.
  5. With the two breath count, this exercise is short and sweet, so make each rep count.
  6. Complete 3-5 reps, then switch sides.
  7. Follow steps 1-6 for the left side.

For the Visual Learners…

With all of the movement that happens with each breath, sometimes a video is helpful. So, here is a video for visual learners.

Before You Do Pilates Side Bend, Don’t Forget…

Side bend is a hugely beneficial Pilates exercise for anyone wanting to strengthen core and shoulder muscles. And, really, isn’t that all of us?

However, before you hop into a Side bend, make sure to practice some Side bend preps to warm up.

Also, when you do Side bend, make sure to pay attention to what you’re doing. Focus on the muscles you want to use and what your body is supposed to be doing as you move.

All you have to do is follow the steps for how to do Side bend, and you can reap the benefits from this wonderful classic Pilates exercise.

Want to Learn More Exercises to Relieve Your Back Pain?

If you were searching for information about how to use Side bend to relieve back pain today because you have some pain you’re trying to get rid of, you’re in luck! I’ve created a course to teach you everything you need to know to permanently ditch hip and back pain. Click here to check out my Spinal Rejuvenation program.

Or, if you want a free taste of what you’ll learn in Spinal Rejuvenation, click here to download The Secret to IMMEDIATE + LASTING Pain Relief.

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.