Scissors: A Classic Pilates Core Strengthener

Scissors is one of the original Pilates exercises created by Joseph Pilates. The abdominals engage to lift the upper body and keep it lifted while the legs move.

There are a couple of philosophies behind how you should do Scissors. One thought is that, like a pair of scissors, the legs should move evenly. This means that the leg coming toward you will be moving as much as the leg reaching away. To do Scissors this way is very challenging, as many people have hamstrings so tight that simply reaching the legs toward the ceiling with a neutral pelvis is a challenge.

If you have tight hamstrings and simply reaching your legs straight to the ceiling is a challenge, put a slight bend in the back of your knees. This should reduce the stress and stretch in your hamstrings and allow your legs to move. (Slightly bent knees is an appropriate modification for both versions of Scissors.)

Scissors, PilatesThe other way to do Scissors is to let the front leg reach toward you (as much as it can without compromising your alignment), and let the bottom leg reach as far away from you as it can (without compromising your alignment).  To do Scissors this way is still a challenge. It’s just different from the other version.

My suggestion is that you try both and switch it up. Both have benefits, so there’s not one way that is better than the other.

As always, I recommend that you do your best to keep your pelvis in neutral. Be aware that, as you lift your upper body, your lumbar (low back) may come closer to the ground. This is fine.

I prefer not to cue people to go into Imprint before the lift into the exercise because I want to strengthen the muscles as we would use them when we’re standing. That means no tilted pelvis.


  1. Begin on your back with your knees bent and heels in line with your SITs bones. Your arms reach by your side and your collarbones are broad. You are in neutral.
  2. We will be breathing in through our noses and out through pursed lips. Unlike our usual Pilates breathing, it will be inhale, exhale, exhale.
  3. To get into position, inhale into the sides of the ribs, allowing the abdominals to drop toward the spine.
  4. Exhale and lift one leg to table top, followed by the other.
  5. Inhale into the sides of the ribs and make sure the head is in neutral.
  6. Exhale and lift the upper body by hinging from the bottom rib. If, at any point, the neck starts to get tight or tired, lower your upper body to the mat.
  7. Inhale here.
  8. Exhale and straighten the legs toward the ceiling. If this feels like too much strain, put a slight bend in the back of the knees.
  9. Inhale here.
  10. Exhale twice as one leg comes closer to you and the other one reaches further away.
  11. Inhale both legs back to center.
  12. Exhale and switch legs.
  13. Inhale back to center.
  14. Do 5-10 sets, making sure to alternate sides.
  15. On your last one, inhale back to center and bend the knees to table top.
  16. Exhale, lower your upper body, then one leg and the other. Your pelvis should still be in neutral.

Scissors Video

Here is a video for visual learners.

What’s your favorite Pilates ab exercise? Let us know in the comments below.

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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.