The Pilates exercise, The Saw, is an easy-looking exercise that is beautifully complex.  The Saw is so-named for the action of reaching toward your foot with the opposite hand in order to “saw off the baby toe.”  We do however, plan on keeping all our toes, while we sharpen our technique!  In this exercise we get the abdominals, especially obliques, involved as we twist and flex, stretching the spine upward and then over the leg in length.  This is an excellent one to keep in your routine if you’re a golfer, or a runner.  We also get quite a lot of work in the upper back, to support the consistent reach of the arms away from each other. Those are the same muscles that help stabilize the shoulder as we do in the Flight Fundamental.

As with any Pilates exercise, attention to alignment will reap the greatest benefits from this exercise.  Because most people are both tight in the hamstrings, and tense in the neck and shoulders, this move may be tough at first.  In this breakdown I’ll include alignment, modification and imagery tips to help you perfect your Saw.

*Thanks to Kevin Earll for providing his Pilates talents!

1. Sit with the feet flexed, the width of the mat, or a little wider than the mat, depending on your flexibility. Inhale

Breaking down The Saw | Embody Movement Pilates StudioAlignment: Tall from head to tail, with your sits bones feeling evenly grounded, and your crown reaching toward the ceiling.  Arms are outstretched at a slight angle forward, visible in your peripheral vision.

Modifications for tight hamstrings or sitting with a rounded back:

  • Sit with your knees flexed
  • Sit on a bolster. You can use a rolled up mat, or thick towel; even a yoga block will work well.

Imagery:  Draw your arms away as if you’re trying to touch the walls of the room. Press the full length of your arm slightly downward toward the floor, as if to rest on a counter.

2. Inhale and twist your spine to the right, initiating in your center, and allowing the arms to follow along with the torso.  Watch out for leading the rotation with the hands or arms, which can result in less spinal movement – and less proper recruitment from the core. 

Breaking down The Saw | Embody Movement Pilates StudioAlignment:  *Avoid rocking your weight off the left sit bone, so that you move from a grounded place.  Maintain a 50/50 share of each side of your pelvis anchoring down.

Modifications: Mindfully rotate only as far as you can keep your lower body from shifting.

Imagery:  As you turn right, imagine your right shoulder blade gliding around the ribcage to “chase” the left shoulder blade.

3. To “Saw,” exhale and activate the core, flexing forward through the ribcage. Reach the Left Hand to the outside of the foot while you simultaneously reach your Right hand, palm faced up in the exact opposite direction.  Breaking down The Saw | Embody Movement Pilates StudioRotate your head so that you’re looking to the side or toward your back shoulder

Alignment:  Flex through your torso rather than from the hip joint in order to recruit the abdominals.  Maintain an air space between the head and neck.

Modifications:  Reach to the inside of the foot or leg instead.  If you have trouble turning the head, look straight down toward the leg closest to you.

Imagery: Imagine the top of your head is the starting point to create the rotation from top to bottom, winding you up.  Envision the arm as elastic so that you can maintain an imaginary line of pull.  Pretend you are pressing the palm of your hand against the ceiling.  The ends of your fingertips stretch away from each other.

4. Inhale as you return back to the center start position.  Exhale to prepare.

Breaking down The Saw | Embody Movement Pilates StudioAlignment:  As you return find your grounding again so as to be upright and tall. Continue to reach actively through your heels

Imagery:  As you return from the flexed position, think of “unfurling” so that you can articulate your spine in a fluid motion.  Picture that you have gained some height from the lengthened stretch.

5. Inhale and rotate, repeating the twist to the other side.

Breaking down The Saw | Embody Movement Pilates StudioAlignment: Chest lifted, and eyes gaze straight ahead, chin level with the ground

Imagery: Energy emanates out from every limb.

6. Exhale as you twist and ‘dive’ toward the outside of the foot.

Breaking down The Saw | Embody Movement Pilates StudioImagery:  Visualize that you’re going up and over something – like a small ball.  This should help you feel connected and supported through your core and spine while at the same time increase flexibility.  Whatever image you choose should help you maintain the idea of a ‘lift’ coming from below in the pelvis, rather than the heaviness of gravity pulling you down.

7. Return to the start position as you inhale. 

Modifications:  If your neck and shoulders rise up as you are flexing to reach toward the leg/foot; go ahead and soften your elbows instead of keeping them straight.

Once perfected, the goal is for The Saw’s action to flow with precision.  In a more dynamic pace, the movement and rhythm acts like a pumping action that massages the body from the inside out, and inherently creates a fresh exchange of oxygen and freeing mobility in the spine.

I hope you enjoy sharpening your Saw for the next Mat Class!

Breaking down The Saw | Embody Movement Pilates Studio

See you in the studio!

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