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Well, a Pilates C-Curve that is.  We certainly encourage all students out there to give it their all for the best grade possible!  And so when it comes to making the grade in a Pilates class, really understanding the C-curve, takes practice, practice, practice.  And since Back-to-School season is here, there’s no time like the present to offer up some Pilates Tutoring Tips on how best to achieve the abdominal connection, length through the spine and the proper alignment for this position.  It’s one used often in Pilates classes, on the Mat, Reformer, and other pieces of studio equipment.

The ideal curve that we call the “C-curve” appears as an evenly bowed arc – like a section sliced right out of a circle when viewed from profile.  Embody Movement Pilates Studio Instructor, Becky Lenski helps illustrate (beautifully, I must say) our points using the Mat exercise called “Rolling Like a Ball.”

Pilates Tutoring Tip #1 – “less is more.”


c curve pilates tutorial tip 1

The curve that we’re trying to get to with this position is really a subtle one, where the hips and the shoulders end up in about the same plane.  You might hear an instructor use the phrase “less is more.”  And while it is plenty of work to curl the pelvis and contract the abdominals, the intention is really being able to have command of positioning the spine from head to tail.  This admittedly can be a tough one to grasp at first.  When we’re upright and move the body into a curve, we’re redistributing weight.  Doing that challenges your balance, and sometimes the automatic response is to grip, rather than to relax and simply focus your efforts.

Pilates Tutoring Tip #2 – It’s not about compressing or “crunching.”

Beginners often ‘crouch’ when preparing to do the Rolling Like a Ball exercise.  I think because people associate ab-work with the term “crunch” there is an impression that working the core implies a force of compaction.  In Pilates, the idea is quite the opposite.  That in contracting the core, you are not just creating stability and strength, but also length and space in the spine.

c curve pilates tutorial tip 2

Common mistakes in executing the c-curve:

  • Sinking, or like a turtle, your head retracts down into your neck
  • Collapsing the chest
  • Actually hunching the shoulders with more energy than you are connecting to the core

Notice the alignment above, and how the feeling you get when you see this, is like everything is piled on from the top and pressing down. These common mistakes create an uneven set of curves instead of one long arc.  Now, when you’re first trying to get into the c-curve, you want to start on the right path.

Pilates Tutoring Tip #3 – Know the Basic Principles and Fundamental Movements

So many Pilates exercises build on each other, and to make the grade, you need to have the elemental ‘ABCs’ as a foundation.  Consistently weaving these elements into the practice of each exercise will help develop your skills and ultimately you’ll progress into deeper core engagement.  With that support, you’ll have more freedom to release tension in the hips, shoulders and neck.  As a quick reference, here are crosslinks to some of the fundamental movements we’ve talked about before in the blog:

Pilates Tutoring Tip #4 – Lift and lengthen OUT of the pelvis

In the Cat stretch the energy is in a circle from the head to the tail.  It’s very similar engagement to create the arc for the C-Curve, except that you do have to balance the torso weight.  In this tutoring tip, you want to resist the idea that the upper half of the torso is “heavy” because you’ll move as if you have to manage it against that force downward.  While seated, turn your eyes to the top of your thighs or your low belly.

Focus your attention on engaging your core and keeping your shoulders quiet.  Feel as though you are drawing upward from the strong base of the pelvis.  Then your head, neck and shoulders can soften into position.

This should help you create a more uniform curve, and a balanced effort.

c curve pilates tutorial tip 3

Pilates Tutoring Tip #5 – More Imagery to capture Expansion

Imagine we put a small deflated ball within the space between your legs and your belly.  Then picture inflating and filling it with air. It would grow in roundness in all directions.  If you can imagine the surface of the ball inflating into your body, and in turn allowing your body to take on the shape in that expansion, you should feel that your

  • Lower ribs ‘flare’ like an accordion toward your back, opening the often compressed areas of the spine
  • Chest and collar bones stay broad and open rather than collapsing
  • Your arms are active, but not over recruiting, or creeping into the neck
  • You’ll set yourself up deeper into your core, and have more coordinated and controlled movements as you go into the exercise.


Now you should be all studied up to get your C!   Try it out in your practice and let us know if you feel like these tips help you make the grade.


Rolling like a Ball in action


Reformer Examples: Stomach & Shortbox ‘Roundback’ with Pilates Ring

Important Reminder: Getting into the C-curve or moving through other spinal flexion exercises is not recommended for those with osteoporosis or certain conditions.  If you have questions about whether this movement is appropriate for you, let us know and we’ll be happy to advise on what will help you achieve optimal results safely.

See you in the Studio!


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