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Pilates Words, Terms, and Glossary

Abdominal Muscles:

These muscles are comprised of four muscles:

  • rectus abdominis
  • external oblique
  • internal oblique
  • transverse abdominis

Together these muscles form a girdle spanning from the front of the torso to the back, up into the ribs and down into the pelvis. This abdominal wall not only helps to stabilize the abdominal region, but also the whole body.

The deepest layer of the abdominal muscles is the transverse, followed by the internal oblique, external oblique, and then the rectus abdominis being the most superficial.


A muscle contraction or movement that brings a limb farther away from the midline of the body. Taking the arm away from the side would be abduction.


A muscle contraction or movement that brings a limb closer towards the midline of the body. You can remember this by thinking that the beginning three letters of this word “add” also starts the word addition. You are adding something towards your mid line.

Antagonist Muscle:

A muscle that works in opposition to another muscle. The hamstring, gastrocnemius, and popliteus oppose the quadriceps around the knee.


Towards the front surface of the body.

Anterior Tilt of Pelvis:

A placement of the pelvis in which the ASIS are tipped forward, more anteriorly, than the pubic bone and significantly lower than the PSIS.


Common acronym which stands for anterior superior iliac spine. They are also called the hip bones which are located right underneath front pockets in pants.

In pilates we commonly palpate the ASIS to feel for level hips or movement in the pelvis when aiming for stabilization.


The first vertebra in the spine right below the base of the neck. The first, of two, vertebra that are put into flexion during a head nod.


The second vertebra in the spine below the base of the neck. The second vertebra that is put into flexion during a head nod.


A movement using both sides.

Cervical Vertebrae:

These seven vertebrae are located in the neck. These vertebrae are the most mobile of the vertebrae in the spine.

To find out about their placement check out this article on the head and cervical area.


Comprised of three or four fused bones, the coccyx is located directly beneath the sacrum.

Concentric muscle contraction:

A shortening of a muscle during contraction.

Eccentric muscle contraction:

A lengthening of a muscle while contracting.


The movement of a joint which is increasing the joint angle. Example: Lifting a straight leg up in back of you.

Feet Standing:

A position the feet and legs are put in while lying supine. The soles of the feet are flat on the mat and the knees are bent pointing towards the ceiling.


The movement of a joint which is decreasing the joint angle. Example: Bringing the knee towards the chest in a marching type position.

Head Nod:

The flexion of the first two vertebrae, atlas and axis, of the cervical spine to protect the head and neck from injury.

See this article on head nods and cervical placement.

Hip Flexors:

The muscles which are commonly referred to as a group which flex the leg at the hip. They hip flexors are:

  • rectus femoris
  • gluteus medius
  • gluteus minimus
  • pectineus
  • tensor fasciae latae
  • sartorius
  • psoas major
  • iliacus


Movement of a joint which is past, or greater, than a healthy anatomical position. Often this occurs in elbows and knees and is referred to as a “locked” elbow or knee.

In pilates hyperextension is frowned upon because of the unhealthy stress and weight that is put on the joint, versus an engagement of the muscles around the joint to support the joint in movement.

Imprinted Pelvis:

The position that is used in pilates to protect the low back and strengthen obliques. The position is obtained by lengthening the low back and shortening the distance between the lowest rib and the ASIS.

See this article on imprinted pelvis and pelvis placement.

Insertion of a Muscle:

The place of attachment of a muscle to a bone which is more mobile. The other attachment site is the origin.

Isometric Contraction:

A muscle contraction which does not change in muscle length with the increase of tension. A good example would be all of the muscles which stabilize the torso during the hundred.


A condition in which the natural curve of the thoracic spine is increased. Think of people who sit at a desk all day long.

Lateral Pelvic Tilt:

A type of pelvic tilt in which one side of the pelvis is higher than the other.


Connective tissue which connects bone to bone.


A condition which is described as when the natural curve in the lumbar spine is increased, when viewed from the side.

Lumbar Vertebrae:

These five vertebrae are located in the lower back. These vertebrae are larger are made to help support weight of the upper body.

Lumbo-Pelvic Region:

A term that is used often in pilates to describe the area including the pelvis and lumbar vertebrae. Often this term is used when talking about neutral or imprinted pelvis. Usually we say lumbo-pelvic region instead of spine or pelvis because neutral and imprint involves both the pelvis and spine.

Lymphatic System:

The system of vessels which help drain body fluids (lymph.) Many different exercises, including the breathing alone, is great stimulation for the lymph. Many people, after doing pilates, need to go to the restroom because the lymph has been stimulated and is now on its way out!


Pertaining to the midline. These are movements which draw closer to the midline. If your legs are apart and you draw them closer to one another, this would be a medial action.


An adjustment that is made to an exercise. Many people have a misconception that modifications are to make exercises easier. They are simply stubborn and quite wrong.

Modifications are to make an exercise more appropriate for your body type or to give you more of a challenge! Don’t be stubborn, you might miss out!


The name of my imaginary pet cat. Just making sure you are still awake!

Neutral Pelvis:

The placement of the lumbo-pelvic regions which is anatomically the most shock absorbing. Neutral Pelvis maintains the natural curve of the lumbar vertebrae. See this article on neutral pelvis and placement.

Neutral Spine:

A position that the spine is put in to maintain the natural curves of the cervical vertebrae, thoracic vertebrae, and lumbar vertebrae. This is the healthiest position for the spine.

Origin of a Muscle:

The attachment of a muscle to a bone which is more stationary. The other attachment end is the insertion.


Often in pilates an instructor will ask if you mind if he/she can touch you. To better understand certain parts of your posture it is often best for an instructor to feel exactly where a bony landmark is located. This is often common of the vertebrae, PSIS, and knees.


The area of your body which is composed of two hip bones, sacrum, and coccyx.

Pelvic Rotation:

This occurs when the pelvis is rotated counter-clockwise or clockwise. It is often evident by placing a hand on each ASIS and feeling if one if pushed further forward than the other.

Pelvic Floor:

This is an extremely important muscle to be aware of. The pelvic floor forms a sheet of muscles between the pubic bone, coccyx, and the ischium.

These muscles gently contract and lift when fired, however they are most effective at about 25%.

It is important to engage the pelvic floor because it helps fire the transversus and stabelize the pelvis.

Pelvic Tilt:

This happens when the pelvis is tipped too far anteriorly (ASIS lower than PSIS) or posteriorly (PSIS tipped lower that ASIS.) The ideal goal is neutral.

Note: In women a neutral pelvis will have the ASIS very slightly lower than the PSIS.


A term I have coined that refers to someone who practices pilates.


Pertaining to the back surface of the body.

Posterior Tilt of Pelvis:

This occurs when the PSIS is lower than the ASIS. In women, the ASIS is slightly lower than the PSIS for a neutral position. If a woman’s ASIS and PSIS are level she is considered slightly posteriorly tilted.


The technique behind pilates which enhances your workout and makes pilates distinct from other forms of exercise.

Still curious? A complete overview of the pilates basic principles just for you!


Common acronym which stands for posterior superior iliac spine. Sometimes difficult to find, they are located in the low back at the base of the pelvis.

If you put your hands on your hips with your fingers towards your stomach and your thumbs towards your back, your thumbs should naturally be resting very close to them.

If you can see your low back in a mirror, many people have a little dimple over each PSIS.


A position, lying down, which means that you are facing down to the mat.

Range of Motion:

The movement that is created from a joint by contracting muscles.


A movement which alternates one side and then the other. Very common with the split pedal stability chair.


These fused four or five vertebrae are located directly below the lumbar vertebrae and situated in the back and between the crests of the pelvis.


Also referred to as shoulder blades, these bony protrusions lay freely on the back. Because of their unique attachment to the back, muscular connection is quite important here.

Check out this article on the scapular area and movement to better understand how those bony points play a major role in pilates.

Sequential Movement:

Carefully articulating one movement following the other. Often this will be heard when articulating the spine. In this case you would want to think about moving one vertebra at a time one right after the other without skipping any vertebra or moving any at the same time.

Sits Bones:

Also known as the ischial tuberosity, they are the bones that you feel underneath your bottom when you sit on a hard surface. They are the bones which are the downward protrusions of the pelvis.


Also called the vertebral column, the spine consists of twenty-four vertebrae. The spine is divided into different parts. They are:

  • cervical vertebrae (7)
  • thoracic vertebrae (12)
  • lumbar vertebrae (5)
  • sacrum (4-5 fused)
  • coccyx (3-4 fused)


A position, when lying, which means that you are lying on your back.

Staccato breath:

A short and quick breath pattern which promotes a full breathing pattern and prevents breath holding.


Tissue that connects muscle to bone.

Thoracic Vertebrae:

These twelve vertebra are located in the thorax. Each of these vertebra have an attached rib and do not move as much because of their stabilizing and protective jobs.

To find out more about the thoracic area and rib cage placement check out this article on the rib cage area.


A movement using one side while trying to maintain neutral stability throughout the rest of the body.


One of twenty-four boney pieces that make up the spine and help support the body.

Looking for more information on anatomy? Check out this recommendation of an understandable anatomy book and guide that will blow your socks off!

Want to get started with pilates but don’t know how? Check out this article on how to get started with pilates - it’s painless!

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