Ask Rael Q & A: 11th Issue

by Rael Isacowitz

Do I need to warm-up before Pilates? What are the best exercises to do?

This is a great question, but one I would reword to: “Why wouldn’t someone do a warm up at the beginning of every Pilates session?” Preparing the body for more challenging work to come is essential to a well-structured session. Perhaps it is the advent and popularity of group classes that has moved the traditional session into a quick routine containing “components” resembling Pilates but rarely demonstrating its true embodiment of Body-Mind-Spirit. But this is a topic for future discussion. For now, I would say it is vital to include a warm up in each session.

While there are many combinations of movements to choose from to comprise an adequate warm up, there are two specific inclusions we have found to be both well rounded and include varying ranges of motion. We most often use the following warm ups in the BASI studio and teacher training program (refer to Pilates, Human Kinetics or the BASI Movement Analysis Workbooks available at for detailed descriptions):

Fundamental Pelvic curl, Spine twist supine, Chest lift, Chest lift with rotation

Intermediate Roll-up, Spine twist supine, Double leg stretch, Single leg stretch, Criss cross 

The Fundamental Warm Up is appropriate for most individuals, but Leg lifts and/or Leg changes could be included (or substitute the Chest lift).

The Intermediate Warm Up should be introduced when someone has a good grasp of movement and is ready for more challenge. However, the Fundamental Warm Up (like all the fundamental work) should never be left behind, but rather woven into sessions no matter what the level.

We feel so strongly about including a warm up in a session that we have dedicated an entire block of the BASI Block System to this particular work. It represents the foundation on which to build a balanced and functional session each and every time.


What are the differences between a “flat back,” an “imprinted back” and “neutral spine”? When should we work in each position? 

The terminology of “flat back, imprinted back and neutral spine” are often hot topics within the Pilates community. Many assert that unless the classic Flat Back is utilized (when supine) the work cannot be truly classified as Pilates. While I do not agree with this concept, I do defer to each person’s choice as to what works best for his or her individual practice and teaching.

I will do my best to offer an independent and unbiased look at each. Therefore, let’s start with basic definitions:

Flat Back~

Flat – smooth and even; without marked lumps or indentations.

Back – the rear surface of the human body from the shoulders to the hips.

Putting the two together we have a postural position that allows no gaps between the lower back and the floor/mat. This is usually achieved by pressing the entire back against the mat resulting in a posterior tilt of the pelvis.

Utilizing the Flat Back position may offer a counter balance to those with hyperlordorsis. This is the position that is classically thought of as the optimum way to execute movement due to the emphasis on the abdominals. However, more contemporary thought asserts the posterior position of the pelvis is considered to be a deviation from ideal alignment and creates tight hamstrings and weak quadriceps.

Imprinted Back ~

Imprinted – impress or stamp (a mark or outline) on a surface or body.”

The Imprinted Back is achieved by flattening (sinking) the lower back into or onto a surface (thus minimizing any spinal curvatures). This could be accompanied by a posterior tilt of the pelvis or neutral, depending on the rest of the spine. By anchoring the spine on the mat, the lower back is in a more protected position by the recruitment of the abdominals.

The actual term “Imprinting” relates more to imagery by using the image of an imprint of the body. In this manner, active focus on the bones rather than the muscles results in more fluid movement and less tension.

Neutral Spine~

“Neutral- having no strongly marked or positive characteristics of features.”

“Spine – the backbone.”

The aspect of neutral represents the natural curvatures of the spine (cervical, thoracic, lumbar) to remain in correct alignment. These three shock-absorbing curves create a healthy spine and represent the strongest position from which to move. There are a number of benefits of moving from a neutral spine position including balanced muscular development, efficient posture and alignment when standing as well as reinforcement of functional and positive movement patterns.

Determining when each position should be used is contingent on many factors including individual strengths, restrictions, philosophy and personal goals. It may be prudent to be clear in defining objectives first. This in and of it self may dictate which option to choose.

Remember the pelvis is dynamic and constantly adjusting to the movements of the body. Flat back and imprinted back have a definite place in the work but neutral spine (if achievable) represents the most efficient position for movement.

It is always best to invest the time and energy to personally experience each form and philosophy before committing to any particular one. Reserve sessions with experienced practitioners and work in all positions to determine which offers the most rewarding results.


This article first appeared in the January/2014 issue of Pilates Style Magazine. For more great stories about Pilates, check out the latest issue of Pilates Style, on newsstands nationwide, in the app store or at


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