I immediately fell in love with the Mermaid the first time I saw this exercise performed because it looks very stretchy and reminded me of ballet poses. And just like in ballet, behind this graceful stretch there’s a complex mix of movements.
It’s a wonderful stretch for the sides, but also a lateral flexion movement.
How to perform the Mermaid
Sit sideways on the carriage, one leg bent in front, the other leg that’s closest to the shoulder rest bent to the side with the shin resting against the shoulder rests. One arm is straight with your hand on the foot bar, the other arm down by your side.
Inhale – Abduct the shoulder, pushing the carriage out while the free arm reaches up overhead, creating a rainbow shape with the body.
Exhale – Adduct the arm to come back to the starting position, then elongate through the movement and grab the shoulder rest or the post behind it to reverse the stretch to the opposite side of the body.
I recommend to repeat the exercise 5-6 times, and then do the other side.
Now, I particularly love doing the Mermaid in this variation. Not only does the spine get to move in flexion and rotation, but also at the same time you’re working the shoulder joint because it has to be extremely stable. Bonus, you’re also putting an emphasis on your oblique abdominals in order to keep the reformer still while you’re rotating.
So you feel the abdominals, you feel the stretch, and it’s just a lovely exercise to watch! The set up stays the same as before, and again repeat the exercise 5-6 times, and then do the other side.
Inhale – Looking straight forward, abduct the shoulder and lower your body until your arm is parallel to the floor, while simultaneously lifting the other arm so it’s in line with the shoulder, your body in a diagonal.
Exhale – Rotate your trunk, taking the free arm across and bringing it around to place on the foot bar. Square the (scapulae) shoulder blades, and remember, the reformer does NOT move!
Inhale – Rotate your trunk back, keeping the carriage absolutely still, pivoting through the shoulder joint .
Exhale – Abduct the shoulder as you return to the starting position, bringing the carriage in just until your trunk is straight.
Modifications for the Mermaid
If it’s painful or uncomfortable to position the legs as the set up requires, there are some modifications:
- Bring both legs bent together, with shins looking at the shoulder rests.
- For people with recent hip replacement, I recommend to just sit sideways on carriage, legs together, and stay with the basic movement.
- Try to set up regularly, placing a thin cushion under the hip closest to the shoulder rests, just to allow the hip muscles to relax.
- Try the movement on the mat, using a foam roller instead of the foot bar of the reformer. In this case instead of pushing away your body, the forearm is going to be on top of the foam roller, sliding away as you stretch the other side, with the free arm reaching overhead. Plus if you add the rotation, I bet you can stay all day long in that awesome stretch!
This is not the end, because the Mermaid can prepare your body to move forward into some more advanced exercises to push your Pilates practice. If you want to discover the magic of other variations, try a Restorative Pilates or Group Reformer cll and bring out your inner ballerina! ☺
Originally from Northern Italy, Marta is a professionally-trained dancer in ballet, modern jazz and contemporary dance. It was during her dance career that Marta discovered Pilates, and she immediately fell in love. Marta received her Pilates Instructor certification through BASI Pilates in both Mat Pilates and Pilates with Equipment. Marta says she’s grateful to be in sunny California and sharing her passion while helping her students strengthen their bodies and minds.
Click here to learn more about Marta and the other ABC Instructors.