If you often feel stiff after sitting at your desk all day, or you wake up and it takes a while for you to loosen up then the mermaid exercise is the perfect stretch for you!

This exercise is also a great way to increase the mobility around your mid back (thoracic spine) and to help you work on your hip mobility, perfect if you are sitting all day!

Mermaid is also great for anyone who wants to improve their golf swing or tennis game! By increasing your mobility, and then strengthening yourself to stay there, you will be able to generate more power. It will also make you feel a lot looser!

In this article, we’ll be discussing:

  • What is the mermaid exercise?
  • How to do the mermaid exercise?
  • What are the benefits of the mermaid exercise?
  • Who is the mermaid exercise suitable for / not suitable for?

What is the mermaid exercise?

The Pilates mermaid exercise is perfect if you suffer from a stiff mid or lower back, you do a lot of sitting or you want to improve your form in sports such as tennis or golf. It can be used as a gentle warmup or a more intense stretch later on in your Pilates routine.

Essentially, the mermaid stretch works to lengthen and open the side of your body and hips. For the initial mermaid, with the sit bones grounded, the arm extends in a long reach up and over your head. As you breathe and stretch you will begin to feel your spine and torso open.

If you want to progress this movement, then you can go into the full mermaid which includes adding a twist and extension movement. Again, this will open up your spine, give you some basic weight-bearing in your arms and get your hips moving in a deeper range.

How to do the mermaid exercise

How to do the Pilates mermaid exercise:

  • Sit on the floor with both legs folded to the right side in a 90/90 position.
  • Make sure the back foot is cupping the buttock to encourage the rotation at your hip.
  • Allow your left hip and thigh bone to drop towards the floor. This will help to keep you grounded as you move through the exercise and will encourage the stretch in your side.
  • Let your right arm settle onto the floor by the side of you and extend your left arm straight up above your head. Allow your arm to be in front of your ear as this will keep your shoulder settled rather than crunching towards your ear.
  • Try to keep your left hip grounded as you reach your arm up towards the ceiling and over to the right side of you. Let the supporting elbow bend by pulling the elbow to the floor to activate your triceps.
  • Send your left sit bone down toward the mat to deepen the stretch. Pause here and take a few breaths, imaging you are expanding the side of you. On an exhale, press into the right arm, reach upwards with the left arm and bring yourself back into sitting.
  • When sitting upright, reverse the stretch to the other side. You can walk your supporting arm (left arm) out and bend at the elbow to take your forearm towards the floor to increase the stretch.
  • Again, focus on keeping the right sit bone grounded as your stretch extends up and over toward the left.
  • Repeat two to three times each side, using your breath to release the stretch each time.

How to do the mermaid twist and extend exercise

Pilates mermaid stretch | Complete Pilates

To advance the exercise further, you can rotate inwardly while at the fullest extent of your side bend; a threading the needle motion. You can also try rotating outwardly but looking towards your top bicep and turning away from your supporting hand.

Repeat the twist a few times, imagining your rib cage is rotating around your spine. Then settle with both hands on the floor and press down whilst your lift your chest up and through. At this point your sit bone will come off the floor to allow your whole spine to extend. Send the pelvis back to the floor as you allow your spine to flex again. Your inhale is likely to facilitate the extension and exhale flexion.

Mermaid exercise top tips:

Use that sigh

Using your exhale breath will allow you to rotate round a little further. Do this with soft lips, like you really are letting out a sigh. This will take the breath lower and allow your diaphragm to get involved.

Use your whole spine!

Allow the movement to go through your whole spine, particularly in the final extension stage. By allowing the tail to unfold you will get extension through your entire spine and can then take it back into flexion – truly functional movement!

Keep the weight in your pelvis

Your arms are there for light support rather than full weight bearing. If you keep the weight in your pelvis, you will be able to load your arms less.

What are the benefits of a mermaid?

There are plenty of movement benefits when it comes to the mermaid Pilates exercise.

It’s great for improving overall flexibility and hips by stretching your obliques, deep back muscles and lats, shoulders and hips.

It also opens your side body, lengthening the muscles between the ribs and pelvis which enables you to expand your chest fully when breathing.

Not only that but it prepares you for movements where your body twists and bends.

It also keeps your back supple too!

Who is the mermaid exercise suitable for?

As stated above the mermaid exercise is a fantastic stretch for anyone wanting to keep a healthy spine or relieve (or prevent) lower-mid back pain. It’s excellent for anyone who may have postural problems caused by overloading one side ie: you always carry your bag on one side. The mermaid can also be great for anyone with scoliosis or if you are pregnant, particularly in the final trimester as it will allow you to feel like you can breathe better!

Modified Mermaid stretch | Complete Pilates

Who is the mermaid exercise not suitable for?

If you have back pain, doing a more simplified version can be likely to help more. The Z sit position may be too much so instead try doing it sitting in a chair or sitting cross-legged. If you are pregnant with a diastasis recti or osteoporosis only do the initial side bending stretch rather than adding in the twist or extension. After this, consult with an exercise specialist, like a Clinical Pilates Instructor, for individual advice and modifications.

Why do a mermaid?

In summary, the mermaid stretch is a super exercise which stretches and engages our mid – lower back muscles as well as your primary breathing muscles. It also helps with hip mobility and works the abdominals to maintain the integrity of the torso.

It’s important to always speak to your GP, physiotherapist or just drop us a line and ask if you have any questions, before starting an exercise routine. This is particularly important if you have any health concerns or are new to fitness.

If you would like more advice or information about how to do the mermaid or would like to know how Pilates can help with your health and fitness goals or lifestyle, then our team of Clinical Pilates instructors here at Complete Pilates are fully trained to safely treat clients and create tailored exercise plans to keep you fit and healthy in a safe and manageable way.

Get in touch online or contact us on 0203 764 5668 for further information.

Education is key:

These blogs are designed to give information to everyone, however, it is important to remember that everyone is different! If you have not seen one of our therapists and have any questions about injuries, what you have read or whether this may be useful to you, please just ask.

At Complete Pilates we would advise you to always speak to your doctor, physiotherapist, or clinical Pilates instructor here at Complete Pilates if you are worried about starting a new exercise regime.
We are more than happy to help anyone and point you in the right direction. Our biggest belief is that education is key. The more you understand about your injury, illness and movement, the more you are likely to improve.