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Carol’s Favorite Exercise: Swan Dive

written by Carol Crincoli, Pure Pilates Director

I just love the Swan and any exercise that has to do with spinal extension. If I were to pick a favorite, it would be the Swan Dive on the Ladder Barrel, closely followed by the Advanced Swan on the Cadillac. However, seeking a mat workout, I thoroughly enjoy incorporating Swan and various back extension exercises.

Swan Dive is a challenging, advanced exercise, but there are so many progressions to the exercise that you can make it into a mini workout.

Here’s the progression to Swan Dive.

1. Fire up your leg.

Yes, Swan emphasizes spinal extension, but the successful execution of a dive involves incorporating your legs. Begin with single-leg (hip) extension, progressing to double-leg extension. This sequence effectively engages your hamstrings and glutes.


Prep One: Hip Extension

2. Fire up your back.

When going into deep extension, it is vital to ensure the entire back is actively engaged and capable of holding the contraction.  Achieve this properly by keeping your legs actively pressing into the floor, while your abdominals provide support for the movement.


Prep Two: Back Extension

3. Find your V’s and W’s.

If you progress to “Catch and Release” Swan, you need to properly glide your arms in the shoulder socket. Take your back extension and uplevel the movement by holding the contraction as you as you seamlessly move your arms from a W shape to the configuration of the letter V.


Prep Three: Back Extension with Arm Glides

4. Nurture your Baby Swan.

When performing or instructing Swan Dive, my approach always involves initiating with a swan prep, affectionately referred to as Baby Swan. This exercise serves as an excellent means to connect with your body, ensuring a strong foundation in your legs and abdominal muscles. It allows you to assess the sensation and movement of your back in extension. Interestingly, there are occasions when the swan prep, rather than the complete dive, proves to be the most beneficial exercise on certain days.


Prep Four: Swan Dive Prep

5. Embrace the Seesaw.

Let’s go back to why the hip extension is essential to your swan dive.  The spine and the legs must be coordinated to create a rocking motion.  To practice, put the hip extension and the baby swan together.

Hip extension is crucial for the coordination of the spine and legs to generate a seamless rocking motion. To refine this, we combine the hip extension and the Baby Swan exercises. This integration allows you to enhance the connection between your spine and legs, laying the foundation for the rocking motion essential in the Swan Dive.


Prep Five: Swan Prep with Hip Extension

6. Try my Favorite Dive.

This progression happens to be my absolute favorite. I love the swing and height that my legs get with the catch and release from my hands.


Prep Six: Catch and Release

7. Dip your Toe into the Swan Dive Pool.


Now, it’s time to seamlessly integrate all the exercises, the dress rehearsal before the live performance! Interestingly, this happens to be my least favorite progression as the swinging of my arms tends to make the exercise feel somewhat “clunky.” You can see that there’s room for improvement in mastering this particular sequence for myself.


Prep Seven: Is this Diving or Drowning.

8. The Finale.


The 7 foundational exercises listed above, contribute to building strength, stability, and mobility – all essential elements when progressing towards advanced exercises like the Swan Dive. Here are a few tips: The swan dive is a comprehensive full-body exercise, with the legs and arms providing support to the core. To find the momentum, envision stretching from your arms and legs. And, of course, remember to breathe. If I had my choice, I would stop at Catch and Release because that’s where I feel like a rock star. Listen to your body, enjoy the process, and dive in when you’re ready.


The Swan Dive

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