Michelle Welling

How to Master a Pilates Teaser

Words by Lotty Somers @lottypilatesandbarre

teaser boat pose banner

Tackling the teaser requires a combination of strength, flexibility, mobility and balance. It’s one of the most challenging and renowned movements in the Pilates repertoire. Many people say that Joseph Pilates chose the name on purpose as he wanted to create an elusive movement designed to ‘tease’ you during your practice. However, once you break it down there are simple ways to prepare your body so you can take on the teaser in no time!

What is the teaser?

The teaser or V-sit, challenges you to balance on your sit bones in an upright V position and is a great way to improve strength but is also a terrific exercise for balance, flexibility and spinal mobility.

Benefits of the teaser

In short, the teaser builds strength and creates length.

  • Strength - The teaser will strengthen muscles in the front (anterior chain) and back (posterior chain) making it one of the most effective ways to work the entire body.
  • Length - As many of us spend more time than ever leaning forwards over a desk or staring down at our phones, we are placing our spines into excessive forward flexion. This can often lead to back and neck pain and the teaser helps to counteract this through extending and lengthening the spine.

Preparing for a teaser

It can be helpful to break the teaser down in terms of what skills are needed to perfect the movement and then look at which other Pilates exercises can help you achieve this. 

It is important that you remember the key Pilates principles and keep an awareness of your shoulder, ribcage and neck alignment as well as breath control and abdominal engagement. The balance between finding a flowing quality to the movement while not relying on momentum, is important to ensure that you target your deep stabilisation muscles and will help prevent your larger muscle groups from taking over.

Below are some examples of teaser-preparation exercises which you can add to your regular Pilates workout to gradually build the necessary skills! 

glute bridges and hundred

STRENGTH EXERCISES

Glute Bridge (8-10 reps)

  • Starting position: Lie on your back with your hands by your sides, knees bent, and feet flat on the floor a hip distance apart.
  • Movement: Start to engage your glute muscles and push down through your heels as you gently press your lower back into an imprinted position before raising your hips and rolling up one vertebra at a time until there is a straight line from your knees to shoulders. Hold for 10 seconds and then slowly roll back down to return your starting position.

Hundred (one round)

  • Starting Position: Lie on your back in an imprinted position with your legs bent into a tabletop shape, your feet hip distance apart and your shins parallel to the floor.
  • Movement: Nod your chin to your chest and start to lift up your head, neck and the tip of your shoulder blades. At the same time extend your arms long by your sides with your palms facing down and start to pump through the air with resistance. Start to take five short inhales through the nose and five short exhales through the mouth, matching the rhythm of your breath to the pumping  movement of your arms. Repeat this breath pattern 10 times until you have completed 100 breaths/pumps. To make things harder, you can extend your legs but ensure that they don’t go too low causing your lower back to lift off the mat.

spinal stretch and roll up

FLEXIBILITY/MOBILITY EXERCISES

Spine Stretch forward (4-6 reps)

  • Starting position: Sit on the floor with your arms outstretched in front of you, palms facing in and your legs outstretched, wider than your hips with feet flexed. You want to have a straight, vertical spine with your shoulders directly above your hips.
  • Movement: Nod your chin to your chest and begin to lengthen your spine into a forward curve, reaching the crown of your head towards your toes. Try to keep your legs straight and the abdominals engaged. Then reverse the action as you roll back up one vertebra at a time to your starting position. If your hamstrings are tight, sit on a raised surface, such as a folded towel or try with your knees slightly bent.

Roll up (4-6 reps)

  • Starting position: Lie on your back with your arms up above your shoulders, palms facing inwards and your legs outstretched, hip distance apart with feet flexed.
  • Movement: Nod your chin to your chest and start to move your arms forwards allowing the body to curl up off the mat one vertebra at a time to come to an upright seated position. Then curl your body in an ‘up and over’ motion like you are leaning over a beach ball, reaching the crown of your head toward your toes. Then tilt your pelvis under and start to roll down through the spine one vertebra at a time to bring yourself back to your starting position. If you struggle with this movement you can try with knees bent or hold a resistance band around the balls of your feet for additional support.

scissor and all fours

BALANCE EXERCISES

Scissors (20-30 reps)

  • Starting position: Lie on your back in an imprinted position with both legs lifted straight up towards the ceiling.
  • Movement: Nod your chin to your chest and start to lift up your head, neck and the tip of your shoulder blades. Slowly lower your right leg down toward the ground until it’s just hovering off the floor, hold behind the back of your opposite left hamstring. Then slowly scissor your legs to change sides, lifting your right leg back up as you lower your left leg down toward the ground and switch to hold the back of your opposite right hamstring.

Kneeling arm and leg raise (10-20 reps each side)

  • Starting position: Come to an all 4’s keeling position with hands under shoulders, knees under hips and a neural spine. Keep your eye line in front of your hands so that your neck stays long.
  • Movement: Extend your right arm long in front of you to shoulder height and your left leg long behind you to hip height. Careful not to let your lower back arch, keep the abdominals engaged and stabilise through the left supporting side of the back. Lower your arm and leg, returning to the start position and then repeat on the opposite side.

Performing the teaser

The teaser requires the engagement of several different muscle groups so it's important to warm up the body before attempting it. Therefore, you should place the teaser towards the end of any Pilates sequence. To begin:

1. Start by lying on your back with your legs fully extended and your arms outstretched overhead.

2. Begin to nod your chin to your chest and flex your spine forwards as you lift your arms and legs simultaneously to an upright position folding the body into a V-shape balancing on your sit bones.

3. Your upper (thoracic) spine should be fully lengthened and your lower (lumber) spine should be slightly C-curved.

4. Complete the movement by slowly rounding through the spine and lowering back down one vertebra at a time to return, to your starting position. 

Challenges of the teaser

Lifting up into the full teaser can be incredibly challenging even for those who have practiced pilates for many years. It is therefore important you allow yourself time to perfect the teaser at your own pace. With this in mind, there are a few teaser modifications that might work better for your body and will gradually improve your skills to take on the full teaser!

teaser variations

Bent leg teaser (5 reps each side)

Lifting just one leg and keeping the knee bent will reduce the intensity, making it easier to lift the upper body into position and helping you to find a better connection to your core stability muscles.

1. Start by lying on your back with your arms outstretched over head and with both knees bent, feet flat on the floor.

2. Nod your chin to the chest and flex your spine forward but as you lift your arms up, lift just one leg off the floor keeping the knee bent, to bring your body into a V-shape balancing on your sit bones.

3. Complete the movement by slowly rounding through the spine and lowering back down one vertebra at a time until you return to your starting position.

One leg teaser (5 reps each side)

The fact that the leg is already lifted makes it easier to lift the upper body into position and will ensure that you are not just relying on momentum. 

1. Start by lying on your back with your arms outstretched over head and with one bent, foot flat on the floor and the other leg lifted into an extension keeping your knees at the same height.

2. Nod your chin to the chest and flex your spine forward as you lift up your arms and chest to meet the already lifted leg to fold the body into a V-shape balancing on your sit bones.

3. Complete the movement by slowly rounding through the spine and lowering back down one vertebra at a time until you return to your starting position. 

teaser boat pose banner

Don’t let the teaser tease you!

It’s important to remember that when it comes to the teaser, like many movements in the Pilates repertoire, patience, practice and perseverance are key!