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How to Do the Jackknife

Learn how to do the jackknife, a Pilates Mat exercise, from Core Pilates NYC instructor Sarah Ruback in this Howcast workout video.


Coming from Neck Pull, we have Jack Knife. So Jack Knife is the most difficult of all of the intermediate exercises. And if you have any kind of neck issue, any kind of lower back issue, you really ought not to do this exercise, or start with it in a modified way, which I'll show you.

It is an over the head position, so your core really needs to be strong, and your legs really do need to have, you know, a pretty good range of flexibility. If your knees are really bent, and you feel like you have to hoist yourself up over head. Remember, if there's no control, there's probably no place for that exercise for you yet.

So in Jack Knife, you'll bend your knees toward your chest. Extend your legs out to 45 degrees with the heels together, the toes apart.
Inhale to prepare, then exhale. Bring your legs up overhead, so that the heels are right in line with the eyes, and a nice high angle here.

Breath in, then breathe out, and articulate your back into the mat, then lower your feet back to 45. And let's see that again. Take an inhale, exhale, lift the hips, and lift your legs up overhead, like you're flipping up a knife.

Balance between the shoulder blades, not on the neck. Inhale, exhale, articulate the spine down toward the mat, and return the legs. One last time in the ideal. Inhale, exhale as you go up, breathe in, breathe out, and slowly control the spine back to the mat, keeping the toes over the eyes. Then bend your knees in towards your chest.

So that's the full deal. That's the ideal. So to prepare this exercise or to modify it, extend your legs to 45 degrees. Inhale, then exhale, bring your legs overhead, but bring them parallel to the mat.

So in this position, you'll be better able to find your point of balance here between your shoulder blades, rather than over on your neck. If you can't really breathe, if you feel like you can't turn your head from side to side, your legs are probably too far over.

Then, you'll lift the legs up to 45 degrees while trying to keep these hips in place. Then lower the legs back to over the head, 90 degrees, and then exhale as you lower the spine down towards the mat, and return the legs out to 45.

Again, take an inhale, exhale, lift the hips up over head, hold it here, inhale, lift the legs up. Stretch the inner thighs, feel them wrap together, exhale, lower the legs back overhead, and continue to roll down through the spine. Then bend your knees in towards your chest, and that's the Jack Knife.

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