2-Way Stretch and the Anatomy of Pilates

2-Way Stretch and the Anatomy of Pilates

I've got a secret.

As a child I underwent a series of surgeries resulting in nerve reconstruction on one side of my body. A facial nerve was cut and reattached using an additional nerve taken from my left leg.

It has been my nearly 15 years of study and continual practice of the Pilates Method that has enabled me to “uncover” a series of weaknesses along my entire left side.

Just when you thought Pilates was about sculpted abs and a tight butt…

After many years of Pilates I began to notice a heightened body awareness that developed as I continued to train in this amazing method. Yes, ‘body awareness' is a chief benefit of the Pilates method.

But this is in fact, an understatement.

The degree of awareness one can achieve through diligent practice of the method is staggering. It manifests in the sensation of many muscle groups working in unison – a seamless reach from the sides of your back up to the tips of your fingers, or down the entire length of the back of the body.

Left Side Story

But some muscles on the weaker left side simply did not respond in the same manner as their right-side counterparts.

Hmmm… How long has that been going on?

The Pilates exercises had revealed along the left side: a weak arch, knee, buttock, lower stomach, back muscle and neck. I remember vividly the workout that allowed me to realize each of these “separate weaknesses” was really one long chain of imbalance.

Can it be coincidence that all these parts are connected?

I decided to investigate.

Joseph Pilates himself believed (and stated vehemently I gather) that his method was 50 years ahead of its time. I completely agree. The connected muscle systems one finds in the 2-way stretch, for example, are articulated and well known today in the study of connective tissues or myofascial meridians in the body.

From Wikipedia:

“Myofascial meridians (also known as anatomy trainsconnective tissue planesfascial planes, or myofascial trains) are lines of bones and connective tissue that run throughout the body, organize the structural forces required for motion, and link all parts of the body.

The idea of myofascial meridians was first introduced by Thomas Myers in his 1997 article ‘The anatomy trains'. In his 2001 textbook Anatomy Trains: Myofascial Meridians for Manual and Movement Therapists, 3e, the term ‘myofascial meridians' was first used synonymously with the term ‘Anatomy Trains'.

Myers claims myofascial meridians were described by German anatomist Hermann Hoepke in the early 1930s.”

From Anatomy Trains by Thomas Myers:

Anatomy Trains is a unique map of the ‘anatomy of connection’…the interplay of movement and stability.

Ooooh…the anatomy of connection. Yum yum.

My copy of Anatomy Trains confirmed my Pilates discovery. My long chain of imbalances that the Pilates exercises had revealed is officially known as the Deep Front Line. Anatomy nerds will want to check out this amazingly über-detailed and specific discussion of the Deep Front Line which I quote:

“The Deep Front Line is a key component of all things core.”

Oh dear…

The Deep Front Line (DFL) is essentially the lift up the entire front of the body: in Pilates the lift up out of the arch of the foot reaching all the way up the inner leg to the abdomen continuing up to lengthen the neck and to the crown of the head.

So the left side of my core/powerhouse/center was not doing its fair share of the work. Well this solved a bunch of ‘Pilates mysteries' of the “Why can't I…?” variety, but sadly it does not make me like the Snake on the Reformer even a weensy bit more.

Please realize that an involved discussion of fascia is not really my gig. I note my experience here as just one example of the depth of information, discovery and jewels that abound within Joe Pilates' original method.

2-way stretch, yo

The anatomy of movement differs from a study of medical static anatomy. I do not promote an ignorance of the formal study of anatomy, but it does not apply in the same ways to a body in motion as it does to address specific joints, muscles or tissues in a medical setting.

The 2-way stretch is the hallmark of a body engaged in movement. In actuality there are numerous oppositional forces in play during your Pilates workout.

2-Way Stretch and the Anatomy of Pilates

I am a big fan of the 2-way stretch intrinsic to the Pilates Method. So useful, yummy, simple and satisfying, it gives you a particular way of looking at your body in motion.

The above animation illustrates only 2 examples of the oppositional forces reaching in the body. Often a complex exercise will have 4- and 5-way stretch if you will  – Think Star on the Reformer…or Star anywhere, really…

Teaching the 2-way Stretch

A client of mine, Janet, a former registered nurse, is trained in human anatomy. She marvels that the oppositional forces of the body in motion are quite tangible and yet unexpected given her education in the musculoskeletal systems.

Janet remarks that her knowledge of the traditional anatomy with regard to the individual muscle groups, their function and insertion points is a completely different animal to the anatomy of movement she is finding within the Pilates exercises.

It feels totally different. It feels like the insertion points for the tendons and ligaments aren't there, the energy [of the lower body] just flows all the way down to my feet, without the different muscles being involved. This is a whole body thing as opposed to picking out an individual muscle group.

I feel like I am using my whole body together and as a result everything works much better. It just flows.

No wonder Jay Grimes has been telling me for years:

“Whatever you're looking for, it's in there.

Movement heals. Share your experience in a comment below. What has Pilates done for you lately? 

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  1. Excellent article Andrea!! Keep em comin……..the just keep getting better and better……

  2. How amazingly coincidental that you posted this Andrea! I pulled out my copy of Myers book on Saturday after working thru a few of my own spiral line “kinks” with the barrel and later with resistance bands in the pool.

    Love that book and the crystallization it gave me (was like a huge lightbulb at the time, circa 2007, when I found the theory) for going deeper into my own movement mechanics and resultant work with others.

    As always, you hit the nail on the head. Love you

  3. Gina,

    I love the serendipity you shared – so exciting when that happens, when our practice, our thoughts, our bodies are in alignment. That book is a fascinating resource.

    Thank you so much for reading, being awesome, and *gosh* sending me love on a Monday morning!

    Have a wonderful Pilates week 🙂

  4. Keep putting the pieces of the puzzle together Andrea. Fascinating how your body has adapted to the challenges of childhood surgery. Anatomy Trains rocks, I have recommended the book to many clients who love to nerd out on what is happening in their bodies.

    • Thank you so much Jon. Pilates is such an informative journey. I also talk with clients about what valuable information Pilates exercises give us about our bodies…at times surprising information or challenging info for the ego – LOL.

      Thank you so much for reading and sharing your thoughtful comments 🙂

  5. Nicole Marcione says

    I love Anatomy Trains! I have always wanted to take some of Myer’s workshops, but just haven’t had the time. Fascia is SO interesting!

  6. It’s really true – it’s all connected!! Thanks so much for reading, Nicole and for sharing your thoughts 🙂 Miss you!

  7. This is my favorite kind of post – body sleuthing at its best! I had the fascia light bulb come on during a Holistic Biomechanics class but I’ve yet to dig into Anatomy Trains, it’s on my short TO DO list. In the meanwhile, I’ve been absolutely loving MELTing – it’s clued me into some of my personal unsolved Pilates mysteries. The one that I’ll share here has to do with the importance of fully stretching the leg. I nurse a personal theory that all those years of guarding against hyperextension at the knees have cut us off from the power of fully engaging the line along the back of the legs. I’m big into getting that one activated since it enables me to fully activate the two way stretch and give my back the support that it desperately needs. And I’m pretty sure that it can be a fairly quick lesson, we don’t need to keep our knees and elbows soft forever, what we really need to do is find true and powerful length through our limbs to frame our strength and make us whole.

  8. Oh yes, thank you for sharing this. I too spent years softening my knees so they would not hyperextend…seems to give us a new problem eventually.

    You are so spot on, we lose the reach of the lower body and the extra lengthening out of the entire back line of the back and legs that we so need! A big challenge for me as well.

    Yes, the key is to find that “energy” of the reach through the legs without tense muscular action, but everything working together in balance.

    Well played, my friend, well played 🙂

  9. Andrea – you are a marvel at articulating in a fun and succinct manner so many of the components of Pilates that truly make it magic! Your posts have become one of my favorite “textbooks.” I look forward to each article and savor them all! Thank you for your insight and generosity!! xoxo Joy

    • Joy,

      Thank you so much for your kind words about the blog. It is wildly appreciated. You have always been an extremely vocal supporter via social media and I hope we shall meet one day soon. More on that later…

      Creating this blog has enabled me to further my understanding of the method as well. I often understand experientially but the act of writing has helped me to feel more ownership and confidence. And humor always helps me to not take everything so seriously…Pilates should be play time as well! Who has time to be serious as you roll like a ball? Or not so much like a ball…

      Much love to you,

  10. Hey Andrea. I first learned the term “two-way stretch” a few years ago while working with Jay and Karen. I believe it’s a profound concept. Do you know the origins of the phrase? Is it Jay? I haven’t found it in any of Joe’s writings.

    • Hi Frank:)

      Thanks so much for reading and sharing your comments and questions – I also very much enjoy seeing you on Facebook and when you get to Vintage.

      This is a good question about the origins of the phrase “2-way stretch”. When I first did my training in Washington, DC the studio referred to this concept as “dynamic opposition” so I feel like we are all on the same a page as far as the meaning of the action of the exercises, but in my understanding “2-way stretch” is Jay’s phrase of describing it.

      Let me look into this though when I see Jay and Karen next week…you’ve got me curious…but my gut feeling is that Jay’s experience of the work, teaching it and in his own body led him to describe the method with the term “2-way stretch”.

      I hope we’ll see each other again in the near future:)

  11. Alessandra says

    Having some spare moments this week, I’m delving into your blog archives!!
    This is yet another great post!! When I started my reformer training some 15 years ago, my lovely teacher explained to me that one of the advantages of using the equipment is that it provided ‘opposition ‘ whilst moving, which further helped to find stretch in the exercises. Many years later Samantha (her again!) introduced me to the 2-way stretch concept and I had one of those Pilates a-ha moments and my approach to my practice changed dramatically!! Wow! So this is what it’s all about!! A profound concept indeed!!
    Ever since then I’ve enjoyed #gettingmy2waystretchon
    Also so impressed with your personal journey following your childhood surgery!! You are a shining example of the The Method and what can be achieved!! ????????????????????
    #rockon Andrea xx

    • Hi there –
      Thank you so much for your continued reading and for chatting here with me 🙂 I feel the same way about the concept of 2-way stretch. It is SO helpful. I love that it gives an over-arching objective to all the exercises. When we originally train we learn the purpose of each exercise, but using the 2-way stretch you really have the same goal for everything. Makes for a streamlined focus of your mind when working out I believe. And yes, I just knew that all of the weaknesses along my left side were connected – I was like – wow- that’s a thing! Here’s to working both sides of your powerhouse! xox

  12. HI Andrea,
    What you describe on your left side is exactly what I am experiencing on my right side.
    Were you able to resolve the weakness of the deep front line?

    • Hi James,

      Thank you so much for reading and for reaching out to connect with us here. I am constantly working on all of the deep front line connections in my left side. While it does get much better with time and practice, I think it will always be something that needs maintenance. I have so much more awareness (as I am sure you do as well for your right side) and I build more experience about how to work on it with time and practice as well. So I don’t think it will ever be perfectly fixed (although never say never…) I have newfound awarenesses and strategies which I use today. Do you think this post merits a followup post? I wrote it a while ago and I may be able to share some more specifics that I use to work on it today… let me know your thoughts 🙂 Thanks so much and keep up the good work on your right side! xox

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