6 Crucial Exercises to Survive Pilates Mat Exercises #29/30

6 Crucial Exercises to Survive Pilates Mat Exercises #29/30

This one's for Anouk. Thanks for reading my mind 🙂

First off, these 2 exercises really need new names.

Referring to Mat exercises #29 and #30 is a bit of a kerfuffle:

  • Leg Pull
  • Leg Pull Front
  • Leg Pull Up
  • Leg Pull Down
  • Leg Pull Back

Seriously, WTF?

Joe Pilates named them thusly:

#29: The Leg-Pull – Front

#30: The Leg-Pull

Lately I have found all of these labels supremely unhelpful in the understanding and execution of the exercises.

Frankly, they kinda suck.

Too much emphasis on the ‘Leg' part makes my body unwilling to find its center.

And I could do without the Yoda syntax.

Oh, but I digress…

Yay! A Pilates Project!

The Leg Pull exercises demand the full-on Pilates Project treatment. I've chosen 3 exercises for each of the Leg Pulls to aid us on our quest. Feel free to add/suggest other exercises that speak to you that I may not include here.

(We only have one exercise!)

The plan:

  • Use your stomach to pull your leg into the center.
  • Reach your leg all the while in opposition to your lifting the waist up and out the top of your head.
  • I. Smell. Two. Way. Stretch.

Don't all my plans start with ‘Use your stomach?'

#29 The Leg-Pull – Front

6 Crucial Exercises to Survive Pilates Mat Exercises #29/30

Fave correction to date courtesy of Sandy Shimoda:

6 Crucial Exercises to Survive Pilates Mat Exercises #29/30

Oh, I'm all for it.

1. Long Stretch

6 Crucial Exercises to Survive Pilates Mat Exercises #29/30

In the Long Stretch we find ourselves in the same position as the Leg Pull – Front (LP-F) and on the Reformer it's clear how to use your stomach to move the carriage.

Pay attention to the trunk of your body as the carriage closes and the arms draw in slightly underneath the body.

Feel yourself getting longer and more lifted like the top of your head could reach all the way to the wall in front of you.

Feel your feet firmly attached and “holding onto” the carriage.

This connection to your lower body is what you'll need for the LP-F on the Mat.

Make no mistake: this is a lower body exercise.

2. Tendon Stretch (Footwork series)

6 Crucial Exercises to Survive Pilates Mat Exercises #29/30

This wonderful exercise is a great one to mine all you can out of the low stomach. Give yourself the luxury of working on your Leg Pulls lying down, and use just 2 springs if it's hard to get in touch with your scoop.

In the LP-F, often as the heels reach away the low back can be compromised, the hips can lift, there's no telling what may go on.

In the Tendon Stretch you can work on the control of the back, seat and hips with the feedback of lying down on the carriage.

Grow tall as your heels reach under the footbar with control.

Push into the footbar with the balls of the feet and lift the waistline in and up.

Great control here = greater success for when your hips, back and seat must find the long shape of the LP-F.

3. SideKick Series

6 Crucial Exercises to Survive Pilates Mat Exercises #29/30

Lately my favorite exercise to reference, you can find myriad benefits in the Side Kick series. Here we are faced with a similar challenge as the LP-F, how to keep the back long and solid as one leg moves behind us.


Being on our side offers slightly more feedback about how the back (mis)behaves as we reach our leg behind us.

Keep the trunk of the body long and strong. No wiggling!

Concentrate on the (potentially) wonderful stretch across the front of the hip, thigh and stomach as you control your leg reaching back. A nice reward for keeping the shape of the back solid.

Reach equally into both legs because that's what you'll be faced with in the LP-F.

#30 The Leg-Pull

6 Crucial Exercises to Survive Pilates Mat Exercises #29/30

If you have any tendency whatsoever towards hyperextended joints, nothing dumps you faster into your knees than this exercise.

Ha, Ha, Ha! I dare you to lift one leg, my knees sneer at me.

Finding lift in the back and support from your seat will help keep you above the fray and make you master of your destiny (and of your knees).

1. Shoulder Roll Down/Sari on the Cadillac

6 Crucial Exercises to Survive Pilates Mat Exercises #29/30

You gotta love this exercise: super similar/more manageable to work on the needed strength to reach one leg up without dropping the hips.

Connect your feet into the push-thru bar at every point leading up to when you will lift your hips off the Cadillac. You can do this by pushing into it as it comes toward you.

Don't let it push you.

Control the push-thru bar and you'll get strength and support from your stomach and bottom to stay lifted in the position.

Concentrate on the reach of both legs evenly – the one that will stay on the bar and the one that will reach up.

I know this (almost) goes without saying, but pull your stomach in fiercely as you reach the leg up. Consider it a reach rather than a kick and you'll be halfway to using your stomach already.

2. Double Straight Leg Stretch/Double Leg Lower-Lift

6 Crucial Exercises to Survive Pilates Mat Exercises #29/30

The Double Straight Leg Stretch gives me a great assist in connecting my upper stomach all the way to my toes. In other words, I can really get my lower body connected into my center. Because I simply must. It is this connection that you will need in the Leg Pull. The Double Straight Leg Stretch can make it much more tangible.

Keeping your upper body circled up into the position can be a challenge all by itself. You can find more of your upper stomach and seat here by curling up as though you could “lean” your upper body on your legs as they lower. Almost like the upper body follows the lower body as it moves.

Caution: a will of iron may be necessary!

Really reach the legs long and away from you – keep them light and reaching up, up and away!

You can give yourself an extra help on the inside (your stomach) by increasing your reach away from the center.

3. Table on the Wunda Chair

6 Crucial Exercises to Survive Pilates Mat Exercises #29/30

The Table on the Wunda Chair is yet another gem in the ‘Lower Body Exercise' department. I must note that all of the exercises I have included here with the Leg Pulls – as well as the Leg Pulls themselves are lower body exercises. This theme in Pilates truly deserves its own post as I have spent years trying to do these exercises with my upper body – well maybe not all of them…

See what you think.

When you begin to lift into the position for the Table, is your first move to shift backward and push with your arms?


Now let's focus on the lower body. Gather your stomach and seat and reach your knees away from you and forward as you lift up into the position. Shift more forward than you think necessary and you'll have your shoulders right over your wrists.

Worst-case scenario, the pedal goes down. No big deal, thank God it's not Opening Night 🙂

If you have managed to keep the pedal closed, your feet on the pedal will feel like they are way behind and underneath you.

That's a whole boatload of work to do. Let's make pumping the pedal optional.

Make a strong Table position first.

So many exercises, so little time…

Even as I finish up this post my mind swarms with other potentially helpful exercises…

Have a go.

See what you might add to the list as we work steadily toward our goal of Leg Pull Virtuosity.

You're awesome. Thanks for reading!

Share your successes in a comment below.

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  1. Hello Andrea – Firstly I should just like to say that I didn’t include my web address as I need to work and update the site.
    My comments on the leg pull exercises are as follows :-
    I noticed in nearly all the pictures that the shoulders are raised. This could be the fault of the picture of course. However, when the shoulders are lifted the transfers muscles and the lower abdominal muscles cannot be engaged. This could be part of the problem when you say that you cannot feel your core being engaged. Pulling down the shoulders by using your shoulder blades will nearly always engages the core in all Pilates exercises. In fact the shoulders should never be raised as they do not add anything to the benefits of Pilates Method of Exercises. What is more when trying to improve posture this is of prime importance. I always emphasise the lowering of shoulders, the lengthening of the neck and the flattening of the shoulder blades at the beginning of my classes.
    Hope this helps,

    • Anne, thank you for reading and sharing your comments. Ah, the perils of writing/photographing exercises that are challenging for me! You are exactly right. My upper body, including the shoulders, always wants to do more work than my lower body and the photos you see are a reflection of just that challenge. I am on the case and sometimes I win a battle or two, but alas I have not yet won the war. But every day more and more connection. That is the beauty of Pilates, always something to work on 🙂

  2. Laetecia Kahn says

    Wow, wow, thx 4 the lovely blog info. Blows my mind how many excersises we can do in pilates and it will never see an ending

    • Exactly! A little Jay Grimes for you: “Pilates is an endless journey. It can be a wonderful journey but it never ends.” You hit it! Thanks so much for reading and for sharing your comments 🙂

  3. Great post, Andrea; thank you, as always! God, if I could only keep my (highly mobile, flexible, and expressive) shoulders down, life would be so much easier. 🙂 You always explain opposition so clearly…thanks for that!

    • Thank you so much Lisa! I love your comments – I feel all the different eras of my life converging in a wonderful Pilates way 🙂 Hey I will be in your town very soon – let me know if you want the deets…and thanks for the kind words about the wide wide world of oppositional forces – use the force!

  4. Great poses! I wouldn’t mind if I could survive those crucial exercises. Nice work and thanks for posting. – Susie

    • Thanks so much Susie – I know. With some exercises, it’s all about the survival! Thank you for reading and sharing your thoughts 🙂

      • Just reading this post has made it clear why I struggle with leg pull and shoulder roll down and shoulder bridge. They’re all the same problem.

        More Table on the chair coming up!

        • Hello!

          This is a wonderful connection you have made! I couldn’t have put it better myself. I find myself thinking that same thing often as I am steadily working especially on skills that do not come easily – OMG here is that same thing again! Well done and thank you so much for sharing your struggles and questions and thoughts here. Cheers to you! xo Andrea

  5. Thank you for these wise words lady!! I’ve got some work to do, looking forward to it… Judging from the comments, we’re not the only ones struggling 😉

  6. Nice! Exactly what I was researching; I bailed out of the Leg Pull recently (ok, I always bail out of it) during a mat sesh. My backward hyper knees like, seriously will not let my other leg raise. My mind says: “raise thy legeth upward” but it is cemented. to. the. mat. No matter how tight I squeeze the bum and engage the abs, I can not raise my leg. It makes me giggle every time I try it. Do you think one could modify by slightly bending the other leg while the other one raises? Or is that completely defeating the purpose and strengthening benefits of the Leg Pull?…yeah, I bet it is. hmmm

    • Hi Corrie!
      Ok, there is a lovely Cadillac exercise that we will work on that will help your Leg Pull Front. I feel you – I have a little of that too -just concentrate on the seat and not hanging in the knees in the 2 leg version without the kicks for a while to build strength.

      Plus we will add the Cadillac exercise. You are spot on with the need for length in this one – and I love that you answered your own question 🙂 Pilates… #thingsthatmakeyougohmmm

      Pilates love to you!

  7. Hi Andrea,
    I was directed to this post while trying to FINALLY figure out the correct name of “Shoulder Roll Down.” Is that the true name? Is it also called Parakeet? And, as an extension of the exercise, when you roll up and hold onto the bar, is that Reverse Monkey? I’ve heard many different names and would like to be able to tell my clients confidently the names of these exercises. I’d really appreciate your help!

    • Hi Kiley – thanks for reading and sharing your comments and questions. These are very good questions and I will tell you what I know.

      I learned the exercise that for now we’ll call “Shoulder Roll Down” under the name “The Sari” named after Romana’s daughter. There is a story I have heard that Joe Pilates created the exercise for her as she needed to work her feet and she had a delicate neck. I cannot vouch for the truth to this story, but this is what I have been told.

      I believe Romana created a similar yet different exercise which was called “Parakeet” – I personally did not learn this exercise at all under any name. I believe the feet are together on the bar for “Parakeet” and it is a different exercise where the hips stay up as the legs bend and straighten? I seem to recall people saying Romana would give this exercise to people that needed to work their bottom.

      The exercise you describe as “Reverse Monkey” I think I learned as “Seated Tower”. I think Kathi Ross Nash calls it that. But “Reverse Monkey” makes sense too. In my training I learned this as more of an optional transitioning exercise between “Shoulder Roll Down” and the “Push Thru” not as a distinct separate exercise.

      I will do some digging as well – I bet Mejo Wiggin could answer this question as well. She may have more info on the creation of the exercise and the “Parakeet”. I will see what I can do 🙂

      Thanks again for being an awesome Pilates person. All best to you!

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