Fundamental Pilates Reformer Exercises: Kneeling Knee Stretches

Fundamental Pilates Reformer Exercises: Kneeling Knee StretchesFundamental Pilates Reformer Exercises: Kneeling Knee Stretches

I'm thrilled to share a short video tutorial on a fundamental Pilates Reformer Exercise Series: the Kneeling Knee Stretch Series.

The Kneeling Knee Stretch Series includes 3 exercises: Round, Arched and Knees Off.

This series is perhaps the most intricate and sophisticated task you'll require of your beginning student.

There's a lot going on.

Even before one achieves the third exercise in the series, Knees Off, the coordination of what is moving and what should not be moving can be considerable.

Some key points to keep in mind:

  • Remember these are lower body exercises.
  • Now remember that everyone including yours truly will grab that Footbar and push with their arms.
  • Ok, GO!

Know that at first, these positions will not be perfect. They may be downright noisy.

Don't let it ruffle your feathers.

Work to keep the student safe and moving.

The Kneeling Knee Stretch Series is giving them stamina and endurance even if at first you can't tell if they are doing the Round one or the Arched one.

Position your student (and yourself) for success

If your body position is strong you've got a good chance of using the right muscles.

Sometimes it's helpful to start with the position only of the 3 exercises in the series (without doing the repetitions).

Presumably the new student is gaining strength in all the other Reformer, Mat and extra exercises you have chosen for him. Let the system do its magic while he refines the positions of this complex series.

After a few weeks, he will have more strength in his body, more precision in the Knee Stretch positions and then you'll add on.

Position 1: Round

Fundamental Pilates Reformer Exercises: Kneeling Knee Stretches

Get in there and use your hands if you have to.

Lift him up just like he was in the Elephant exercise. Now to move to Position 2, keep his hips still and allow him to lengthen into the new back shape.

Position 2: Arched

Fundamental Pilates Reformer Exercises: Kneeling Knee Stretches

I like to imagine that my tailbone and my sternum are reaching long away from each other and my belly is staying lifted in and up out of my waist.

Use lift!

Now in preparation for lifting up the knees, let's return to the round position of Position 1.

Position 3: Round + Knees Off

Fundamental Pilates Reformer Exercises: Kneeling Knee Stretches

Granted this is hard. It takes a robust powerhouse to haul yourself up off the carriage in a still position.

He'll get used to it. And he'll get better

(I've also got a helpful sneaky trick if necessary).

Perfect these positions first. He'll use his muscles to improve the shape of each exercise in the series.

Depending on the body in front of you it can be a great strategy to first learn the body positions more precisely and then work the repetitions.

A strong body position will help keep the stamina in this series and keep the body position solid.

Use that Reformer for some help dammit!

In the Kneeling Knee Stretch Series Joe Pilates has really upped the ante of our fundamental exercises.

This is not Footwork. No lying down in this series.

Now, especially for the Knees Off, you have only the hands and feet in contact with the Reformer.

We must use this to our advantage.

Remember when I said we all just want to push with our arms?

In this series I find it helpful to really stand in your feet.


Check it out when you are up there – and you've got 10 repetitions so you've got time – notice where the weight of your body is.

All your weight should not be on your arms.

The lower body should be supporting your weight.

How we use the connections to the apparatus – especially when it's only the hands and feet – can help tremendously.

The Hand Position

My Footbar is naked.

It's fantastic!

The diameter of the Footbar is significant. On an unpadded bar you can really use your grip to enliven all sorts of muscles in your back and center.

If you find this to be painful, perhaps it is the Reformer telling you that you are in the wrong position and you've got too much pressure on your hands. Shift your weight into the lower body and maybe your powerhouse will hurt more.

And that's okay 🙂

Grip the Footbar with all of your fingers and thumb on the outside of the Footbar. Make sure the smallest fingers are gripping too, they are a direct connection to your back muscles and the strength of your lifted position.

Fundamental Pilates Reformer Exercises: Kneeling Knee Stretches

The Foot Position

The Shoulder Rests on the Gratz Reformer have a contour to them that reflects the shape of the bottom of the foot. It is also tall enough that one's whole foot including the heel can have contact.

This detail is important for the Knee Stretch Series in particular as well as other exercises in the system.

The foot position is helpful for the exercise AND for the longevity of our feet. All the toes should bend and be on the carriage if possible (which will keep them supple till you're 90) and the bottom of the foot should press against the Shoulder Rest.

Fundamental Pilates Reformer Exercises: Kneeling Knee Stretches

Even the littlest toes – which may not want to get into place – are significant to use your muscles properly in these exercises. Go ahead and take your time to put them into place and see what you think.

Now for that sneaky transition to Knees Off…

When building proficiency in the Kneeling Knee Stretch Series, the transition from Position 2: Arched into the lift up for Position 3: Knees Off can be a challenge.

I've got a couple tips to help the lift go more smoothly.

The Elephant Transition

At first, depending on the body in front of you, it may be helpful to lower the body into the Knees Off position from above. This transition can help the student feel more confident and find the position of the body in the air with more ease.

For now.

  • Stand up and place yourself as you would for the Elephant, however your heels will be up on the shoulder rests.
  • Lift the ribs up and point the butt down toward the carriage.
  • Lower the knees toward the mat as much as you can for now.
  • And Go!

The Transition on the Go

This transition is my favorite when you are working well in the series and focusing on moving and tempo.

By the time you must lift yourself up for the Knees Off, Joe Pilates has taught you (in the previous exercises Round and Arched) how to close the carriage 20 times.

I believe this is not a coincidence.

When you return the carriage for the final time in the Arched position use your scoop that's controlling the carriage to round your back into Position 3 and lift the Knees Off!


My personal Pilates mantra…for right now

Remember our old friend?

Fundamental Pilates Reformer Exercises: Kneeling Knee StretchesYes, length is always the answer!

Personally I must work to get out of my legs in this series and into my stomach and butt.

I find length and the 2-way stretch to come to my rescue each and every time.

Enjoy this week's vlog!

The Kneeling Knee Stretch Series is an exercise series that's jam packed with Pilates goodness. These 3 exercises build stamina, endurance, foot and knee flexibility, strength in the lower body and seat. They are also one of our first introductions to rhythm and flow.

Oh dear, do I hear another favorite calling my name?

Thanks so much for watching.

Questions? Leave me a comment and let's have a chat.

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  1. Strong work Gail! Great tutorial Andrea! Envisioning my hands simply resting on the bar during Short Box def took the work out of the arms when in the Knee Stretches…pushing through the pinky finger (and toe) helped even more! I also really saw with Gail’s demo that the 2nd position “arched” isn’t really arched at all; it’s more of a lengthen and reach with your back which allows the neck to stay in line. Right? Today, I didn’t “arch” but instead just lengthened, this allowed more push from the feet, the bum to stay downward and a much more connected feeling. 3rd, “knees off”…still trying to conquer this guy but I will say “pulling knees into chest” is a very helpful que to keep one in the stomach 🙂 Super fun, full-on post! Thanks, xo

    • Thanks so much for watching Corrie – and yes, the 2nd position is long in the low back and the arch is in the upper back. Gail and I both work really hard to find arch in the upper back without dumping in the low back – and as always, length is the answer 🙂 And the hand and foot positions are key to finding your muscles to help you. So glad you enjoyed this post and that it helped – look forward to seeing you on Friday! xo

  2. Good stuff, Andrea! Thanks! ????????????
    And yes, Camps in my future. Need to hold down the fort for now, but will travel when I can. Hope you’re well!

    • Thank you so much Lisa – lovely to chat with you here. I get it – must hold the fort as much as possible and whenever you get to LA it will be extra fantastic to see you! Hope you are well too and have a great week! xo

  3. Alessandra says

    Another very useful and interesting blog post, thanks! ????
    And a great video tutorial too! And we’ll done Gail!! I positively rushed to my reformer to play along with you! I too really found your detail on hand and feet position really useful. I seemed to find that when I had myself set up correctly, connecting to my feet and hands (especially little toes and finger, which seem to get a bit neglected by me!) then the movement of the bit in between i.e.the rest of the body, felt stronger and more connected. So yay!! Am thinking #gettingmy2waystretchon again!!
    As a suggestion, Would be great to have a tutorial on the short box series….these exercises seem to be my nemesis at the moment???? !! I feel a bit as though I’m just waving around in the air when I attempt them???? With little support from my trusted reformer, except the box and a pesky strap!!
    As always, #pilatesgeeksunite #rockon Andrea ♥️♥️????????

    • Alessandra – excellent work – you are correct, the hand and foot positions can really pinpoint all the muscles we need to find success in the exercises…hello 2 way stretch! And yes, thank you for the suggestion – I have written several posts about the Short Box, but I have not really done a video tutorial on it, so that’s a fantastic suggestion and I’m already getting excited about it. You must know by now of my deep DEEP love for the Short Box. I totally feel you about the waving around part in that series LOL.
      Thanks so much for chatting here – as well as your sweet emails to me – can’t wait to see you again in person! #pilatesgeekouting xox

      • Alessandra says

        Thanks for your reply! I’ll search out your posts about the short box…
        Meanwhile looking forward to seeing you in LA!!


        • Alessandra says

          Hello again
          Thanks for directing me to your post on the short box. How can I have missed that?!
          Been practising this week #pilatesgeek and found your mention of the lower body very useful!! I found that if I direct my attention to really grounding my seat on that solid box and reaching my legs into that pesky strap then this really allows me to then LIFT my upper body and reach up and away into the space above me!! Yay!! So now I feel less like I’m just blowing in the breeze up there!!
          #gettingmytwowaystretchon !! ????
          I’ve still some way to go, but practice, practice, practice ???? #rockon Andrea!!
          Still looking forward to my LA visit!

          • Hi Alessandra,
            Sounds like you did some good hard sweaty work on your Short Box series – that all sounds wonderful! I just filmed my video tutorial on it this weekend – I want to add a bit more to it but stay tuned – looks like you found the Double Leg Pull in it – a little 2-way stretch to give a help when you need it most: on the Short Box!! Me too. looking forward to seeing you in the FLESH 🙂 xox

  4. Juli Winters says

    Well done, as always, Andrea!
    I struggle to get my clients out of their legs and into their stomachs on knees off and this helped me so much! Thanks!

    • Julie,

      Thanks so much for reading and sharing your thoughts here. I too find this to be a challenging series to teach to our clients and have them do it well. I am so happy you found it helpful. Cheers to you and have a great week 🙂

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