One Sure-Fire Way to Backbend in Pilates

2013: Teaching the Work

I received an email from Vintage Pilates which included my assignment for the first workshop in March. Yikes! Right around the corner. The first workshop will focus on all of the exercises in the system that were not included in The Work (of 2012 fame). BTW these are all the super advanced exercises. Jay expects us to “at least be able to do them badly.” No prob.

To the Reformer!

One Sure-Fire way to Backbend in Pilates

My carriage awaits…

I planned to workout on the Reformer today after work…lots of luck to me on that one. But thanks to a late cancellation I finished my day at 4pm.

“O frabjous day! I chortled in my joy…”

Now I actually stand a chance of kicking my own ass, uh, I mean lying down on that Reformer. That’s when I saw the email from Karen at Vintage…motivational, yes?

Ok, let’s get to it!


Somewhere post-Snake/Twist and in the midst of the Backbend with the Straps, Long Spine and the High Bridge, a coworker’s statement from years ago suddenly popped into my mind: “There aren’t enough backbends in Pilates.” On the Reformer, mid-Corkscrew I actually laughed out loud. My God, there’s a backbend every frickin' time I turn around (literally).

Am I missing something here?

One Sure-Fire Way to Backbend in Pilates: It's in There!

Hamstring Stretch

A few years ago I actually asked Jay Grimes about this perception of Pilates. “What’s up with people saying that Pilates lacks anything?” Maybe I loved Pilates too much to view it objectively anymore. Maybe it “lacked twisting” (another complaint I heard) for a real reason that was part of Joe’s genius. But I felt bad even asking the question.

Please, Jay, don’t think I am suggesting that Pilates is deficient in some way…

Jay calmly held up a list of Reformer exercises. “If you can do all this, you will not be lacking in ANYTHING. (he may have shook the paper at me) Whatever you are looking for in Pilates. It’s in there.”

One Sure-Fire Way to Backbend in Pilates: It's in There!

It’s In There

I really loved this answer. The more you dig deep into Pilates there is always more stuff in there than you imagined there would be. “There is not enough twisting in the Pilates Method.” It’s in there. “There is too much flexion.” This one seems to be the same gripe as the not enough backbends nonsense. Those peeps really need to get together.  Backbends anyone? It’s in there.

How many backbends can you find?

Here we go: Pulling straps, What are you doing between teasers? Breaststroke, Stomach massage #2, The tree for God’s sake, Thigh Stretch, Backbends, Snake, Backbend with the Straps, High Bridge, Knee Stretches #2, Side Splits, Star…and that is just the Reformer. That’s at least 5 and potentially 9 backbends of varying degrees in an hour, not too shabby.

Stay tuned for more places to find backbends: I smell Spine Corrector…

One Sure-Fire Way to Backbend in Pilates


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  1. don’t forget swan on the reformer and mat and chair!

    • Yes! I am having sort of an epiphany right now about Swan on the Barrel… and Swan Dive on the Spine Corrector…do you like that one as well? If you have not tried, it is pretty fun…and you really find out if you have a powerhouse 🙂

  2. “Maybe it “lacked twisting” for a real reason that was part of Joe’s genius.”

    I would love to know what you mean by that if you wouldn’t mind! Thank you!

    • Hi Theodora,

      Thanks for reading and for sharing your question – I am happy to clarify.

      My above statement refers to another comment from a colleague/Pilates person that I heard years ago – that the Pilates system is great, but it does not include enough rotation (twisting) according to this individual.

      I was hesitant to believe that the Pilates system was lacking in anything, but I also know that what IS in the system is very methodical and purposeful, so I thought perhaps this supposed “lack of twisting” served a particular purpose, and if so what was it?

      This is what I am referring to in the statement you quoted in your comment. I now believe that twisting is a complicated and sophisticated thing to do with strength and symmetry, and so it is layered gradually into the exercises, but oh boy is it there!

      Again thanks for sharing! Cheers to you 🙂

      • Thanks Andrea! I think that’s the statement that the Gyrotonic was based on! So most Pilates instructors who are also certified in Gyro are maybe perpetuating that statement?

        Though I still would like to know what purpose you think it serves not having too many twisting exercises (I agree that it’s not lacking in anything, but it does seem that twisting is less frequent–and more pronounced I would add!). Do you see any dangers in it for example? What could those be? Considering that JP was a guy, and that twisting is essential for working the waist in a female figure, maybe he did overlook it slightly (even the criss-cross is not in the original series!).

        • I did not think of the gyrotonic angle, actually, hmmm…

          As I understand it, the Pilates exercises are exaggerated versions of our everyday movements, so the twisting exercises are all about our reaching out to get to things – up and behind you over and across the body, etc… In the workout the twisting is layered in over a foundation of lift and strength in the back, progressing from easier to more challenging. I would think with back strength and flexibility so prominent in the method, that twisting would be appealing to Joe Pilates as a man as well.

          Your question is really making me think – I must say 🙂 Perhaps some twisting gets omitted from the method for people that have not built up sufficient strength and control? And therefore it has developed into a truncated set of exercises in some studios? This is purely speculation on my part…but sort of thinking along the lines of leaving out exercises you don’t like for yourself…and then you forget they exist for your clients?

          Great food for thought – thank you so much for reading and joining the conversation here. Cheers to you!

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