Pilates Reformer Exercise #23: The Long Back Stretch

Pilates Reformer Exercise #23: The Long Back Stretch

My favorite aspect of a Pilates workout is definitely the use of the 2-way stretch.

What is that exactly?

The 2-way stretch is used to describe the action of each and every Pilates exercise: a long oppositional reach away from a strong center, epitomized by the Double Leg Pull on the Mat.

Using the 2-way stretch serves our workout by giving us an over-arching goal or premise for all the exercises. In Teacher Training programs we learn the purpose(s) of each individual exercise: to open the chest, to correct posture, to stretch the hip, etc…

With the 2-way stretch we create a singular focus for every exercise.

In this manner I believe we are working diligently toward the major tenet of Joe Pilates' indispensable method: the strength and suppleness of the spine.

If your spine is inflexibly stiff at 30, you are old.

If it is completely flexible at 60, you are young.

Our Pilates workout enables us to defy gravity which is insistent on compressing our bodies.

2-way Stretch Primer

It may be confusing to discern the specifics of each of our oppositional forces. Let's take a closer look:

Upper Body Reach: essentially the lift of the entire trunk of the body, the upper body reach originates in the low waist and continues up and out the fingertips. Think of all the Short Box exercises to enhance your posture.

Lower Body Reach: beginning at the upper stomach/mid back and reaching all the way down through the tailbone and to the toes. Think about all the exercises in which the lower body is extended out and away from the body: Hundred, Leg Circles, Teaser, etc…

I remember being super psyched when I could consistently achieve the reach of the Upper Body, connecting the arms and shoulders into the back.

Sweet! One more reach to go.

Alas, the Lower Body Reach, literally the lion's share of the body, proved harder to wrangle and repeat.

That pretty much sums up my Pilates workout.

Wrangle. Repeat.

We Only Have One Exercise

Given our premise that all the Pilates exercises are different versions of each other I enjoy finding one exercise that truly speaks to my body right now.

I call this a touchstone exercise.

Our iconic touchstone exercise is the Double Leg Pull.

In recent weeks I have enjoyed other touchstone exercises for my workout including the Stomach Massage, Thigh Stretch and Frog.

The Epitome of the Lower Body Reach

Enter the Long Back Stretch.

Gosh I even like the name of this exercise!

The Long Back Stretch is one of the more challenging exercises in the Long Stretch Series on the Reformer. Although the Up Stretch and the Elephant are also isolating the lower body, I find the Long Back Stretch to be the most tangible way for me to find it.

Sometimes with the harder exercises we have to suck it up more to accomplish them. Also in the Long Back Stretch we are upright and have a better vantage point to watch our body move and will it to succeed.


What's really going on here?

First of all – and I can't emphasize it enough – the Long Back Stretch is not an arm exercise.

Yes, your arms are working, your whole body is working, but it is the lower body that must do the heavy lifting here.

Some key points for Long Back Stretch success:

  • Firmly plant your heels into the shoulder blocks of the Reformer.
  • If your knees like to lock out – like mine do – watch them like a hawk while you do this exercise. If you can see what you're doing in an exercise, you should pay attention.
  • When the carriage is out and you must raise or lower your position (depending on whether you are doing the first direction or the reverse) KEEP THE CARRIAGE STILL. This is where the magic happens and you'll feel the 2-way stretch most deliciously!

Enjoy this video tutorial on the Long Back Stretch.

I'll go over the key points mentioned above plus I'll try out our new Long Back Stretch skills on a couple Mat and Reformer exercises to see what happens.

Got questions? Leave me a comment and let's chat about one of my favorite subjects: the lower body.

Thanks for watching!

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  1. Great Andrea!
    I just got my Skype lesson with Amy and she was saying exactly what it said. And yes to feeling and thinking what my body need today is my work. But also having your blog that is helping me a lot more to understand how the body works! And also to show on the mat too because I will not be able for the first months to have my equipment. So thanks for the time to made this blog for all of us. I am sure a lot of are more connected thanks you!

    • Luz!

      I have been thinking about you and se nice to have a chat here. Thank you for your kind words on the blog – so glad to know you enjoyed the last post and found it to be helpful. I hope we can see each other soon! xox

  2. Hey Andrea, Haha I am sure this blog was done for me???? very helpful and will keep finding my 2 way stretch, see you Wednesday????

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