Strategies for a Tight Low Back: Getting to the Bottom of It

Strategies for a Tight Low Back: Getting to the Bottom of It

Thanks for joining me in the 4th and potentially last installment of this series exploring components and strategies for finding length in the low back.

Welcome new subscribers!

It’s lovely to have you.

In the first installment of this series we looked at 2 major skills which create a long, open and strong low back: the engagement of the ribs (a gateway to the opening of the middle back) and the crucial use of the seat.

The second post in this series examined the first of the oppositional forces: the skill of finding the ribs/upper stomach.

In the third post I answer a subscriber question about finding length in the low back in one of our most infamous Pilates exercises, the Teaser! Check it out.

This week we’ll look at the 2nd oppositional force – often an elusive one to find  – and discuss strategies for finding and engaging…

the bottom.

Our seat.

Popo (Romana's word).

Butt (Jay's word).

Derriere. Buttocks.

And away we go!

Full Disclosure

For me, the seat struggle is real.

I am happy to share with you some of the exercises and strategies that have helped me wrangle my popo in my Pilates workout.

It's just so easy to randomly squeeze the bottom, but remember we're after an oppositional force here…so the name of the game is a familiar one:

Strategies for a Tight Low Back: Getting to the Bottom of It

That being said, it's really just the lowest, underneath part of the bottom we're after.

It's my hope that you'll find each of the following exercises as helpful as I have found them.

Here's to a high bottom and a supple low back 🙂

Footwork/Pumping on the Chairs

Strategies for a Tight Low Back: Getting to the Bottom of ItStrategies for a Tight Low Back: Getting to the Bottom of It

Let's begin at the beginning.

Lying onto the Reformer to begin the Footwork we will warm up the lower body. But how to use the center far more than the legs can be challenging.

On the Gratz Reformer you can use 2 springs only – or even drop down to just 1 spring – and find more of your stomach and seat without the legs leaping at the chance to fight some springs.

This is one option and a great place to start.

However, we need several strategies here to outsmart our bum.

Taking the Footwork vertical on the Chairs is an advantageous shake-up for the body. Control the pedal up with your seat and stomach and your bottom will soon be on fire!

Standing Pumping!

Strategies for a Tight Low Back: Getting to the Bottom of ItStrategies for a Tight Low Back: Getting to the Bottom of It

Another of my favorite vertical options for finding the seat, the Standing Pumping gives you 2 more places to find the seat exercise that's perfect for you.

And some exercises may speak to you (and your seat…) more than others…

On the Wunda Chair you can start with a lighter spring – the same strategy we employed for our Footwork on the Reformer. I like to use 2 springs on the bottom, and then as you get stronger and find the seat more efficiently you can change to the heavier spring setting of 1 top + 1 bottom.

On the Wunda Chair you must balance on your own.

On the High Chair the spring is considerable, but you do have a nice place to hold onto and gather yourself (and your butt).

Try this exercise on both of these apparatuses and see what will work best for you.

When pressing the pedal down, hold it down for a moment and distribute your weight evenly on both legs. This will help you find the seat on both sides, the working leg and the standing leg.

We need a better distinction than ‘working leg' I think…I mean, what's not working?


Single Leg Spring on the Cadillac

Strategies for a Tight Low Back: Getting to the Bottom of itStrategies for a Tight Low Back: Getting to the Bottom of it

Leg Springs on the Cadillac have been one of my most hated exercises. I know I have professed to love them now, but it has taken me nearly 16 years to feel like I do them even reasonably well.

It has been a combination of the Single Leg Springs on the Cadillac and the Spine Corrector that has made all the difference for me.

The Single Leg Springs are a great way to whittle away at overworking legs and hips in the Leg Spring Series. These are simple exercises that pack a big wallup connection-wise.

I like the spring coming from the opposite side, but you can use the spring on the same side too.

I also enjoy using the lighter arm springs for a while because I know my strong leg muscles will want to fight the heavier spring.

Using the lighter springs will allow my legs to chill out and pretend we are on the Spine Corrector!

There are 4 parts that I find to be effective:

  • Frog-ish – the leg goes out and in – a la Frog – but the orientation of the leg is parallel, therefore Frog-ish
  • Straight Leg Lower Lift – the Walking and the Scissors build on this one
  • Bicycle – this one builds on the skills of the previous 2.
  • Single Leg Circle – yup. Just like on the mat. Great for peeps that don't use their stomach when they do it on the mat…

Thigh Stretch

Strategies for a Tight Low Back: Getting to the Bottom of It

Think of this one less like an exercise and more like a way of life.

Strategies for a Tight Low Back: Getting to the Bottom of It

The Thigh Stretch is a recipe for finding length in the front AND the back.

Strategies for a Tight Low Back: Getting to the Bottom of It

And we find this exercise ALL OVER THE STUDIO.

Strategies for a Tight Low Back: Getting to the Bottom of It

There's an appropriate Thigh Stretch for everyone.

Wow. Something for everyone?

What a system!

We also find ourselves in the position of Thigh Stretch in countless other exercises: Chest Expansion, Semi Circle, anything done kneeling really, anything on the stomach…you see where this is going…

The Thigh Stretch is a lesson in how to negotiate this body position.

It's the verticality of the Thigh Stretch that helps me to find length.


It's truly a combination of my 2 favorite Pilates words: Lift and Length.

So for your next Thigh Stretch play with both of these: lift up in the waist and lengthen the tailbone down toward the apparatus.

The verticality + up in front + down in back = some sign of life from your bottom.

Seize the day!

Wait for it… the awareness will build over time and you will become master of your own popo.

And wouldn't you know I can't say enough about the Thigh Stretch?

The Spine Corrector

Strategies for a Tight Low Back: Getting to the Bottom of it

Thank you so SO much Joseph Pilates for your brilliant invention the Spine Corrector.

The Spine Corrector is one-stop-shopping for your body.

It also covers everything mentioned in this post!

Need a thigh stretch? We've got it here.

Trouble finding your bottom? Welcome…

Need to open up the low back?

Yup. This is the place.

Every time I use my Spine Corrector I think “My God, why do I not do this every day??”

Oh yeah, it's that good.

Always remember the purpose of the Spine Corrector apparatus.

It's nice to play on and do lots of things…but it's genius at what it does best: opening up the back (correcting the spine). Opening opening opening…the front and the back.

Strategies for a Tight Low Back: Getting to the Bottom of it

Big kisses to you JP.

Have some tips to share to get your butt in gear?

Leave me a comment and let's have a chat!

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  1. Great article Andrea! I’ve “done” the spine corrector and leg springs for many years, but I “experienced” them for the first time this past weekend at summer camp! Having had that mind and body connection is what being a student is all about! Keep inspiring! C

    • Thank you so much Carmen 🙂 I hope I’ll get to see you in LA today – I know what you mean – I find I intellectually understand the exercises for years and then there is the moment when the body fully experiences the exercise and we truly UNDERSTAND… And that’s what’s great about always being a student – keep up the good work! xo

  2. The word “Popo” is German for “buttocks”. So Romana most probably got it from Master Joe himself 😉

    • Hey thanks for the info Oriane! I never heard that, but yay! so excited to know 🙂 thanks for being an awesome reader and for sharing your thoughts here. Have a great week!

  3. Your article is very helpful, who feels uncomfortable with spine.
    We are a team of experts who provides pilates training in dubai. Somebody who visit Dubai and love to attend pilates classes you can decently suggest us.
    For more details please visit our website : Exhale Dubai

    • Thanks so much for reading and for sharing your comments here. There is fantastic Pilates in Dubai – also my colleague Susanna Foustok at Pure Pilates. Have a good week!

  4. Alessandra says

    Hello from hot sweaty London!!
    We’re having a heatwave over here (preparing me for my forthcoming trip!) and I was most definitely having my own heatwave in my studio trying to get to the bottom of your fabulous moves!! I dug out my wunda chair and found my seat???? Now I think I’ve sussed out how to find LIFT on my seat!! I’d forgotten totally about the gorgeous thigh stretch- how could I ????- and I have already admitted my love affair with Mr Spiney C and single leg springs! So yay!! My butt and I thank you for that Andrea!! This also, of course, answers my hip flexor conundrum !! ????????
    I also really like pelvic lift on the reformer for a hip flexor stretching and seat finding exercise..
    So many exercises, so little time! ????
    #rockon #pilatesrocks ????
    Many thanks to you xoxo

    • Alessandra – this all sounds fantastic! You have been hard at work during your heat wave – it has been hot here as well, yesterday afternoon I felt like I was sweating more than my client LOL. So glad this answered your hip flexor questions – it is all so connected !
      And I agree with you with regard to the Pelvic Lift – good for you – it is a wonderful stretch of the back and hips while your seat is the workhorse. I really love this exercise now and find it to be a challenge as well.
      Please tell me where you are located in London… and you rock on as well! #pilatesgeeksunite xox

      • Alessandra says

        I live in Chiswick, West London…are you planning a visit????

        • Hopefully next year – yes! – to a visit, but I also have another friend/client in London who is the Pilates Director at Equinox. I though you might like to know about one another…

          • Alessandra says

            Oh that’s interesting! I’ve not heard of that studio. I’ll look it up!! Did she train with Jay too?
            Thanks xoxo

          • Jayne is a Skype client of mine and is currently preparing to assess for the Work at Vintage Pilates. I just thought you might like to know of each other. Equinox is a high-end gym which has a fully equipped Gratz studio. We have many Equinox in the US. Currently there is one on High Street in London, but Jayne tells me more are on the way to you.

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