Desperately Seeking Neck Pull on the Mat

Thanks Order of the Pilates Exercises: Desperately Seeking Neck Pull

Recently I shared my torrid love affair with the Snake/Twist on the Reformer

But nothing compares to your first, right?

Me and the Neck Pull, baby.

Now that's some tough love.

I first laid eyes on the scoundrel – now my beloved – in a Mat class. Alas, relegated to a foldable foam mat, my tight back would wait nearly 5 years to blossom more fully with the help of the strap on a studio mat.

It's a classic case of preparation meets opportunity.

What are the pitfalls here? What are the necessary elements to cultivate from the moment you begin your Hundred?

Years ago I confided to Pilatesology my great fear of completing my first Pilates teacher training program still unable to achieve full-on Neck Pull.

Global stretch of the entire back of the body and extension of the hip is what we're after.

Right there you've got some information: if you know you've got a tight part of your back it's likely to show up during the Neck Pull.

My luck had clearly run out when I had an intermediate mat class in my teaching schedule. A friend of mine – Kim Schraf I will remember you forever! – had a question about the Neck Pull (which I totally understand – like how do you frickin' accomplish it???) and asked me to demo. 


We theatre folk though, we never crack under pressure. We go for the standing O. 

Nailed it!

One Neck Pull in hand and all subsequent ones on standby. Cause I'm comin' for ya.


Thanks Order of the Pilates Exercises: Desperately Seeking Neck Pull

Some facts about the strap:

  • The strap is not just for beginners.
  • The strap on the Mat is for everyone!
  • The strap will become your teacher too.

Who doesn't love a good apparatus?

Support, right? Assistance? Yes I need it. And gradually as one becomes more proficient and Pilates-savvy, the strap will dig into the body deeper than is possible without it.

The Order of the Universe

This past weekend On the Order of the Pilates Mat Exercises came to life at Excel Pilates in Washington DC.

It's one of my favorite workshops to teach. 

And there's a special Neck Pull moment I'd like to share.

(Want this post to be a video tutorial? Your wish is my command.)

Thanks so much to all the awesome Pilates peeps in attendance!

I got to nerd haaaaaaard…

Such a pleasure to meet new friends and see all my Pilates besties at Excel: Lesa, Louise, Michelle, Janice, Alix and Tatyana.

A special shout out to Tara, Ellen, Kathy and John. Got a little misty over Pilates and all of you lovelies. Mariska, always a delight…

And thank you so so much for all your kind words on the blog and tutorials. Love you!

“There IS a reason!”

Joe Pilates is truly looking out for our best interests. He has prepared us well. 

The gift of his order of the exercises is a treasure map to Neck Pull success. 

Let's take a look at a few roadside attractions on our journey:

The Roll Up

Thanks Order of the Pilates Exercises: Desperately Seeking Neck Pull

Ah yes, the prerequisite.

In my first mat classes I used to size up what might happen in the Neck Pull by how – goes – the Roll up. In the Roll Up you get a bit of help with the upper body lifting and reaching forward and the legs together. 

Later our arms will be all tied up behind our head. And our legs apart,

Considerably less helpful.

2. Time to warm up

The 18 exercises which precede the Neck Pull get the back moving and more supple.

Oh God it just has to right?

3. The Fab 4

Swan, Single Leg Kick, Double Leg Kick and Thigh Stretch, hone in on a crucial skill we'll need for Neck Pull success: strength of the lower body and the seat.

To fully execute the Neck Pull you must have sufficient extension of the hip.

OMG is it that whole ‘extending the hip' thing again? Sheesh…

Let me repeat. Your butt must work so your hips and legs don't tank the exercise.

Let's go.

Swan (Dive)

Desperately Seeking Neck Pull on the Mat

This one's a big flowing movement to get it all working now for the first time in this on-the-Stomach position. The back must work hard to open up the front of the body.

Single Leg Kick

Thanks Order of the Pilates Exercises: Desperately Seeking Neck Pull

Now we've got a fixed point from which to reach our lower body deliberately away one leg at a time. Re-emphasize the Swan lift of the upper body as your leg reaches away to the mat for the compete Double Leg Pull experience.

Double leg kick 

Thanks Order of the Pilates Exercises: Desperately Seeking Neck Pull

Double Leg Kick contains a boatload of foreshadowing of the following exercise: Thigh Stretch.

Both sides are working together now to strengthen the seat and open up the hips and thighs.

OMG it's not too early to get ready for March MATness 2017. 

Thigh stretch

Thanks Order of the Pilates Exercises: Desperately Seeking Neck Pull

You've strengthened in the last 3 exercises and now it's time to put it to the test. Now the seat and back of the body must support us as we control our lift into the Thigh Stretch

Keep this area on fire and don't let it go as you start your Neck Pull

How did you do?

Tangent (not a tangent…)

Remember our friend the Small Barrel?

Use this video every day for two weeks and watch your Neck Pull change.

Mat happens…

In 2017 I'll be teaching a Mat class at California Pilates Center in Oceanside.

(Wanna join on January 21st? Awesome! Register today.)

As you might well imagine, I've got boatloads of empathy for Mat class students who struggle with the Neck Pull

I also know that what you don't like, you do TWICE.

Oh yes, the struggle is real…

I've seen their Roll Up by now so how about a little love? Empathy-o-meter – off the charts!

If possible I like to pair up the students. One student does the exercise and their partner gets to be the strap. 

You can really hit home the concept of the 2-way stretch too. Yippee!

The “strap” student gently pulls their partner's heels and ankles on the rolling down portion of the exercise. My gosh it might even feel good and foster a bit of Neck Pull love for us all.

Arm yourself with your order of exercises and see what you think…

You'll continue this theme of hip extension with the next few exercises as well: High Scissors, High Bicycle and the Shoulder Bridge. Read more about them in a related post.

Only one more chance to catch me this December!

Saturday December 17, 2016 LauraBPilates Studio, Raleigh, NC

In Raleigh we’ll have a full day of Pilates Continuing Education: private lessons and my favorite Cadillac workshop: The Unsung Heroes and progressions to Standing Arm Springs (3 PMA CECs)Register today

Inside the Pilates Studio: Mariska Breland

Inside the Pilates Studio: Mariska BrelandThe creator of Pilates for MS, and a respected name in the industry, Mariska Breland has been on my Pilates radar for a few years. She hails from my previous Pilates home, Washington, DC, and I owe a huge thanks to serendipity for bringing us together.

A favorite new friend

Swirling friendships brought us together, colleagues and mutual friends, and I could not be more thrilled. Mariska has been studying with my first ever Pilates teacher, Lesa McLaughlin of Excel Pilates in DC.


Wait, there's more.

My San Diego Pilates pal, Jennifer Kries has been singing Mariska's praises as well. So on her recent visit to San Diego – Del Mar to be more exact and literally minutes from my home – Mariska and I met up ostensibly for coffee or drinks.

Me: Hi! When I suggested coffee or drinks a few weeks ago I was partaking in both – but now I've been eliminating caffeine, sugar and alcohol for nearly a month – could we get a snack instead?

Mariska: I don't really do caffeine or alcohol either, a snack is perfect. What do you suggest?

Me: Well we're really close to one of my favorite sushi restaurants…(crosses fingers)

Mariska: Perfect. I love sushi.

Okay she gets like a million points for being a fellow sushi-lover. Now we'll talk about Pilates, awesome! There's nothing like some girl-bonding over sushi, books and Pilates. Wait, what book are you reading???

Our heroines discover they are both reading the same book.


(The Secret History by Donna Tartt – all the cool Pilates gals are reading it.)

OMG we talked forever and in just 2 weeks I hope to do it all over again.

1. What is your favorite Pilates exercise and why?

Mariska Breland: Short Spine Massage. If an exercise can be called ‘delicious' this one is a culinary masterpiece, especially if you get a great hands-on assist during it.

Since this question doesn’t say that I need to limit my response to one exercise, I also have to throw in that I love Reformer Leg Circles. It’s become a saying at my studio “Leg circles save lives.” First, because they are instant bliss, but second, because weak and tight hips can lead to falls, hip fractures, disability, nursing homes, and yes, early death. Leg circles save lives.

2. What exercise is your least favorite. Pick just one.

MB: Easy – kneeling side kicks. I have a lot of neurological-based weakness on my left side, and this exercise goes right to those weak areas and points them out. I should probably do it every day. I don’t (Next time I do a private with you, you can make me do it if you like).

(Mmm…duly noted.)

3. What turns you on creatively, mentally or physically about the Pilates method?

MB: There are so many things to love about Pilates. I love that I am never finished learning. I love that I can always get better at something. I love that on days where I feel weak or tired or beat down, there’s something I can still do that makes me feel strong and empowered. I am an eternal student, always curious, always asking questions. I love that there are amazing teachers (classical and non-traditional) who can answer those questions or explore them with me.

4. What is your idea of earthly happiness?

MB: Floating in the ocean. Even better – snorkeling in a very crowded (with sea life) coral reef. Follow that up with some time to read an amazing book on the beach and dinner (that I didn't have to cook) with good friends.

5. What in your mind would be the greatest misfortune?

MB: The greatest misfortune would be to be too scared to go after your dreams, followed closely by failing to make the time to enjoy the pleasures of life. My mother died young and I was diagnosed with MS in my 20s, so I think I’ve had a fire lit under me that says I have to do things and I have to do them now. It’s always been hard for me to take time to just enjoy because I have always so goal-focused, but as I am writing this on vacation, the importance of fun is fresh on my mind.

6. What is your favorite Pilates word?

MB: Lengthen. 

7. What is your least favorite Pilates word?

MB: “Pelvic floor” or pretty much any cue or phrase that is telling me to engage my “bladder control muscles.” Sure, these are useful in certain circumstances (I teach an entire section on exercises for neurological bladder issues in my Pilates for MS course, for instance), but when I’m just going through a session, I don’t need to be cued about that. I find most great teachers don’t. The worst variation of this term I ever heard was “imagine you are a pregnant cat, and you’re trying to hold in your kittens.” Seriously, yuck.

8. What profession other than yours would you like to attempt?

MB: Tough one – is there a job that combines restaurant critic, fiction writer, philanthropist, healer, and animal trainer? ‘Cause that’s perfect for me!

9. If Heaven exists and by some chance, you arrive that pearly gates and Joseph Pilates is also there, what would you like him to say to you?

MB: “We have a full Pilates studio right over here. Let’s go play.”

10. What did you learn today?

MB: So much! I’m in Nevis (West Indies), and I learned that free divers can hold their breath for 3 minutes on average, but some push it to 4 minutes and up. The Dive Master told me that divers always work in pairs, and one stays up while the other dives. If the diver blacks out, the other is there to rescue them. Apparently, when this happens, the diver's lungs often don’t fill with water due to a protective reflexive spasm of the larynx. Often, the diver regains consciousness when they are brought back to the surface – several seconds to sometimes minutes after they are pulled out of the water, when the spasm relaxes. I don’t want to try it, of course, but it reminds me of how fascinating and powerful the human machine really is. 

I also learned that “goat water” is a very hearty Caribbean soup made with goat meat and a kind of pepper Nevisians call a burnt pepper. It tastes like habanero to me. I should look that up to see if it’s the same thing.

I could keep going. I think you should learn a lot of new things every day.

Visit Mariska at Fuse Pilates, her Washington, DC studio.

More on the fantastic Pilates available in DC in a future post!

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