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!

Fundamental Reformer Exercises: The Short Box Series

Fundamental Reformer Exercises: The Short Box SeriesIt's come to my attention that I have yet to create a brief video tutorial on the Short Box Series on the Reformer.

How can this be?

It's one of my favorite topics – I am obsessed!

There are quite a few posts here on the blog and elsewhere:


Let's dissect the Short Box Series further, shall we?

The Key Players

The Short Box Series is comprised of at least 5-6 exercises:

  • Round (Hug)
  • The Reach
  • Side-to-Side
  • Twist and Reach
  • The Tree

There are a few other variations you can add in as well, and several iterations of the Tree to explore, but these are the 5 major exercises we'll address in this post.

First: What's really going on here?

The Short Box Series is one of the first times you will be on the Reformer without the assistance of the springs. You are now attached to the Reformer only by the 2 straps on your feet.

This is significant.

Once we're seated, often we just consider our body from the hips up.

Don't forget about the lower body!

We will work diligently to perfect the shapes of the body as we sit atop the box, but let's pay even more attention to what's going on in the lower body.

The strength of the lower body will give us a firm foundation from which to soar even further upward.

At first it may be hard to exert sufficient tension on the straps to keep them tight and quiet.

You will get better with practice.

For now if the straps go slack or you scoot further forward on the box as you work the exercise, just back up and make the straps tight again. Over time you will work the straps more consistently.

For further info about the straps check out a related post on

Let us begin at the beginning…

At first you may not even do all of these exercises – maybe for now it's best just to work on the basics:

  • Round
  • The Reach
  • The Tree (the first part of it)

Sometimes it's helpful to shore up the first 2 exercises (Round and Reach) before getting all fancy and bending to the side. Remember the Reach is inherent in all the other exercises especially Side-to-Side and the Twist.


Fundamental Reformer Exercises: The Short Box Series

Also known as ‘The Hug,' the Round exercise on the Short Box is exactly the same as our old friend the Roll Up on the Mat.

Oh yes, now there's that box underneath your Roll Up

Other exercises in the system that share the round shape can assist you here to perfect this Round exercise. Helpful exercises include Rolling Back on the Cadillac, The Elephant on the Reformer and the Push Down on the Wunda Chair.

The Reach

Fundamental Reformer Exercises: The Short Box Series

First a word about the name of this exercise…

Lately I have been chewing on the name of the second exercise in our Short Box Series.

The Reach is the name Vintage Pilates and Jay Grimes use for this exercise. I am guessing it comes from Joe Pilates…but that remains uncertain at the time of this writing.

Originally I learned this exercise as “Flat Back.”

What a kettle of fish that word can unleash! I'm quite happy with The Reach.

This name is also helping me teach the exercise better.

The Reach is an exercise that we often teach to brand new students in the very first lesson. Now we have a name that implies action, not an elusive state of being.

They won't know how to be Flat, but they may know how to Reach.


Fundamental Reformer Exercises: The Short Box Series

The Side-to-Side exercise in this series was on the top of my list of most hated exercises for the first 10-or-so years of my Pilates practice.

In the previous exercise you've gotten the Reach in your back. Now you must lift and reach both sides evenly to bend to the side.

Not so easy to do for some folks…most folks…well, me.

I've found it helpful to lose the pole for this one and concentrate more on the center.

For a while.

Pole or No Pole?

Yes, traditionally a pole is used for the Reach, Side-to-Side, Twist and Reach and Around the World.

However, know that using the pole inherently advances the exercise as you will now reach further away from your center.

Losing the pole for a bit can be a great help in perfecting the Side-to-Side exercise.

Figuring out the Twist and Reach

Fundamental Reformer Exercises: The Short Box Series

Another multi-tasker is the Twist and ultimately the Twist and Reach.

Start with the simple Twist and if necessary you can lose the pole for this one too.

Soon the strength you will gain in your center will allow you to add the pole effortlessly as well as keep the all the work you've done sans-pole.

The Many Iterations of the Tree

Fundamental Reformer Exercises: The Short Box Series

The Tree is a glorious exercise. Often hated and sometimes loved, the Tree will change as you change providing new challenges as you progress on your Pilates path.

Versions of this exercise include the following:

  • Sitting up for just the seated initial stretch
  • The stretch and tipping back into position 3 times
  • The stretch, tipping back and climbing up and down the leg a little 3x
  • The stretch, climbing up and down the leg until you're nearly parallel to the floor 3x
  • The stretch, climbing up and down 2x as above and then going all the way back on the 3rd
  • The stretch, climbing up and down all the way 3x
  • Same as above now adding a reach back to hold the frame and/or the Leg Circles and a foreshadowing of the High Bridge

Enjoy this 15 minute vlog on the Short Box Series. 

Leave a comment if you've got questions and let's chat!

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.

My Pilates Education Fantasy is at Hand!

My Pilates Education Fantasy is at Hand!

My first Pilates Teacher training program was a gateway drug to explore all that Pilates Continuing Education has to offer. Thanks Excel Pilates.

I felt I'd just begun to scratch the surface on these fascinating Pilates exercises and I couldn't wait to learn more, more, MORE.

Dear Joe Pilates,

It's been 15 years since my first Pilates Education Fantasy…

In the early '00s I was constantly on the lookout for workshops to satisfy the requirements of my training program and keep my training certificate current.

Alas, there were few choices.

I tried to envision the wide world of my Pilates future…

(insert hazy dream music and movie announcer VO)

Imagine a world where I can attend amazing and diverse Pilates workshops and conferences, perhaps even in exotic locations…


Maybe some of the education would even be focused specifically on the classical Pilates system…

Wow. SO cool…

Let's Fast Forward.

Today my mind spins out of control, awash in the choices and locations for classical Pilates conferences.

Pisa, Istanbul, Fort Worth, Chicago, Windsor, Mexico City, Sydney, Costa Rica, Seattle, New York City, San Francisco, Valencia, Greenwich, Atlanta, Berlin and Santiago, Chile.

Wowza. And that's this year alone.

Even my beloved San Diego got in on the action.

Sponsors wanted

I love Pilates education events of all kinds.

I'm dearly in need of a special sponsor to enable me to attend every single one of the amazing conferences that my Pilates heart desires…

Pilates Education Option #1

Destination Pilates events around the globe.

My Pilates Education Fantasy is at Hand!


Often with multiple presenters and spanning 2 to 4 days, Pilates conferences are busy and filled with masses of information coming at you.

You'll have the opportunity to experience presenters that are new to you.

You'll be in the company of like-minded passionate Pilates people such as yourselves. It's a great way to connect in person with online colleagues and companies.

Workshops can cover a wide range of topics, concepts, populations and apparatus.

We use the word ‘event' for a reason. They're awesome.

But education conferences are only one item on the Continuing Education menu.

Pilates Education Option #2

Enhance your education every week – nay every day – if you work private lessons into your education plan as well.

The Value of the Private Lesson


Private lessons. Yum.

This is where you'll work on your body and then bring your A-game to Pilates conventions worldwide.

I love private lessons.

Back in the day, my first Pilates small group class of 3 was an amazing next step after my initial Mat class series. One fateful day both of my group partners were absent.

Resulting in my very first private Pilates lesson.


I learned so much about my body. Clearly this was the way to go.

Education of Body and Mind

So that's 2 amazing education experiences working in tandem to educate the body and mind.

Conferences and workshops…

  • enhance your eye
  • allow you to see different bodies in the same exercises
  • contribute to your overall Pilates Intelligence (intelligence: just one part of your Pilates mind)
  • encourage us to learn predominately by observation and problem solving
  • may include some hands on corrections
  • may include working out and feeling the work in your own body
  • connect you with colleagues and companies

Private lessons…

  • train the body directly and create long term change
  • give you information about you and your specific body's needs
  • enable you to feel hands-on corrections in your body
  • enhance the experience of the exercise in your body – an amazing teaching tool
  • increase your repertoire of exercises
  • foster concepts and connections that aren't currently on your radar

“No excuses,” says the Internet

Technology makes private lessons all the more easier to obtain. Skype lessons can be extremely beneficial for Pilates teachers, nerd enthusiasts and clients.

Whether you live in a remote location or you fancy lessons with a teacher who's not in your area, Skype lessons (or FaceTime lessons) are a great option.

Cohesiveness in your Pilates education

Let's be honest. It's a wide, wide Pilates world out there.

One teacher's ‘rules for living' may be in conflict with your previous training.

Another Pilates Teacher of Teachers may tell you NEVER to do x, y or z, while still other trainings encourage you to do exactly what you've previously heard is verboten.

In your vast experience as a student of Pilates, look to your body for the answers.

Feel the work in your body.

What feels like the truth?

What resonates with you on a visceral level?

Don't over think it. Simplicity is your friend on this one.

And once you've found your particular Pilates path – a training or mentorship plus your own workouts – dive in deeply…

Patience and Persistence are vital qualities in the ultimate successful accomplishment or any worthwhile endeavor.

Thanks, Joe.

Join us for the best of both worlds of Pilates Continuing Education this October 1-4, 2015

Andrea Maida and Karen Frischmann in the house!

 My Pilates Education Fantasy is at hand.I'll be presenting these epic posts LIVE as a workshop!

Share your thoughts in a comment below.

I'd love to hear from you!

On the 31st Day of March MATness Joe Pilates gave to me…

On the 31st Day of March MATness Joe Pilates gave to me...

The Push Up!





perhaps not from Joe

lower body works the most

who would have thunk it?

Use MM hashtags on Facebook, twitter and Instagram to find amazing Pilates Mat inspiration from around the world.

Thank you so much Dana Santi, Colleen Naughton Strong and Chris Robinson for an amazing Classical Pilates Conference in San Diego! 

Kim Lenzi, thanks for your enthusiasm and leadership in getting this shot!

Where else would I be able to find beautiful and strong Pilates teachers ready to burst into action at the drop of a blogpost?!

Thanks for joining me!

It has been a wonderful March chock-full of Mat exercises.

April will return us to the weekly blog posts. Thank you SO much for your support of these daily MATness posts.

Hope your Mat workout has been bumped up to the next level!

Perhaps you've even developed a fondness for some of the nasty ones? #goodforyou

Any MATness you might have missed?

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