Pilates Problem Du Jour: Long Back Stretch on the Reformer

Long Back Stretch on the Reformer

Hello there!

Welcome to a brand new week full of Pilates possibilities.

If you're a recent subscriber, welcome! I'm so glad you've joined me on the Pilates Path.

I'm gonna level with you – this week's post scares me.

But, then again, so does the Long Back Stretch.

Let's get after it.

The Long Stretch Series

Long Stretch Series on the Reformer

Progressing from the fundamentals to the more complex exercises can be a prickly path to navigate.

And yet that's exactly where you find yourself every time you transition from the Elephant to the next exercise in the series, the Long Back Stretch.

Joe Pilates has a way of lulling us into a sequence like we can predict what's to come, only to throw in a zinger at the end that's literally upside down and backward.

The bulk of the Long Stretch Series resides solidly in the meat-and-potatoes exercises of the Pilates Reformer repertoire.

Or in Pilates-training-program speak: we are deep in the heart of the Intermediate System.

As you make your way along your Pilates path, you might add the exercises of the Long Stretch Series (over time) to your workout in the following order:

  • Elephant
  • Long Stretch
  • Down Stretch
  • Up Stretch
  • Long Back Stretch
  • Up Stretch Combo

The Long Back Stretch/Up Stretch Combo is a bit of a toss-up. Some students may not see either of these exercises for a while.

Now take a look at them in Joe's order:

  • Long Stretch
  • Down Stretch
  • Up Stretch/Up Stretch Combo
  • Elephant/One Leg Elephant
  • Long Back Stretch

“One of these things is not like the other, one of these things should does not belong.”

In the Beginning…

Adding the Long Back Stretch to your workout can be a rude awakening. It is perhaps the longest 3-in-each-direction exercise since the Backstroke, right?

As you build your proficiency, move it along or you'll be dead by the end.

This exercise has the same pitfalls as every exercise in the Long Stretch Series:

  • placing all your bodyweight on your poor little arms.
  • The “tricep dip” aspect of the choreography can be misleading, especially if you learned a preparatory exercise focused only on the arm movement. The Long Back Stretch looks like traditional fitness. 

The Long Back Stretch is different.

This is no arm exercise. It's gonna take all you've got.

Maybe more.

TBH, learning to place the weight of your body firmly on the standing position of the feet is the challenge for the entire Long Stretch Series.

Easy to say, but it's bloody hard to do. Even if you've been doing the exercise for years.

Joe Pilates does it again…

Cultivating the standing position in the Long Stretch Series takes diligent practice.

There's a reason the Long Back Stretch is not the first exercise. Joe prepares us well:

  • The Long Stretch is more familiar in its position of a plank/push up.

Sure you're only on the balls of your feet, but that's better than nothing.

  • Joe kind of makes up for the previous exercise in the next, the Down Stretch. You're kneeling and lots more of you gets to touch the carriage.

Kneeling is a common human position, you've done this in life and it's not unfamiliar.

  • The Up Stretch brings us more choreography, you're back to the balls of the feet but you have the support of the heels on the shoulder blocks that gives more support.

Not easy, but still in the realm of standing.

  • Finally, the Elephant plants us fully on our feet, standing, even though the body must spread out across the entire length of the carriage.
  • Even the One Leg Elephant is not totally foreign, standing on one leg at a time.
  • But the moment you turn all the way round for the Long Back Stretch you're confronted simultaneously with 2 unfamiliar things: (1) your arms behind you and (2) your feet standing on a vertical surface, only your heels touching the carriage itself.

That's just weird, people.

And it's this specialized position that can trip you up.

“When do we ever do that?”

My favorite quote from the amazing Karen Frischmann is “When do we ever do that?”

She says this when confronted with an exercise or variation that you may have learned and sure, it looks like Pilates, but how does it fit into the greater Pilates system?

Now, the Long Back Stretch is decidedly a part of the Pilates System but I find it helpful to look for its friends.

Hello Exercise Relationships!

I've missed you so.

When and where is another instance you find yourself in Long Back Stretch-land?

In a recent post I shared a Pilates exercise relationship that I find to be particularly vexing:

  • Reformer: Long Back StretchShort Spine MassageSemi CircleHigh Frog
  • Mat: High Scissors and High Bicycle
  • Cadillac: AirplaneLeg Springs in the Air, TowerShoulder Roll Down (Sari)

All of our Pilates exercises could be on this list, right? Since (say it with me now) we only have one exercise!

You might place other exercises here as well, and I bet pretty soon I will too.

Another one that may prove helpful (and that I even like) just popped into my mind: Tendon Stretch.

Tendon Stretch on the Reformer

The shape of the trunk is different here in the Tendon Stretch, but without the same lift upward from Long Back Stretch you'll have a hard time closing the carriage. All standing and no lift float you out to sea never to return…

Other places to look for help:

Stomach Massage Series on the Reformer

I knew there was a reason no one likes the Stomach Massage Series!

It's a moment of foreshadowing – using your stomach while having your arms behind you. And figuring out how to stand on your feet here while you are still supported (seated) on the Reformer.

More help from way back in your first Pilates lesson on the Reformer (I'll bet): Bottom Lift

Bottom Lift on the Reformer

Lifting and Standing here too with less pesky gravity.

The Complex Reformer Workshop

Control Push Ups on the Reformer

Here we go again in the Control Push-Ups, right?

Hone your skills well in the fundamentals and earn your stripes for all the exercises to come.

My Pilates Problem Du Jour is just one example of the building blocks inherent in the Pilates System.

Join me in just a couple of weeks for The Complex Reformer Project: an in-depth exploration of how we progress our workouts from the basics to the crazies.

In 8 workshop hours, we'll trace some of the most complex exercises on the Reformer back to their humble roots.

Space is limited. Reserve your spot today.

And stay tuned for my March workshop where you'll link it all together with transitions!

Working on a Pilates problem on the Reformer?

What fundamentals have been a help to you? 

Tell me all about it in a comment below…

The Reformer: The Use of Lift in the Long Stretch Series

The Reformer: The Use of Lift in the Long Stretch Series

Get ready to get your lift on!

Just when you thought it was safe to venture back onto the Reformer…

I am quite fixated on the Long Stretch Series. So much good stuff to be squeezed out of these 5 standard issue – yet elegantly insistent – exercises.

Glad to have you with me on this journey.

Check out last week's post to continue your Long Stretch Series geek-fest.

Repetitio est mater studiorum

One of the things I most enjoy about the Order of the Reformer Exercises is the ability to mark your progress.

The use of repetition is a key element to long term changes in our bodies.

Our bodies they are a-changin'

Many years of practicing Pilates can result in amazing changes in our bodies. As our bodies continue to change, so does our experience of the exercises.

Often we arrive at an old familiar series with newfound awareness.

Now we can demand more of ourselves than just yesterday's choreography and connection. Nuances may appear.

We may discover new muscles now under our control.

Imagine.

MORE control.

However, a perfectly innocent series may also become a new bugaboo.

In the spirit of it's-gonna-get-worse-before-it-gets-better I feel compelled to write this post about my new love/hate of the Long Stretch Series.

But first let me say this:

OMG the Long Stretch Series helps everything else!

Not a surprise.

When one exercise gets better, they all get better. Because you've found some extra muscles, no doubt.

At the risk of repeating myself, I have once again learned the value of lift.

The Long Stretch Series

Let's take the name at face value.

We'll use the 5 exercises in this series to find a length in the body that will ultimately give us a full-body stretch.

That sounds lovely.

What's moving?

The lower body – what I like to call the lion's share of the body – will be attached to the moving carriage in every exercise.

This gives us information: these are lower body exercises.

The upper body is attached to the stationary footbar and functions as a point of departure, let's say. It is not the mover in this series.

Closing the Springs

The Long Stretch Series is a perfect example of the muscular action required to close the springs on the classical Reformer.

It's lift!

Everytime. In every exercise.

If you've got to work to return the carriage completely the Reformer is compelling you to create lift in the body.

It's instant Pilates Method with this series.

Thanks, Universal Reformer!

We only have one exercise.

Joe Pilates is so tricky. Putting us in a horizontal position for the Long Stretch and expecting us to find lift.

Oh right, Down Stretch.

Thanks Joe, I get it.

The Demands of the Exercises

Long Stretch

The Reformer: The Use of Lift in the Long Stretch Series

“One piece of steel from your head to your heel!”

Back to the name again.

What are the demands of a long body position? A long back and long strong legs.

Let's go back to that long back part…

A long back (or tall back, in lift-speak) demands a long neck and open chest, a lift in the waist, ribs that are in and up to lengthen the mid-back, a working seat to help open the front of the hip (yup it's gotta be long as well) and easy reaching legs.

Oooh, so demanding…

I can do this more easily standing upright, but along comes the Long Stretch and I am stymied.

It's hard to find this long body position in mid-air.

No feedback from an apparatus in sight.

I have heard it said that Long Stretch and Down Stretch are really the same exercise, except you are kneeling in the latter one.

This is absolutely true. Let's use the lift in the Down Stretch to sort this out.

The lift in Down Stretch is impossible quite clear.

Down Stretch

The Reformer: The Use of Lift in the Long Stretch Series

I find Down Stretch to be supremely challenging.

The body position is precariously close to where my body just wants to let it all hang out and fall into the low back.

It's Lift! to the rescue!

Mine the opposing forces in your body: make the lower body push the carriage out even as you bring the carriage in.

Your lower body wants to stay out there, yet your lift is insistent to close the springs.

I. Smell. Two. Way. Stretch.

Up Stretch

The Reformer: The Use of Lift in the Long Stretch Series

Up Stretch is a gold mine that's jam-packed with skills to prepare you for crazy advanced exercises to come.

Put in diligent practice here and reap the benefits you'll use for Snake Twist, the Headstands and even the infamous Flying Squirrel.

Yes.

Get. Busy.

Elephant

The Reformer: The Use of Lift in the Long Stretch Series

Oh Elephant, is there anything you can't do?

Elephant is another skill-builder extraordinaire. You'll need lots of mad Elephant skills to find success in exercise favorites like the Pull Up on the Wunda Chair and Snake/Twist on the Reformer.

A teacher client of mine has decided that in Pilates one learns the “basic” or “foundational” exercises first because they are all so bloody hard it will take a lifetime to do them properly.

A fair point. The Hundred or the Elephant done well is no easy task.

Again my Reformer is my teacher. Without working the lower body properly, my carriage is very reluctant to close completely.

“I'm sorry,” says the Reformer. “Nope, this is not a leg exercise, try again.”

Well, at least repetition is my friend…

Long Back Stretch

The Reformer: The Use of Lift in the Long Stretch Series

This exercise has become a favorite of mine in recent months.

I find it to be the epitome of length in the lower body.

Yes.

Remember the moving carriage you are attached to?

This is not an arm exercise.

The Long Back Stretch is the juice behind every exercise in Pilates where we actively reach through the heels.

Think about it:

  • Short Box – the long reach of the heels to anchor the lower body on the box
  • Tower on the Cadillac – reaching through the heels in an effort to lengthen the entire back on the mat
  • Stomach Massage Series – the repetition of lowering the heels in the first 2 exercises in this series. Joe Pilates says “Do you get it?!”

Is it coincidence that the Stomach Massage follows the Long Back Stretch in the order?

Stomach Massage then followed by the Tendon Stretch?

This cannot be a happy accident…

Put the Long in Long Stretch, Baby

Persevere in your meat-and-potatoes exercise series like the Long Stretch Series.

Dig deep to discover the skills that will carry you all the way to High Bridge and beyond in your Reformer repertoire.

The Reformer: The Use of Lift in the Long Stretch Series

Use the one-leg version of the Elephant to work on one-sided exercises. It's bursting with information on how to better your Tendon Stretch with one leg.

Take some help when you can get it!

Got a series that's become a bugaboo?

Gimme the skinny in a comment below and we'll hash it out.

#pilatesproblemsolving

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