The Pilates Method and the Evolution of the Neck Pull

Neck Pull on the Mat

In 2001, I was invited to a special meeting at my Pilates studio, Excel Pilates.

I'd been a client of the studio for about a year and they were ready to launch their Teacher Training program. I had no idea what all this had to do with me, but any excuse to hang around the Pilates studio doing whatever, I considered to be time well spent. Surely I could get better at my Pilates exercises by simply socializing with other Pilates people…

To my surprise, the handful of clients present that day were considered to be potential Pilates Teacher material.

Wait, what?

I loved Pilates but I couldn't imagine what it would take to be able to teach the stuff.

My next thought stopped me cold:

“How can I be a Pilates teacher? I can't even do the Neck Pull…”

Joseph Pilates Giveth, and Joseph Pilates Taketh Away

Oh, Neck Pull

She's been taunting me for a while now… so if you're out there in a Pilates Mat class, no strap for your feet in sight, watching your legs flail up to the ceiling every time you start your Neck Pull, please know I feel you.

I celebrate you.

Take courage in your Roll Up, time, and diligent practice, and all will be well.

But I know that's hard to imagine when your feet fly high up to the sky.

Beware the Ides of March

And that's just one of my Neck Pull horror stories from my first years of teaching.

Don't worry I've saved the other story for later in this post.

But first, let's love on some Neck Pull:

These things take time…

Clearly I'm not one to leave any evidence of my Neck Pull practice…

Neck Pull on the Mat

Looks like I was really into it in 2012.

And then no sign of another Neck Pull photo until the Mat Poster in 2017.

Neck Pull on the Mat

But I don't have to tell you there was a f**kton of Neck Pull going on in 2020 – what else was there to do?

Even the photo below evokes the white solitary void that was 2020.

Neck Pull on the MatWell guess what, Neck Pull? It's 2021 and I am over your shit.

Why can't you be like your other mercurial friends the Roll Up and the Teaser? I know you're all the same but you feel so different (throws tantrum).

That's it.

I'm literally taking a stand.

Using the Lower Body in the Roll Up, the Teaser and the Neck Pull

The strength of standing. The power of the lower body. The Pilates exercises are a full body workout.

Yeah, yeah… What does it all mean?

Often it means there's more going on in any given exercise than you might imagine.

I'm a big fan of the strength of standing. You can use your lower body – your lower body reach if you speak 2-way stretch – to pretend you are standing on your feet.

You've got plenty of exercises to figure out how to stand on your feet. Sometimes you will be literally standing on them and other times you'll use your imagination.

Tiny Tangent: That foot thing I did in February? It's really good at teaching you to stand on your feet.

Imagination is what you'll use in 3 exercises: the Roll Up, the Neck Pull, and the Teaser.

The Roll Up

The Roll up on the Mat

In the first two exercises, The Roll Up and the Neck Pull, the lower body is “stationary.” I'm using the quotes because the part of the body that is often lying there “doing nothing” is the part that must do the most in the exercise.

So it's not really stationary, it is ALIVE!

The Neck Pull

Neck Pull on the Mat

Now we all know that the lower body comes alive in the Teaser – those legs have to get up in the air, right?

But that inner mobilizing of the standing body may prove more elusive.

The Teaser

Consider the following photos:

Teaser on the Mat with 2way stretchTeaser on the Mat with 2way stretchTeaser on the Mat with 2way stretch

Rolling up to the teaser is the epitome of the 2 way stretch.

I've been thinking about the exercises that roll us up as (1) standing on your feet plus (2) a lift of the upper body.

Standing includes the whole long line of your back standing down to your feet.

Lift encompasses everything that sits on top of the Short Box.

These are your oppositional forces.

How cavalier of me to suggest that all of this nerding out will fix your Neck Pull.


These forces may better your proficiency in the Roll Up and the Teaser. Or in any of their springed counterparts: Rolling Back on the Cadillac, Push Down on the Wunda Chair, The Elephant, Teaser on the Long Box, etc…

Coincidence that Neck Pull doesn't exist as an exercise on the apparatus?

No spring for you!

I've found that applying this plan to the execution of the Neck Pull has a hard time replacing my habit of how I currently do the exercise: a heave and a prayer and then time to think about what I've done rolling down to the Mat.

Give it a try and see what you think.

It's especially helpful for the Teaser on the Long Box (thanks for the springs, Joe Pilates!).

Neck Pull Horror Story #2

After completing my initial teacher training I was assigned to teach an Intermediate level Mat class at Excel Pilates. Gulp. This class of course included the dreaded Neck Pull.

What if I have to demonstrate?

This situation was unavoidable.

OMG someone may have a question.

Would I have an answer?

At the time I also had a client, perhaps 20 years my senior, who did the Neck Pull very well. She had issues with other exercises, of course, as we all do. But I would watch her do her 5-6 Neck Pulls and think “I got nothin'…look at her, DOING the exercise.”

As it turned out, an actual friend of mine was in my Mat class and struggling with the Neck Pull.

“I'm not getting it. Can I see you do it?”

Thanks, friend…

…and the sweating begins before the exercise.

That day I learned the degree to which the mind can impose its will upon the body. Who's in control here, anyway?

It was the first successful Neck Pull I had ever done.


I know how to suck it up and get the job done.

No way was I going to choke while my class of 15 people all watched me.


Got a Neck Pull horror story? Need a friendly shoulder to cry on? 

Spill it all in a comment below…

Exercise Relationships to Build Proficiency: Reformer Edition

Control Push Ups on the Reformer

Hey there!

I've been thinking about you. Thanks for sharing your time with me and for becoming a subscriber.

Did you get a chance to read my bonus blog post How to Fall in Love with Exercises you HATE?

I hope so.

Click here to subscribe if you missed out on this little gem…

The more you know…

Tree on the Short Box

Speaking of exercises you hate… it's time for another footnote to last week's post.

Oh the Pilates Method… so many opportunities for learning.

Lost in a sea of traditional order options it's easy to get muddled.

And that's what Pilates friends are for! A big shout out to Samantha Walley of Vital Balance Pilates for remembering all the things from our time with Jay Grimes that I have forgotten.

Last week I considered relocating the Short Box Series to later in the order when adding the 2nd Long Box.

Well that, friends, is one option I learned from Romana.

It is Romana that allowed for just keeping the box with you after the 1st or 2nd Long Box, then turning it to be the Short Box. I make a case for this option in an older post that you've all showered with love: On the Order of the Pilates Reformer Exercises.

Done in this manner you are saved one trip to get the box: You'll go get it for 1st Long Box (1), and get it again for the 2nd Long Box (2), finally keeping it for the subsequent Short Box Series.

Jay Grimes, however, doesn't care how many trips you make to get that box. You'll fetch it thrice (1st Long box, 2nd Long Box, Short Box), enjoying a welcome passeggiata each time you need it.

You've got all these options available to you within the structure of the order of exercises.

There is no wrong, only better and better choices to be made depending on any given scenario. And your Pilates education and experience will help you to choose wisely.

And in any event, there's always another Reformer workout on the horizon for you to begin. Again.

Exercise Relationships

Joe Pilates never leaves us unprepared.

How many times can I tell you why I love the Pilates Method?

Reason #196 is that your path is well-thought-out. Follow the path with “patience and persistence” and you'll always arrive at a complex exercise with confidence.

Joe Pilates is a master of taking a familiar skill and turning it (literally) on its head.

To progress your workout, it's helpful to revisit the basics to see where the seeds of a complex Reformer exercise first begin to germinate.

Oh boy, the plant metaphors… just one peril of being a plant parent!

Headstand 2

Headstands 2 on the Reformer

I've been working on The Headstands on the Reformer for probably decades. They are not great, but you don't get better at exercises by leaving them out. For the past few years, I've been toiling in the fundamentals building my proficiency and whittling away at a bad movement habit.

So now they're back. They're already better than they've ever been.

“When one exercise gets better, they all get better.”

The Pilates fundamentals do their magic. But how do you arrive ready and (sort of) willing to do the Headstand 2?

Ladies and Gentlemen… the Tendon Stretch!

Ever notice we have many exercises all called the Tendon Stretch?

And a bunch more exercises that include an element reminiscent of the Tendon Stretch?


Tendon Stretch: Footwork Edition

Tendon Stretch in the Footwork Series

Yes. It all begins with the Footwork. Never thought I would be that person.

The lift you cultivate here, all “comfy” and supported from head to toes will serve you well once you've upended yourself into the Headstand 2.

Stomach Massage Series

Stomach Massage Series on the Reformer

Essentially the sitting-up-now version of Footwork, the Stomach Massage Series sets you well on your way to the Headstand 2. This series, like Footwork, also goes on for a long while, building (beating) the skill into you.

Just sayin'. Again probably not an accident.

Full-On Tendon Stretch

Tendon Stretch on the Reformer

Looks can be deceiving but this iteration of the Tendon Stretch has all the components of its lying down Footwork relative: you must stand on your feet and use your crazy lift to survive the exercise instead of riding the carriage like you're at Disneyland.


SemiCircles on the Reformer

Finally back in the ballpark of the Headstand 2, the SemiCircles force you to keep your lift or forever be squashed into the gaping maw of the Reformer.

And now upside-down and backward, you arrive at Headstand 2.

Now it's all making sense, right? Your Pilates teacher has been harping at you to lift since the workout began and boy, do you need it now.

Gravity's a bitch. But it's also very communicative.

The Complex Reformer Project

Control Push Ups on the Reformer

Tracing the roots of the Headstand 2 back to nearly the very beginning of your Reformer workout is just one example of Exercise Relationships.

If this sounds like your kind of fun, join me in the month of February for a new online workshop, The Complex Reformer Project.

In a total of 8 workshop hours, you'll tweak the Pilates Project POV to look for skill sets in the fundamentals for all those fancy exercises just like the Headstand 2.

Overhead I hear you cry?

Snake/Twist and High Bridge?

Star even?

Oh yes.

Space is limited. Reserve your spot today.

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

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How to Fall in Love with the Exercises you Hate
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