The Universal Reformer: A Brief Tutorial on the Down Stretch

The Universal Reformer: A Brief Tutorial on the Down Stretch

The Down Stretch on the Reformer is a pet project of mine. As you'll see in the video, the requirements of the exercise and my body are somewhat at odds.

Oh but I do like a challenge.

Years ago at Romana's Pilates Continuing Education workshops, Moses Urbano would give me a lovely assist in this exercise.

Even when Moses was nowhere to be found, when I got to Down Stretch he would magically appear to save me from my sinking, arching low back.

Eek! Pilates emergency!

I also take inspiration from Moses' beautiful Down Stretch. His execution of the exercise is flawless complete with an amazing embellishment.

Hence, my pet project for life.

The Shape of  Things

Ah, the shape…

In the simplest terms, the Down Stretch is a long body shape done on the knees, akin to the previous exercise Long Stretch which is described as “one solid piece of steel from head to heel.”

Yes, you've got to keep it together.

Another requirement of Down Stretch, a Swan-esque exercise is similar to another infamous Reformer exercise, Pulling Straps of Long Box fame. This is a tricky element for me and perhaps for some of you as well: finding sufficient arch in the upper back without the low back falling out all over the place.


And then there's the Thigh Stretch element: Down Stretch requires and promotes considerable opening of the hips and thighs.

Ok, now GO!

The Lower Body

The Down Stretch is just 1 of 7 exercises in the Long Stretch Series, a Reformer series which focuses primarily on the lower body.

The Long Stretch Series

Using the premise of the 2-way stretch, the Long Stretch Series seeks to perfect the reach of the lower body. Despite our firm grip on that foot bar these are not upper body exercises.

I like to describe the lower body as “the lion's share” of the body. It's really the reach down the back line of the body.


Finding length (and therefore reach) of the lower body depends on lengthening the middle back (the ribs/upper stomach must be working) and using the seat to power these exercises.

How about a little inner conflict?

Pilates is a full body workout.

The Down Stretch is a lower body exercise. The lower body is working in tandem with the upper body.

The goal of each and every Reformer exercise is to close the carriage with control.

For the Down Stretch this means both the upper body and lower body create a tug-of-war within our bodies.

Pilates = A 2-way stretch reaching out from a strong center.

Let's get into the position:

  • Keep the lift of the upper body with the lower body firmly attached to the carriage and shoulder rests.
  • Use the lower body to move the carriage. The upper body reluctantly follows.
  • To close the carriage use your lift of the upper body (pull up in the low waist) while the lower body continues to push outward to resist closing the springs.
  • Repeat 5x.

Oh Happy Day!

Diligent work in our meat-and-potatoes exercises often rewards us with a challenge.

A combo. A cadenza. An invigorating embellishment.

With each successive repeptition of the Down Stretch we cultivate an increasing amount of lift in our bodies.

Finally if our lift is suffucient we'll lift both hands high off the footbar and into an extended stretch of the entire front of the body. Wow.

Tell me you didn't see that one coming.

You'll stretch back as far as you can successfully return, potentially reaching as far back to touch the frame of the Reformer. How happy you'll be to resume your workout with the exercise that follows, the Up Stretch.

Enjoy this short video tutorial. Thanks for watching!

For more videos like this one visit my YouTube channel. Looking for help with a specific exercise or concept? Let me know your thoughts and I'm happy to dig in.

Wanna experience the blog live and in person? Join me this fall!

Upcoming Fall Workshops

Sunday November 27, 2016 Studio B Pilates+Barre, Tyler TX

You’ll love this jam-packed day of Pilates Continuing Education: I’ll be offering private lessons, a Mat class plus 2 workshops: A Cadillac Refresher – the Unsung Heroes(3 PMA CECs) and Strategies and Exercises on the Wunda Chair (3 PMA CECs)Register today

Thursday-Saturday December 1-3, 2016 Excel Pilates, Washington, DC

Join me for my post popular posts Live! and in person: On the Order of the Pilates Reformer Exercises (4 PMA CECs) and On the Order of the Pilates Mat Exercises (2 PMA CECs). I’ll be teaching my favorite Cadillac workshop: The Unsung Heroes and Progressions to Standing Arm Springs (3 PMA CECs) as well as a Mat class, private and semi-private lessons. Register today

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

The Up Stretch: The Gateway Drug to Pilates Circus Tricks

The Up Stretch: The Gateway Drug to Pilates Circus Tricks

Previously I spoke of my newfound respect for the Long Stretch Series on the Reformer.

For years I didn't fully consider the import of these 7 exercises: Long Stretch, Down Stretch, Up Stretch, Up Stretch Combo, Elephant, Elephant with One Leg and the Long Back Stretch.

They seemed fine really.

Not a walk in the park and not a one-arm Snake/Twist either. We had a great relationship.

The Song Remains the Same

The Long Stretch Series teaches you how to use your lower body effectively.

Remember that our lower body is most of our body, the lion's share, if you will.

Within this series you'll use your lower body:

  1. in a round shape
  2. in an an arch
  3. in an undulating combination of round and arch in two ways
  4. in a round shape one side at a time, and
  5. facing upward and upside-down

Joe Pilates had a love for all things emphatic, it seems.

“Do you get it yet??” he asks us all the time.

A Gateway Drug to Pilates Circus Tricks

One particular gem within the Long Stretch Series is the Up Stretch.

A bit of a wolf-in-sheep's clothing this one…

The Up Stretch is the foundation for all kinds of delicious Pilates tricks.

You know the ones: all the way from Semi Circle and Snake/Twist to the Flying Squirrel and everything in between.

The Up Stretch is the first time in our Reformer order where we have just 2 fixed points and a moving middle. The hands and feet are connected to the apparatus and a flip-ton of action goes on in the center.

Think of the undulation of Up Stretch and Semi Circle, for example.

The Up Stretch: The Gateway Drug to Pilates Circus Tricks

Semi Circle is a gift! You've got your head and shoulders supported by the carriage. Enjoy it while you can.

Soon that will all go away in the Headstands:

The Up Stretch: The Gateway Drug to Pilates Circus Tricks

Now just the head and 2 feet are connected to the apparatus with a moving shape in between.

Can you see the Up Stretch in this exercise? All turned around and with no hands?

My old favorite

I love to cultivate the Up Stretch when working on my former nemesis: Snake/Twist on the Reformer.

The feet are no longer on the moving part of the carriage, and now you're turned around a bit again just like the Headstands.

The Up Stretch: The Gateway Drug to Pilates Circus Tricks

Don't be distracted. Just use your mad Up Stretch skills – your lower body – and get the job done.

Let's take it vertical!

The working title for this Guillotine-cum-Cadillac exercise is Monkey on a Stick. It's really just Semi Circle (Up Stretch) now working in a vertical plane.

On the Guillotine the bar your feet are on is not completely fixed, it moves a bit.

Aha! A new wrinkle on our road to Pilates Circus stardom…

Plus guess who's favorite exercise it is? ♥


Listen for the spring noise that is challenging Murat Berkin's foot position. He makes it look easy of course and does a great job of controlling the bar.

1 fixed point + 1 moveable point = the plot thickens!

Another low body exercise done on the Cadillac is Rolling In and Out.

The Up Stretch: The Gateway Drug to Pilates Circus TricksThe Up Stretch: The Gateway Drug to Pilates Circus TricksThe Up Stretch: The Gateway Drug to Pilates Circus TricksThe Up Stretch: The Gateway Drug to Pilates Circus TricksThe Up Stretch: The Gateway Drug to Pilates Circus Tricks

Here the lower body is fixed and the upper body's point of contact is the Roll Back bar (which moves!).

The good news is you are kneeling. Now challenge yourself to make Rolling in and Out a lower body exercise and not an arm exercise.

Thank you Up Stretch!

The Ultimate Up Stretch

For those of you who signed on for Pilates circus tricks, now is your time to shine.

The Flying Squirrel, an exercise few practitioners do at all is what the humble Up Stretch can prepare you to do.

Your fixed points of contact – alas – are not fixed at all…

Gravity awaits you at every turn…ready to wrap you in its clutches and face plant you on the mat…

Strive to find your Up Stretch in mid-air.

It's a wild ride!

Enjoy Christina Gadar's excellent Flying Squirrel at 1 minute in.

Never underestimate the power of a meat-and-potatoes exercise in our beloved Pilates method. Cultivate your best Up Stretch and it will reward you tenfold.

Know that even if you never reach the Flying Squirrel your butt will look nice 🙂

So how's your Up Stretch?

Share your thoughts and questions in a comment below.

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