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 Short Box Series: I Stand by my Pre-Judgment.

Side-to-Side on the Short Box

Welcome to a brand. New.Year. And the rest of your life!

A big thank you to everyone who joined my January workshop, The Cadillac Project. We are a full class of 10 and I'm super excited to get to play Pilates with you on Thursday.

So many Cadillac exercises there are. I watched a bunch of Star Wars movies over the holidays.

Yoda talks about control A LOT.

“Control! Control! You must learn control!” and also another goodie “Your path you must decide.”

If you missed out on this month's workshop, check out my February and March workshops (both on your favorite apparatus, the Reformer).

Also, I've got a new offering in the works that I will share with you very soon.

Meanwhile, back to the Reformer…

Today's post has been a long time coming.

If you've been following for a while you know that I continue to be fascinated/frustrated by The Short Box Series on the Reformer. I have spent considerable time building my Short Box proficiency and I've shared my thoughts with you here, here and here.

I talk about The Short Box Series everywhere… here's an old one I wrote for Pilates Style Magazine.

Kiss Today Goodbye…

Twist on the Short Box

I am a big fan of applying my Pilates workout to balance out all the zest and pleasure I pour into my life. And in the midst of the 2 biggest holiday weekends of the year, oh, Reformer exercises, how I love thee!

Let me count the ways!

This Christmas season I didn't travel (shocker) and Joe and I created our own traditional Italian Christmas Eve Feast of the 7 Fishes. As a family of two, we only made it to 5 fishes, and it was delicious.

After a few days of lying around, binging the aforementioned Star Wars saga (well most of them) and finding myself permanently attached to my wine glass, I needed a dose of the truth.

I try not to judge my workout too harshly when I really just need to MOVE. That's the beauty of Pilates. those exercises are working even if you don't think you're particularly good at them. And really, it's the sucky ones that can be magical. Evil magic for a while tho…

Back in the Day

Kinda goes without saying here, but I love the Pilates Method.

I love the exercises, the specified apparatus, the way there is a protocol for getting on and off of the apparatus, the order! I have loved the way the exercises make my body feel literally since my very first Mat class way back in Washington, DC.

A big shout-out to all the amazing peeps at Excel Pilates DC!

I loved my Mat classes and later, when I became apparatus-curious, I enjoyed all the “new” Pilates exercises I got to learn in my small group apparatus class. Hey, I can do that same crazy thing over here on the Reformer?? Sweet!

I loved it all.

EXCEPT for those damn Short Box Exercises.

All the fun of straps and springs were nowhere to be found and I was stranded up there trying to make things happen in my body: Round! Now Tall! Bend to the Side! Twist and REACH!!!!

At least during the Tree I got to be upside down for a little bit… but too little too late. And then when Tree got super interesting along come more fricking leg circles?

WTF, Joe Pilates?!

Although make no mistake, Leg Circles are the gift that keeps on giving…

Aw Crap, Back to 2020…

Round Back on the Short Box

Each time I visit the Short Box exercises in my workout, I try to talk myself down from the ledge.

This stuff is good for me, and you always gotta love the exercises you don't like…

My mantra continues…

And as a Pilates teacher, I understand the value of the exercises on the Short Box. Everyone needs these exercises!

We need to learn how to sit up and lift ourselves and move in all planes of motion, and globally stretch the back of us.

Blah, blah, BLAHHHHH…

But last week, in the midst of a recent romp on the Reformer, I had HAD it.

I didn't know anything about the Pilates System or my body all those years ago. All I knew was that I REALLY didn't like the Short Box Series.

I stand by my pre-judgment!

It's like Joe Pilates created this series just for me. On the Short Box, I'm confronted with the most challenging skill I will encounter in my workout:

There's nothing to stand on. I gotta figure out that part right off the bat.

And with nothing to stand on, there's no supportive carriage, footbar, etc… to lift up and away from. I gotta generate it ALL.

OMG it's like a test! Do you have it? Often I do not.

All the help I expect from the Reformer in lots of the exercises is nowhere to be found.

And sitting on that box? It's a recipe for a grip-fest.

Does this sound familiar? Well, I've got an idea…

It's time for a noble Pilates experiment!

I knew you'd be excited.

Attention all Order Nerds:

Rocking on the Reformer

All of you, dear readers, have enjoyed my most viewed post, On the Order of the Pilates Reformer Exercises.

This post examines the reasoning behind what I'm gonna call ‘the old skool order' of the standard Reformer repertoire from Joe Pilates.

The ‘old skool order' assumes that once you get on the Reformer, you will do it all.

Doing it all includes the Second Long Box.

Fess up now if you never include this series in your Reformer workout.

Guilty.

If the existence of the Second Long Box is truly news to you, welcome to the longest series of 3 exercises since the Teaser (or the Horseback).

And when you include the Second Long Box, the Short Box Series gets “saved” and plops down right afterward.

Therefore you are really warmed up and perhaps a little tired.

In any case, I want to see what happens to my Short Box Series if I place it later in the order – not randomly, but where it goes in the later part of the Reformer exercises.

Will I have more skills in my body by that point in the workout?

Or will I be too pooped to care anymore?

The suspense is killing me.

The Best Laid Plans…

Any deviation from your usual order of exercises shows you that old habits die hard.

A ton of mental activity must run concurrently with your workout to successfully move stuff around and not forget anything.

Like the Second Long Box and the Short Box Series.

Yeah.

So much for my brain getting a workout.

Sometimes you find out that the Reformer is smarter than you are.

Ok so here's how it went down.

The Plan

The Reach on the Short Box

  • My Long Spine Massage is in the shop (Cadillac) at the moment, so I planned to put the Frog and Circles at the end, right before the Mermaid and the Knee Stretch Series.
  • I'm including the Headstands as well.
  • I also wanted to put in the Headstand with the Straps instead of the Backbend after Thigh Stretch for now.

Other than those bits it was all going to be in there: from Footwork to the Russian Splits.

Lately I've been setting a timer for 1 hour and willing myself to finish before the timer squeals at me. As a reformed slowpoke, knowing the clock is ticking helps prevents me from micromanaging certain exercises (I'll bet you can guess).

It was going so well.

When I finished the Russian Splits I looked at the timer:

5:52 minutes remaining!

I tidied my apparatus and contemplated an ending sequence: a few rolling exercises or a couple of Cadillac exercises or…

Wait a minute.

In the tenuous moment of inserting Frog and Circles for Long Spine Massage, all my thoughts of Second-Long-Box-then-Short-Box went out the window.

Blast.

But I've got those extra minutes. Plenty of time.

And technically the Short Box Series was still (very) late in the workout.

Another Pilates problem solved!

So how did it go?

Tree on the Short Box

The premise: Would my Short Box skills be more available to me if I use the “old skool” order of exercises which places the Short Box much later in the workout?

The simple answer is yes. I did feel more prepared for Short Box. The skills I needed from the Reformer were more in my body. I didn't have to desperately search for them quite as much.

Now granted, I essentially ended up doing the Short Box after the workout.

But it's not like I'm never getting on the Reformer again… I'm about to hop on again in an hour to see if my brain will be better this time round…

Here are the extra exercises between where I planned to put the Short Box Series and where I actually did it:

  • Frog and Circles
  • Mermaid
  • Knee Stretch Series
  • Running
  • Bottom Lift
  • Control Push Ups Front and Back
  • Star
  • Side Splits
  • Front Splits
  • Russian Splits

Looking at this list now I feel like Tree is your splits-before-the-splits exercise.

On the Reformer in 2021

Thank you so much for joining me for this noble Pilates order experiment. The Pilates Method gives such riches. You are always rewarded by diligent practice.

The Reformer also has a quiet way of making you check your ego at the door.

Join me in February for more Short Box FUN!

We'll take a hard look at all your fundamental Reformer exercises and determine how they prepare you for the complex exercises “conveniently” placed in the latter part of your workout.

That's right, It's a workout just to get to them LOL

Your fundamentals are the building blocks for all those exercises with a bad rap: Overhead, Snake/Twist, Star and the list goes on.

If all this sounds like your kind of fun as well, reserve your spot today.

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

Got questions about exercises or wondering if these workshops are for you?

Hit me up in the comments and let's chat 🙂

The Pilates System: Rowing Series on the Reformer, Part 2

The Pilates System: Rowing on the Reformer, Part 2

Thanks again to the lovely Lesley Logan for collaborating with me on this YouTube video series.

If you missed last week's post – the first installation of this series – you can view it here.

Over the course of 3 posts we'll take a closer look at the 6 exercises which make up the Rowing Series on the Reformer:

The 6 Rowing Series exercises as they appear in the order of the Pilates Reformer exercises:

  • Rowing 1: Into the Sternum
  • Rowing 2: 90° 
  • Rowing 3: From the Chest
  • Rowing 4: From the Hip
  • Rowing 5: Shave
  • Rowing 6: Hug

So for this week's video collab we'll look at the middle 2 exercises in our Rowing Series.

Rowing 3: From the Chest

The Pilates System: Rowing Series on the Reformer, Part 2

I find this Rowing exercise – From the Chest – to be a choice nugget of Pilates goodness.

It's just so perfect.

The support you receive from the straps helps to lift your tall back up and forward. And next there's a brilliant moment where the support of the straps goes away and yet you must maintain your lift!

Twice. Twice this moment happens!

Our first moments of (albeit supported) Reach!

Let's unpack it:

  • Sit tall.
  • Reach arms straight out to eye level. Imagine the lower back lifts and follows the trajectory of your fingertips.
  • Keep the lift and reach into the handles toward the carriage, forward and down.
  • Lift the lower back and reach forward continuing arms all the way up overhead.
  • Pause.
  • Lift your chest and gaze. Lift your whole-self. This is the raison d'être of this exercise!
  • Keep the lift of the back and reach fingertips side to side in your periphery with control.
  • Repeat 3x.

Rowing 4: From the Hip

The Pilates System: Rowing Series on the Reformer, Part 2

Rowing 3+4 just may be my favorites of the Rowing Series. Keep a long lifted body as you reach first toward your heels and then forward and all the way up to the same finish as Rowing 3.

Challenge yourself further by holding the carriage still on your journey to the upright position.

Enjoy!

  • Sit tall with hands on the mat beside you.
  • Lift and round over the lower body as you reach your fingertips along the mat and forward.
  • Reach below your heels if possible.
  • And now for a wonderful moment of foreshadowing. Use your reach a là Swan on the Barrel and bring the entire torso upright with arms overhead.
  • Pause. Keep the lift and S-L-O-W-L-Y reach fingertips side-to-side in your periphery. Don't rush this moment!
  • Repeat 3x.

Enjoy this short tutorial collaboration.

Thanks for watching!

Wanna see more video collabs like this one?

Suggest your favorite exercises in a comment below!

And here's where to find me in 2018

The Universal Reformer: A Tutorial on the Side Splits

The Universal Reformer: A Tutorial on the Side Splits

For Corrie

Full disclosure: Side Splits on the Reformer has never been a favorite.

While not as formidable as exercises like Snake Twist and the Neck Pull, Side Splits has always felt a bit scary and precarious for me.

And I think I know why…

I've just completed the bulk of my Reformer workout. I'm wrung out. Sure I've been lying down for a bit. Thanks to Joe Pilates' order of exercises, I've used Running and Pelvic lift to bring myself back to center.

What a great time to stand up on the Reformer???!

#not

The Series of 3

Side Splits is the first exercise in a series of 3 splits. Stay tuned for future tutorials on Front Splits and Russian Splits (If I am truly feeling generous – and brave – I'll upload a video on the 4th split exercise we have, the Big Splits also called the Grand Écarté).

But I'm getting ahead of myself…

Side Splits on the Reformer

At first glance this exercise comes out of nowhere. It's an exercise that makes me think “Hmmm, how is this exercise like all the others?”

Lest we forget our mantra:

The Universal Reformer: A Tutorial on the Side Splits

Upon closer inspection, the Side Splits is a full-on powerhouse power move.

Now into the standing portion of our hour-long workout, soon we'll need to walk out of the studio and into our daily life. Thanks, Joe Pilates for an amazing send off!

Let's not get distracted by the split maneuver. Remember our primary objective is to close the springs with control.

And the action of the Side Splits makes us have to  – literally – pull ourselves together.

Side Splits Step-by-Step

Use 2 springs if Side Splits is a new exercise for you. Ultimately you'll do the exercise on 1 spring.

  • Step up onto the carriage 1 foot at a time.
  • Place 1 foot onto the frame of the Reformer.
  • Keeping the carriage closed, work your foot on the carriage (heel-toe) across to be in front of the shoulder rest and directly in line with your foot on the frame.
  • Press your feet into the Reformer and lift in and up in your center.
  • Press the carriage out and hold 3 counts.
  • Bring the carriage in completely and hold for 3 counts.
  • Repeat 3 times.
  • Bring the foot on the frame onto the carriage and turn toward the springs to get to the other side.
  • Repeat on the other side.

What's this about an embellishment?

  • On the 3rd repetition hold the carriage open as you lower your body over your legs.
  • Roll back up to standing.
  • Close the carriage.
  • Repeat the embellishment with the carriage closed and then proceed to the other side.
  • On the other side you'll do a standing version of the Saw in the same manner: with the carriage open and then with the carriage closed.
  • More deets about these embellishments in the video…

Update: The Small Barrel Project

Today I am 15 days into my self-imposed posture intervention, the Small Barrel Project.

Wowza. Halfway there!

What amazing fabulousness has happened in week 2?

  • I've gathered more intel about the little twist in my body and how it's all tied into strengthening my weak side. Not new information but a new tangible experience of it.

Ah now I understand…

  • I've gained a new understanding of just how much work the center must do to effectively work the seat and open the hips. This will give me plenty to work on in the remainder of this challenge…
  • My neck is now happiest during my exercises. My neck is often annoyed that I am not perfectly postured in every waking moment. Well, at least I'm on the case.
  • I've found a delicious and unexpected Arm Chair moment on the Small Barrel: our old friend the Hug. I'm thoroughly enjoying the open-arms-out-to-the-side position: maintaining a strong anchored-into-the-barrel position with the barrel as a template for my upper back.
  • Most importantly I've noticed the Small Barrel exercises are a microcosm of the skills I work on in my Reformer workout: shoulder blades anchoring into the back, effective use of my seat, connecting to and stretching the sides of my body to my arms and hands, stretching the fronts of my thighs, working my weak side. Perfect your skills here and take them all around the studio. Again not a surprise, just a refreshing reminder.

#weonlyhaveoneexercise

Enjoy this short video.

Thanks for watching!

Wanna experience the blog live and in person? 

Here’s where to find me in 2017

The Universal Reformer: A Brief Tutorial on the Up Stretch

The Universal Reformer: A Brief Tutorial on the Up StretchThe Universal Reformer: A Brief Tutorial on the Up Stretch

For Jayne

Hello and welcome to a brief tutorial on my new nemesis exercise: the Up Stretch.

With all Pilates exercises, the more our body changes so does our experience of the exercises. Now with newfound control we can tackle deeper nuances of an exercise and peel away at the artichoke.

Recently, in a tutorial on the Backstroke, we looked at moving beyond the choreography of the exercise to examine how the exercise will best benefit our bodies.

Let's take a look at this same theme, now in the Up Stretch.

What makes a successful Long Stretch Series?

The exercises of the Long Stretch Series encourage us to cultivate the lower body:

The Down Stretch exemplifies most clearly the “push-pull” aspect of the 2-way stretch. I find it to be a great help with all the other exercises in the series.

The Up Stretch is one of the more complex exercises in this series. Consequently the drive of the lower body feels much more tangible. It's almost an upside down Long Back Stretch.

Um…because it is…

Remember, the starting/ending positions of the Up Stretch are certainly helped by the Elephant.

Find an exercise in this series that speaks to you. Use it to perfect the others and see how you do.

And what about our old friend the Order of the Reformer Exercises? Help from Joe Pilates is always appreciated…

Be mercenary

To the casual observer, the choreography of the Up Stretch includes a moment when the carriage moves out and the hips lower toward the carriage.

Sometimes I wish I didn't have this idea in my head. Choreography has a way of hijacking the exercise, lessening its benefits.

What's really going on here?

Moreover, let's ask ourselves “What is this exercise doing for our body?”

Corrective exercise should serve our bodies well in LIFE – not just in the Up Stretch.

Enjoy this short video tutorial. 

Thanks so much for watching!

Wanna experience the blog live and in person?

Join me in December!

Upcoming Workshops

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

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