Pilates Reformer Exercise #23: The Long Back Stretch

Pilates Reformer Exercise #23: The Long Back Stretch

My favorite aspect of a Pilates workout is definitely the use of the 2-way stretch.

What is that exactly?

The 2-way stretch is used to describe the action of each and every Pilates exercise: a long oppositional reach away from a strong center, epitomized by the Double Leg Pull on the Mat.

Using the 2-way stretch serves our workout by giving us an over-arching goal or premise for all the exercises. In Teacher Training programs we learn the purpose(s) of each individual exercise: to open the chest, to correct posture, to stretch the hip, etc…

With the 2-way stretch we create a singular focus for every exercise.

In this manner I believe we are working diligently toward the major tenet of Joe Pilates' indispensable method: the strength and suppleness of the spine.

If your spine is inflexibly stiff at 30, you are old.

If it is completely flexible at 60, you are young.

Our Pilates workout enables us to defy gravity which is insistent on compressing our bodies.

2-way Stretch Primer

It may be confusing to discern the specifics of each of our oppositional forces. Let's take a closer look:

Upper Body Reach: essentially the lift of the entire trunk of the body, the upper body reach originates in the low waist and continues up and out the fingertips. Think of all the Short Box exercises to enhance your posture.

Lower Body Reach: beginning at the upper stomach/mid back and reaching all the way down through the tailbone and to the toes. Think about all the exercises in which the lower body is extended out and away from the body: Hundred, Leg Circles, Teaser, etc…

I remember being super psyched when I could consistently achieve the reach of the Upper Body, connecting the arms and shoulders into the back.

Sweet! One more reach to go.

Alas, the Lower Body Reach, literally the lion's share of the body, proved harder to wrangle and repeat.

That pretty much sums up my Pilates workout.

Wrangle. Repeat.

We Only Have One Exercise

Given our premise that all the Pilates exercises are different versions of each other I enjoy finding one exercise that truly speaks to my body right now.

I call this a touchstone exercise.

Our iconic touchstone exercise is the Double Leg Pull.

In recent weeks I have enjoyed other touchstone exercises for my workout including the Stomach Massage, Thigh Stretch and Frog.

The Epitome of the Lower Body Reach

Enter the Long Back Stretch.

Gosh I even like the name of this exercise!

The Long Back Stretch is one of the more challenging exercises in the Long Stretch Series on the Reformer. Although the Up Stretch and the Elephant are also isolating the lower body, I find the Long Back Stretch to be the most tangible way for me to find it.

Sometimes with the harder exercises we have to suck it up more to accomplish them. Also in the Long Back Stretch we are upright and have a better vantage point to watch our body move and will it to succeed.

#rememberwillpower

What's really going on here?

First of all – and I can't emphasize it enough – the Long Back Stretch is not an arm exercise.

Yes, your arms are working, your whole body is working, but it is the lower body that must do the heavy lifting here.

Some key points for Long Back Stretch success:

  • Firmly plant your heels into the shoulder blocks of the Reformer.
  • If your knees like to lock out – like mine do – watch them like a hawk while you do this exercise. If you can see what you're doing in an exercise, you should pay attention.
  • When the carriage is out and you must raise or lower your position (depending on whether you are doing the first direction or the reverse) KEEP THE CARRIAGE STILL. This is where the magic happens and you'll feel the 2-way stretch most deliciously!

Enjoy this video tutorial on the Long Back Stretch.

I'll go over the key points mentioned above plus I'll try out our new Long Back Stretch skills on a couple Mat and Reformer exercises to see what happens.

Got questions? Leave me a comment and let's chat about one of my favorite subjects: the lower body.

Thanks for watching!

The Silver Lining of Injury: Frog + Leg Circles Edition

The Silver Lining of Injury: Frog + Leg Circles Edition

If you've got a keen eye on your Instagram feed you may know I broke a little bone in my foot a few months ago.

Rushing around my home, alas I was a victim of my own powerful stride and I smacked the hell out of my foot on a solid piece of furniture.

*sigh*

Please note the furniture has since been rearranged…

I thought I had learned my lesson over a year ago.

In life and in Pilates, repetition is the mother of all learning.

The Magic is in the System

The Silver Lining of Injury: Frog + Leg Circles Edition

My injury demanded I omit exercises done on the ball of the foot for several weeks.

I kept hoping thinking I could skip Long Spine Massage for whatever reason. Probably because it's challenging and I don't love it, but alas, anything in the straps felt perfectly fine.

What a luxury to have a full Pilates studio at my disposal to return from an injury. I am also an expert at working around foot injuries now…woo hoo!

What you don't like you do twice

In my Monday lessons with Karen Frischmann, I predominately work on the Reformer. It's one of my favorite workouts. Now, forced to omit exercises to accommodate my injury, imagine how much time I had left in the hour.

Boatloads.

Plenty of time to work toward more strength and connection in the exercises I don't do well.

Womp womp…

Enter the Leg Spring Series…done anywhere.

Cultivating Frog and Leg Circles

The Silver Lining of Injury: Frog + Leg Circles Edition

Just between you and me, I have strong, eager leg muscles. They just want to do everything.

With the help of Frog and Circles on the Reformer, the Spine Corrector and my friend the 80″ Gratz Reformer I am working toward a full body workout here as well as in a host of related exercises: Short Spine Massage, Long Spine Massage and the High Frog.

Don't Settle for 1-way Stretch. You deserve 2.

The Pilates exercises done lying down can be deceptive.

Sure we gladly use our scoop and lift if we are sitting up on the Short Box, but it can be challenging to find our oppositional reach when we're so comfortable and reclined.

Whatever shall we do?

Remember what we do at first lying down, you can bet Joe Pilates will expect us to perform the same tasks and more sitting up, upside down, on one leg, while twisting, etc…

Short Spine Massage

Short Spine Massage takes us from the very same starting position…

The Silver Lining of Injury: Frog + Leg Circles Edition

to vertical.

The Silver Lining of Injury: Frog + Leg Circles Edition

Clearly we need lift to accomplish this maneuver, so why not go for even more of it before we begin?

Long Spine Massage

Joe Pilates presents same scenario in the Long Spine Massage.

The Silver Lining of Injury: Frog + Leg Circles Edition

Again we begin lying down and our lift must take us up and off the carriage.

Use your in-and-up lift to oppose the reach of the lower body and get a glimpse of the “massage” the name promises.

High Frog

The Silver Lining of Injury: Frog + Leg Circles Edition

High Frog is an advanced exercise that follows Short Spine Massage.

It's really the same Frog we did lying down.

It's also the Tower exercise we do on the Cadillac (This one I had to leave out as well, so I was very appreciative of my quality High Frog time). But jus' sayin'.

The Silver Lining of Injury: Frog + Leg Circles Edition

What a system!

Use your lift well in the Frog lying down and create a strong, lifted and successful High Frog.

Speaking of the Cadillac…

With my new skills of lift in the Frog and Circles on the Reformer imagine my surprise when I revisited the Leg Circles on the Cadillac.

Now on a stable surface instead of a moving carriage, the lift remains the same.

Of course.

I just may learn to love the Leg Spring Series after all…

As with any injury, we always learn more about or beloved Pilates Method and more about our own body's experience of the exercises.

It almost makes it worth breaking the little bone in my foot.

Almost 🙂

Enjoy this short video tutorial. 

Leave your questions and share your successes in a comment below.

Thanks for watching!

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

Another One Bites the Dust #2

Another One Bites the Dust #2

Welcome to the unanticipated 2nd installment of Another One Bites the Dust. This series is my homage to the ‘if-you-hate-em-you'll-someday-love-em' exercises of the Pilates Method.

Exercises in the dust so far

On the Mat:

  • The Roll Up
  • The Neck Pull

On the Reformer:

  • Short Box Series
  • Breaststroke

On the Cadillac:

  • The Leg Springs

When we last left our heroine she was predicting that the Snake/Twist exercise on the Reformer would indeed reveal more yumminess than could be believed. Check her out in the above photo: a hazy Snake/Twist from days of old.

And oh yeah, it's been so good to me lately.

For us crooked folk, there's nothing quite like a twist to shake it all down and make us more balanced. Yes, you've got to work for it, but the wringing out of the Snake/Twist is quite effective. Dare I say it's delicious?

Deeeeeeeelicious it is and I've already upped it to 3 Snake, 2 Twist and sometimes the 1 arm Twist as well.

Workin' on my stamina, folks!

But yes, no one was more surprised than I at the staggering number of these puppies I now like to do.

“What you don't like you do twice!”

I love love LOVE being reminded of this quote, reportedly from Romana quoting Joe Pilates.

It's fun to imagine Joe saying it.

So let's all suck it up and dig into those exercises that we just don't like at all. Treasures abound as we increase our proficiency in these challenging-for-us exercises.

Another One Bites the Dust #2

It's helpful to have a sense of humor about how difficult we find them to be.

L.O. Frickin' L.

And the secret is…?

I'm sure it will not come as a surprise that consistent practice is the way to better our most hated exercises. But even more valuable to me are the weekly private lessons that I've been doing for nearly 5 years now. Sure I'd love to have a lesson 2 or 3 times a week – that would be amazing.

For now, 1 lesson per week is what I can do financially and proximity-wise as I am traveling for my lesson.

But what is invaluable to me is the inspiration and the jump start to my week that my Monday lessons provide. I also find that the same consistent instructor really keeps me on task. My focus and progress are consistent.

And I'm addicted to feeling good.

Very motivating.

Physically, of course, untwisted and more balanced.

And mentally hey that was hard and I DID it! – it's a high as well.

I am a huge fan of taking lessons with many teachers. I also enjoy taking workshops. But currently, my private lessons with one teacher are revealing such amazing aspects of this work. The body is learning first and informing the mind in a different way than even workshops can do.

That being said, I also enjoy taking Mat classes with Jennifer Kries. She's local to me and makes me do the Swimming exercise for way longer than I ever do it on my own. I mean, what are friends for?

We've all got “friends in the biz,” right?

Your mission:

  1. Find a fellow teacher you love to hang around.
  2. Schedule a lesson.
  3. Check Workout! off your to-do list.

Hey that's 1 Hot Tip

I find the elusive moments in the Snake/Twist to be in the moments of the initial set up and return – essentially the same Elephant-ish/Up Stretch-ish position.

Strengthen the first part of the exercise and it makes the whole thing better.

To enliven your connection to the apparatus let's put all those springs on for a bit. No, you won't be going anywhere, but you'll be a sweaty little mess regardless.

With all the springs on the carriage remains stationary. You are now free to push the lower body into the footbar firmly. You can play around and discover how your back will control the arms on the carriage.

You can visit with it. Spend a little time. You can Elephant (sort of) to your heart's content.

What does it feel like to REALLY push into the footbar? Use the lower body to feel how powerfully it will initiate the movement of the carriage (in a bit, after you go back to 1 spring).

Use your scoop to lift and hold that carriage in. ALL THE WAY IN. Close the last inch of the carriage.

Anyone?

Now you've got your scoop on!

Got a favorite exercise you love to hate?

Let it all out – #Pilatesventing – in a comment below

Rock on, Pilates peeps!

Pilates Projects: 5 Basics to Tackle the Tendon Stretch

Pilates Projects: 5 Basics to Tackle the Tendon Stretch

For Sally

The Tendon Stretch on the Reformer and its MANY variations is a hot topic for Pilates practitioners and teachers. It's an exercise for which I constantly revise my plan of action.

Elusive some days and a glimmer of hope in the next lesson…it's a roller coaster of a ride.

Oh I can get it done and muscle through it of course.

But I've come to understand that the Tendon Stretch is not an upper body exercise. Hmmm…

Shocker!

Just because you've got that footbar in your hot little hands does not make it an arm exercise.

Repeat the previous sentence 3 more times.

Every Day a Little Tendon Stretch

As a super challenging exercise, the Tendon Stretch is a work-in-progress for me. I am happy to share tips and tricks that have been successful in my workouts – and you may find other exercises that speak to you as well.

If you find an exercise to be helpful to find the lower body, the stomach and seat, by all means go for it. You cannot go wrong.

#pilatesproblemsolving

Remember your mantra:

Pilates Projects: 5 Basics to Tackle the Tendon Stretch

The Reformer helper exercises are in order, so as you workout you'll get a few moments to contemplate the Tendon Stretch along the way. A little Pilates foreshadowing…

We'll begin with our old friend the Elephant.

1. The Elephant

Pilates Projects: 5 Basics to Tackle the Tendon Stretch

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

The Elephant gives us the basic shape and action of the Tendon Stretch. The position here is more manageable and open and also less precarious than the Tendon Stretch. Less upside down if you will.

Here you are looking for length in the back of the body which you'll need later on as well.

Use the points of contact you have with the Reformer to your best advantage:

  • Reach to the Footbar like you would reach forward in Mat exercises like the Roll Up and the Spine Stretch.
  • Plant your heels firmly into the carriage.

You'll explore these same connections when you get to the Tendon Stretch.

2. The Elephant with One Leg

Pilates Projects: 5 Basics to Tackle the Tendon Stretch

Not to be confused with the exercises known as Arabesques, the Elephant with one leg maintains the same round shape we need in the Tendon Stretch.

This is very important for our purposes here.

Later on, after you're a champ at the Tendon Stretch, feel free to Arabesque all over the place.

This is perhaps the first time in the Reformer sequence that you will work a one-leg variation. Guess when the next one will be?

Remember your premise for using the apparatus in the first place. You get support and assistance whenever and wherever you are connected to the Reformer. Two legs on the carriage? No problem. Take a leg off and it now has to work on its own without much support on one side. This is often challenging.

And if you already know you have a weaker side, it can be VERY challenging.

Relax, if you didn't like a challenge you wouldn't be doing Pilates in the first place and now look you've made it all the way to the Tendon Stretch with one leg. BRA-VO!

3. Stomach Massage Series #1

Pilates Projects: 5 Basics to Tackle the Tendon Stretch

I find the lifted curve of the 1st Stomach Massage exercise to mimic the same Tendon Stretch position you'll soon encounter in the very next exercise – so it's a great time to cram.

Thanks, order of the exercises!

Here you'll use the lift of your back and the feet reaching into the footbar to be able to then recreate these connections upside down (and on one leg) in the Tendon Stretch.

You can maintain the lift better in your Tendon Stretch with the Stomach Massage position in mind. Otherwise I find it easy to just drop over my legs – and although I think I have lift – it's really just gravity.

PS – It feels like Elephant. ?

4. Tree

Pilates Projects: 5 Basics to Tackle the Tendon Stretch

Another crazy helpful exercise is the Tree. I like this one for refining all things one-sided. A great Tree goes a long way. If you can do the Tree well, you can do anything!

Look at the photo above of the Tree.

Now compare it to the photo of Tendon Stretch with one leg at the top of this post.

Joe Pilates' favorite pastime: If you can do it right side up, surely you can do it upside down.

The Tree is especially helpful for the Tendon Stretch with the leg to the back. Use your fabulous mind  to mimic the support of the strap on your foot here to gain support for the leg reaching back in the Tendon Stretch.

5. The 2×4 exercises

The Pilates 2×4 exercises can be a wonderful tool to work on connecting the lower extremities into the center. You can work your entire body soundly with these simple, effective and brutal exercises.

Pilates projects: 5 Basics to Tackle the Tendon StretchPilates projects: 5 Basics to Tackle the Tendon Stretch

Let's take it vertical.

You can do it plain and you can do it fancy.

Standing in the heels-together-and-toes-apart (V) position we have what is essentially the 4th Footwork exercise also – awkwardly, for my purposes – called the Tendon Stretch.

Lift, control and balance are necessary to ground the feet and ignite the center of the body.

Repetition is the Mother of all Learning

Time.

Time is another component to factor into these challenging exercises. The one-leg variations are an exercise in stamina as well. Steady practice over many years is often necessary.

I have been doing the Tendon Stretch as a regular part of my workout for over a decade.

For many years I am sure, it was quite bad. But you must begin somewhere. Now in my lessons I get really jazzed to get another morsel of clarity – a glimmer of “Oh, it's just like that other exercise!”

Revel in the amount of time you have to traipse along the Pilates Path.

Persevere in your Tendon Stretch on the Reformer and use these 5 exercises to aid you on your noble quest. Know that other exercises may be of a great help as well. Some other helpers that come to my mind include:

  • Pull Up on the Wunda Chair
  • Tendon Stretch on the Wunda Chair
  • Long Back Stretch on the Reformer
  • The Roll Up

…and the beat goes on. La di da di dee…la di da di dah…

Lift my leg, whaaah? 

Yes, a word about transitioning to the one-leg variations:

Here's a video tutorial to work on lifting one leg to the side. Start with the leg to the side variation before adding all the other ones. You should be quite solid and secure in the standard version with 2 legs first.

Share your progress in a comment below 🙂

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