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…

Thanks Order of the Pilates Exercises: Transitions! 2!

Thanks Order of the Pilates Exercises: Transitions! 2!

Welcome to the 2nd installment of Transtions! Transitions!

The Order of the Universe

Working through the order of the Pilates Reformer exercises, let's go back a bit to the very beginning before continuing on through the sequence.

Post-Footwork and into the Hundred

The very first transition you'll get to enjoy precedes the Hundred. Speedily and without getting up you'll use your feet to lower the footbar after completing the Footwork series.

One foot will lift the footbar while the other catches the support bar. It's even a little bit of an abdominal exercise as you control both bars down into place without a bang.

Please note: Depending on the manufacturer of your Reformer, this may or may not be possible: for example if your Reformer has a locking mechanism on the footbar. Alternatively you can cleanly sit up to take it down efficiently with your hands – no worries, you can still get a clean and efficient transition out of it.

In and out of the Rowing Series

So far we've covered 4 transitions: (Find the ones you missed here.)

  • Footwork into Hundred
  • In and out of the long black straps after the Hundred and Frog and Circles OR
  • Hundred into Overhead
  • Backstroke into the Teaser

Going back a bit in the order, we'll pick up the efficient transitions within the Rowing Series.

Coordination into Rowing 1+2

After Coordination you've got a few things to accomplish efficiently. You'll remove a spring and you'll turn around to get into position for the first exercise in the Rowing Series: Into the Sternum.

For maximum efficiency in this transition you'll get into place first and then remove the spring once you're there.

  1. Take the handles into one hand.
  2. Sit up and turn all the way around. Place both legs into the space between the shoulder rests.
  3. You've still got a free hand. Reach behind you to remove 1 spring (you'll have 1 spring remaining for the Rowing).
  4. Do the Rowing exercises 1+2: Into the Sternum and 90°

Please note: the headpiece will be down from the Overhead. If you are not currently doing the Overhead, the headpiece may be up and you'll have to put it down. Just an extra moment to show off how efficient you can be.

Rowing 2 into Rowing 3-6

You've finished the first 2 exercises in this series and you'll need to turn around for the next 4 exercises, the remainder of the series. I have found the following transition to be most effective.

  1. Place the handles on the carriage beside your legs, approximately in front of the shoulder rests.
  2. Bring your legs around and turn to face the front of the Reformer.
  3. Slide back in between the handles and pick them up for the 3rd exercise in the series: From the Chest.
  4. Do the Rowing exercises 3-6: From the Chest, From the Hips, Shave and Hug.
  5. After the Hug, replace your handles onto the bolts where they live. Now you're ready for Long Box 1!

Efficiency builds stamina

A word about the purpose of transitions: connection!

You'll connect each exercise to the next.

Moreover, you'll keep the workout going. Your connection to your center will be enhanced by your transitions.

This is not a time for resting. Keep your focus.

Keep your workout seamless and challenging.

Enjoy this short video tutorial.

Questions? Please leave them in a comment below.

Thank you so so much for watching!

Subscribe to receive a Special Bonus Blogpost
How to Fall in Love with the Exercises you Hate
We respect your privacy and never share your information.