Side Bending in Pilates: When will I learn?

Side Bending in Pilates: When will I learn?

Alycea Ungaro recently weighed in with her move of the month: Pilates Side Bends.

Really? I thought we were friends.

I get it.

Friends make friends do Pilates exercises they don't like.

Awesome friends insist they do it twice!

Not just me, I bet

Everyone can benefit from more of these when-do-we-move-like-this-in-life side-bending exercises. We want lots of strength and lift in both sides of our waist – and Joe Pilates has given us specific exercises just for this purpose.

So get used to that Short Box, 'cause it's not going anywhere.

Find a good friend to give you a delicious stretch in the Mermaid.

And dust off your Mat.

Do what you have to do. 

Get Ready to feel fabulous!

The Shape is Key

Side Bending in Pilates: When will I learn?

Any imbalance will show up like gangbusters in these side bend exercises. Revel in the side that is possible. And become obsessed with the gimpy-er side – it needs some tough love. Remember it doesn't have to be pretty to feel good afterwards.

Pilates is not a spectator sport…generally.

1. The Shape of All Things Pilates: Side Bend

A Killer Short Box Can't Hurt

Side Bending in Pilates: When will I learn?

Short Box Series is one of the unsung heroes of the Reformer repertoire. Loathed by countless Pilates teachers and practitioners, the Short Box continues unrelentingly to shower us with benefits. If only we appreciated all that these exercises contribute to our wellbeing. Especially the really gruesome ones… well, they're all heinous depending on who you are. Why pick just one?

The Short Box, likely the first place you'll bend to the side, deprives you of springs and occasionally, of your dignity.

Best make use of all you've got at your disposal: your stomach (scoop, lift, center, powerhouse, etc…) and the straps on your feet.

P.S. Short Spine Massage is coming…

2. The Use of the Straps in the Short Box

Mermaid: The Darling of the Pilates Exercises

Side Bending in Pilates: When will I learn?

Pilates with a friend, what could be better?

Indulge in the Mermaid and stretch like a cat all around the Pilates system. There's an apparatus for everyone. My current favorite (as you can see) is the Mermaid on the Reformer but the Wunda Chair is a close second.

Smiley McSmilerson!

3. Pilates Side-Bending: The Mermaid Obsession?

Side Bend on the Mat.

It has been a long time in coming, but I am here to scream it loud and clear:

This is a lower body exercise!

We must stop taxing our poor little arms and shoulders and stand into the lower body to hoist ourselves off the ground.



And then lift again to sit down with control.

Now let's breathe.

  • Take a deep breath in and lengthen up into the position.
  • Exhale and stretch that top side to the sky.
  • Push into your feet and see how high you can lift the hips. Be the animal that you are.
  • Now sit straight down with control and get some stretch of the lower side on the way down.

Yes, lift on the way down too.

There is no collapsing in Pilates. #collapsology?

Thank you Alycea Ungaro for this month's focus on Side-Bending.

4. Get Strong with Pilates Side Bends


Contrology was conceived to limber and stretch muscles and ligaments so that your body will be as supple as that of a cat…

Joe Pilates

C'mon, be a cat. You cannot do it right or wrong. You're either a cat or you're NOT. No two cats are the same, so you're not learning a movement, YOU'RE A CAT.

Kathy Grant

#nowyouareananimal #meow

Pilates Side-Bending: The Mermaid obsession?

A curious phenomenon occurs when we bend to the side…

Pilates Side-Bending: The Mermaid Obsession?

Pilates Side-Bending: The Mermaid Obsession?

photo courtesy of Ben Bertucci of Vintage Pilates

The Mermaid is quite the smile-inducer. What makes this exercise supremely pleasurable?

And look at those hands of his!


Usually I am not so jazzed about the Pilates side-bending exercises.

Most notably: the Short. Box.

Who knew how difficult it could be to bend to the side?

It's no secret that I love the Short Box Series on the Reformer.

But love is complicated.

Swelling feelings of warmth juxtaposed with the moment you fear your love will destroy you.

And I'm not talking about the Tree.

Gray skies are gonna clear up…

The Short Box and I have had a stormy relationship.

When I began Pilates it was always amazing. Awesome. Invigorating. I loved all the stuff we did on the Mat.

I eventually got used to the apparatus and its benefits, yes, the Reformer was definitely growing on me.

Then. We sit on the Short Box.

There aren't even any springs…??!

The first thing I learned about Side-to-Side on the Short Box:

Oh yes, this is the one where she comes to fix me.

Gradually I came to understand that the side-bending exercises (of which initially I enjoyed exactly zero) are very beneficial for me.

I know, another Pilates ‘Duh!' moment. Oh there were lots of those…

We've got all those wonderful Mermaid exercises – clearly everyone loves them.

(evidently even me)

Torturous, I tell you.

Generally I find them to be torturous. So exactly zero of them got practiced by me.

For years.

Back to the Short Box

14 years later, (1) I understand at least intellectually what needs to happen to execute the Side-to-Side exercise with optimum form. And (2) I know I'll have the rest of my life to work on it a little bit each day.

What's changed? you may ask.

What's changed other than persistence, stubbornness and the super-helpful-in-this-case passage of time?

One glimmer in the hazy world of what goes on behind me (on my back) is semantics.

Love lifts us up

The word lift can apply to any Pilates situation. For years I have been caught up in bending to the side.

Let's translate bending to the side into lifting both sides up and reaching to the side!

Back to Jay's hands for a moment:

When assisting clients on the Short Box, I watch Jay's hands give a firm but gentle help in lifting the low back.

Usually I have been more preoccupied with discouraging the lift of the shoulders and all kinds of craziness going on up there, which may be appropriate as well for some cases I suppose…

But overall, isn't positive reinforcement (what you should be using) better than a negative correction (shoulders DOWN!)?

Pilates things that make you go Hmmmmmm…

Feline inspiration

Add a little stretching like a cat to the mix as well, it can't hurt.

Don't lose yourself in striving to be the perfect Side Bend. Sometimes we can get bogged down in the Pilates Dogma or the endless checklist we have in our heads that will make everything properly aligned, lifted, scooped, etc…

Move like the animal you are!

Read the iconic Sports Illustrated article on Joe Pilates and his method and be re-inspired.

Originally published in 1961 and accompanied with the famous photos of I.C. Rapoport, the author reminds us that Joe Pilates took inspiration from the animals, the cats he observed while interned on the Isle of Man.

He saw them, when they had nothing else to do, stretching their legs out, stretching, stretching, keeping their muscles limber, alive. He began working out an orderly series of exercises to stretch the human muscles, all the human muscles.

On a sad note, author Robert Wernick passed away recently. Photos appear below courtesy of I.C. Rapoport.

In the first photo Wernick works with Joe Pilates in the 1960s. I met him at the age of 95 when he lived on the 5th floor of a walk-up apartment building in Paris and proclaimed he did the Hundred every day.

“In my 80s I decided to omit backbends,” he told me.

His posture in his 90s is lifted and tall, and with a mischievous look in his eye he spoke of ladies in their 70s who puzzled to guess his age. They decided he couldn't possibly be over 90 because of how tall and upright he was standing!

Pilates Side-Bending: The Mermaid Obsession?

Joe Pilates works with client Robert Wernick

Pilates Side-Bending: The Mermaid Obsession?

Goxwa (neighbor), Robert Wernick and I.C. Rapoport

Short Box-related posts:

More on Robert Wernick:

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