The Pilates System: Strategies for a Tight Low Back

The Pilates System: Strategies for a Tight Low Back

Thank you to Jodie for your comment that inspired this post.

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A special thanks to the lovely readers in Chicago, Montana, London and the Philippines for your thoughtful comments.

So glad we get to chat!


Join me for a new series of posts as we explore strategies for alleviating and lengthening a tight low back.

I am happy to share my thoughts, resources, exercises and experience on my own Pilates journey with all my lovely Pilates friends. I should be an expert by now since I have my own personal tight low back to lengthen each and every day.

Pilates problem solving (and LOVE) all around!


What makes a tight low back?

Tightness in the low back comes in various shapes and sizes.

There's the swayback, like me, usually accompanied by ribs that like to poke out and overworking hips/thighs.

The Pilates System: Strategies for a Tight Low Back

Another type of tight back I've encountered in several of my clients is the tight and sinky back, sometimes accompanied by a tucked pelvis and hip tightness too.

As you look at the body in front of you – or your own body – what characteristics do you observe?

  • Is this a stiff person or a super flexible individual?
  • Long torso or a short torso?
  • How tight is tight?
  • How long has it been that way? An avid exerciser? Active lifestyle or never worked out before?

All these details will give you information and help you to choose exercises wisely for the back in front of you.

“Think Like a Sculptor.”

Contributors to a tight low back include posture, heredity, occupation, sports and all our daily activities.

Part of what we love about the Pilates Method is the efficacy with which it counteracts all the shit we do to ourselves while living with “zest and pleasure.”

Kerry DeVivo, one of my first teachers, first led me down the path toward Jay Grimes' beloved quote:

Think like a sculptor: Get rid of the big chunks first. Don't start with the eyelashes.

Notice the body in front of you. Look for balance in the body.

  • Are there parts that seem out of proportion or over-developed?
  • If you were building this body into a Pilates exercise what would you keep?
  • What would have to change to accomplish the exercise more efficiently?
  • Take a 360° look at the body: what would a change in the front do to the back? What needs to open in the front and how will the back of the body facilitate this?

Kerry pointed up the larger muscles in our bodies that seemed to be out of proportion or distorting the rest of the body. But not to worry, there's an app(aratus) for that…

So what makes length in the low back?

Length in the back requires considerable muscular action.

Oh and opposition.



Just like with a rubber band, if you pull it from both ends it gets long and strong in the middle.

With our backs, it is the ribcage (the gateway to opening up the middle back) that must lift in and upward.

For the opposing force we must find the action of the seat – really the underside of the seat, the part that would pop you up taller if you engaged it when you're sitting on it – that must lengthen downward toward our heels.

I've found the ribs and the seat, they kinda go together. They like to be connected and are helpful to find each other. When the ribs fly and it's hard to locate the seat, and you'll need both to create a long line in the back of the body.

This can be quite a feat of coordination to get the 2-way stretch in action to create length in the back.


Little by little you'll gain control over all of the muscles that will aid in lengthening the back.

Joe Pilates' dream for all of us is that we achieve complete control over our muscles. So if you're in need of more length in your tight back you'll know what muscles to use and which exercises to do to achieve it.

Remember Rome was not built in a day…

A Safe Workout for a Stiff Back

Enjoy this video workout I did a while back. It's kind of a long one as I work around the Pilates System in a safe and supported way. So settle in with a snack or join in the “fun.”:)

It's a great way to care for a stiff back and to focus on finding the muscles to create length and stretch.

This is a voyage of exploration for me as well – I learn more each day about what the tight back needs to thrive…and open and stretch.

In future posts we'll look at apparatus and exercises which cultivate each component of the 2-way stretch we're after for our long, tall back.

Thank you so much for watching!

Questions? Something you'd do differently?

Leave me a comment and let's have a chat.

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