6 Crucial Exercises to Survive Pilates Mat Exercises #29/30

6 Crucial Exercises to Survive Pilates Mat Exercises #29/30

This one's for Anouk. Thanks for reading my mind 🙂

First off, these 2 exercises really need new names.

Referring to Mat exercises #29 and #30 is a bit of a kerfuffle:

  • Leg Pull
  • Leg Pull Front
  • Leg Pull Up
  • Leg Pull Down
  • Leg Pull Back

Seriously, WTF?

Joe Pilates named them thusly:

#29: The Leg-Pull – Front

#30: The Leg-Pull

Lately I have found all of these labels supremely unhelpful in the understanding and execution of the exercises.

Frankly, they kinda suck.

Too much emphasis on the ‘Leg' part makes my body unwilling to find its center.

And I could do without the Yoda syntax.

Oh, but I digress…

Yay! A Pilates Project!

The Leg Pull exercises demand the full-on Pilates Project treatment. I've chosen 3 exercises for each of the Leg Pulls to aid us on our quest. Feel free to add/suggest other exercises that speak to you that I may not include here.

(We only have one exercise!)

The plan:

  • Use your stomach to pull your leg into the center.
  • Reach your leg all the while in opposition to your lifting the waist up and out the top of your head.
  • I. Smell. Two. Way. Stretch.

Don't all my plans start with ‘Use your stomach?'

#29 The Leg-Pull – Front

6 Crucial Exercises to Survive Pilates Mat Exercises #29/30

Fave correction to date courtesy of Sandy Shimoda:

6 Crucial Exercises to Survive Pilates Mat Exercises #29/30

Oh, I'm all for it.

1. Long Stretch

6 Crucial Exercises to Survive Pilates Mat Exercises #29/30

In the Long Stretch we find ourselves in the same position as the Leg Pull – Front (LP-F) and on the Reformer it's clear how to use your stomach to move the carriage.

Pay attention to the trunk of your body as the carriage closes and the arms draw in slightly underneath the body.

Feel yourself getting longer and more lifted like the top of your head could reach all the way to the wall in front of you.

Feel your feet firmly attached and “holding onto” the carriage.

This connection to your lower body is what you'll need for the LP-F on the Mat.

Make no mistake: this is a lower body exercise.

2. Tendon Stretch (Footwork series)

6 Crucial Exercises to Survive Pilates Mat Exercises #29/30

This wonderful exercise is a great one to mine all you can out of the low stomach. Give yourself the luxury of working on your Leg Pulls lying down, and use just 2 springs if it's hard to get in touch with your scoop.

In the LP-F, often as the heels reach away the low back can be compromised, the hips can lift, there's no telling what may go on.

In the Tendon Stretch you can work on the control of the back, seat and hips with the feedback of lying down on the carriage.

Grow tall as your heels reach under the footbar with control.

Push into the footbar with the balls of the feet and lift the waistline in and up.

Great control here = greater success for when your hips, back and seat must find the long shape of the LP-F.

3. SideKick Series

6 Crucial Exercises to Survive Pilates Mat Exercises #29/30

Lately my favorite exercise to reference, you can find myriad benefits in the Side Kick series. Here we are faced with a similar challenge as the LP-F, how to keep the back long and solid as one leg moves behind us.


Being on our side offers slightly more feedback about how the back (mis)behaves as we reach our leg behind us.

Keep the trunk of the body long and strong. No wiggling!

Concentrate on the (potentially) wonderful stretch across the front of the hip, thigh and stomach as you control your leg reaching back. A nice reward for keeping the shape of the back solid.

Reach equally into both legs because that's what you'll be faced with in the LP-F.

#30 The Leg-Pull

6 Crucial Exercises to Survive Pilates Mat Exercises #29/30

If you have any tendency whatsoever towards hyperextended joints, nothing dumps you faster into your knees than this exercise.

Ha, Ha, Ha! I dare you to lift one leg, my knees sneer at me.

Finding lift in the back and support from your seat will help keep you above the fray and make you master of your destiny (and of your knees).

1. Shoulder Roll Down/Sari on the Cadillac

6 Crucial Exercises to Survive Pilates Mat Exercises #29/30

You gotta love this exercise: super similar/more manageable to work on the needed strength to reach one leg up without dropping the hips.

Connect your feet into the push-thru bar at every point leading up to when you will lift your hips off the Cadillac. You can do this by pushing into it as it comes toward you.

Don't let it push you.

Control the push-thru bar and you'll get strength and support from your stomach and bottom to stay lifted in the position.

Concentrate on the reach of both legs evenly – the one that will stay on the bar and the one that will reach up.

I know this (almost) goes without saying, but pull your stomach in fiercely as you reach the leg up. Consider it a reach rather than a kick and you'll be halfway to using your stomach already.

2. Double Straight Leg Stretch/Double Leg Lower-Lift

6 Crucial Exercises to Survive Pilates Mat Exercises #29/30

The Double Straight Leg Stretch gives me a great assist in connecting my upper stomach all the way to my toes. In other words, I can really get my lower body connected into my center. Because I simply must. It is this connection that you will need in the Leg Pull. The Double Straight Leg Stretch can make it much more tangible.

Keeping your upper body circled up into the position can be a challenge all by itself. You can find more of your upper stomach and seat here by curling up as though you could “lean” your upper body on your legs as they lower. Almost like the upper body follows the lower body as it moves.

Caution: a will of iron may be necessary!

Really reach the legs long and away from you – keep them light and reaching up, up and away!

You can give yourself an extra help on the inside (your stomach) by increasing your reach away from the center.

3. Table on the Wunda Chair

6 Crucial Exercises to Survive Pilates Mat Exercises #29/30

The Table on the Wunda Chair is yet another gem in the ‘Lower Body Exercise' department. I must note that all of the exercises I have included here with the Leg Pulls – as well as the Leg Pulls themselves are lower body exercises. This theme in Pilates truly deserves its own post as I have spent years trying to do these exercises with my upper body – well maybe not all of them…

See what you think.

When you begin to lift into the position for the Table, is your first move to shift backward and push with your arms?


Now let's focus on the lower body. Gather your stomach and seat and reach your knees away from you and forward as you lift up into the position. Shift more forward than you think necessary and you'll have your shoulders right over your wrists.

Worst-case scenario, the pedal goes down. No big deal, thank God it's not Opening Night 🙂

If you have managed to keep the pedal closed, your feet on the pedal will feel like they are way behind and underneath you.

That's a whole boatload of work to do. Let's make pumping the pedal optional.

Make a strong Table position first.

So many exercises, so little time…

Even as I finish up this post my mind swarms with other potentially helpful exercises…

Have a go.

See what you might add to the list as we work steadily toward our goal of Leg Pull Virtuosity.

You're awesome. Thanks for reading!

Share your successes in a comment below.

Pilates Mat Exercise #25: Side Kick Series

Pilates Mat Exercise #25: Sick Kick SeriesThis one has been a long time coming.

Initially not even close to being a beloved exercise of mine, the Side Kick Series can deliver rich rewards with diligent practice. I'm very surprised to admit that I'm now a big fan.

Nope, I'm more of a stalker actually, obsessed with every moment I spend with this challenging series.

I began studying at Vintage Pilates in early 2011, and the Side Kick Series remains as one of the biggest revelations in my Pilates practice. Current students of The Work are all in agreement. Just like all the other exercises that precede it, the Side Kick Series is not really about your leg.

Let me say that again.

The Side Kick Series is not about your leg.

Amazingly simple, isn't it?

Just relax your leg and connect it to the center of your body, your stomach, your powerhouse.

What could be more straightforward?


In my first year of studying the Mat exercises way back in 2000, I had dozens of excuses why I didn't have time to include the Side Kick Series in my homework between classes.

“Side Kick Series takes forever, I don't have time to do them.”

Yeah, right.

Lame-o excuse #57: “I don't have time.”

Clearly I did not understand how the Side Kick Series would benefit me (and my tight hips and thighs and weaker side…duh…). Yet I could respect the candidness of the Teaser: it either happened or it didn't and I used my stomach, so beautifully simple.

Or so I thought…but I digress, again distracted by the bright, shiny object that is the Teaser.

Side Kicks, right…

Side Kicks, however, remained shrouded in mystery, in a dark Pilates haze of one-sided-ness and reminiscent of exercises in other disciplines, yet not quite that either.

Those are the hardest exercises, I find. The ones that are so similar to something else it's misleading as they are often completely different. 

“No ‘Sexy on the Beach!'”

Thank you Romana for frowning upon lounge-y behavior, our heads casually propped up on our arm.

The Side Kick Series is another ‘first' on the Mat – really the first and only time in the Mat series where you will work one side at a time while lying on your side.

Gone is the luxury of lying on your back or your front. And you must multitask! Ach!

So how best to tackle the slippery Side Kick Series?

1. The Order of the Universe

Pilates Mat Exercise #25: Side Kick Series

I find several (if not ALL) of the exercises that precede the Side Kicks to be indispensable. And for me, the most important being the One Leg Circle.

Of course, the One Leg Circle is another exercise that can be at first misleading with that leg circling away up there. But don't be distracted by flashy moving parts. Stay grounded in your center and make this a stomach exercise.


Yes, one side at a time, just like the Side Kick Series – except for the whole ‘lying-on-your-side-thing' you can learn to activate your standing leg. The leg on the Mat must be encouraged to do just as much work if not more than that spectacular circling leg that has so captivated you.

Lately I am also enamored of the Jackknife and the help it provides with connecting the lower body into the center. Perhaps I like the Jackknife as a help since you get to have both sides working together, always a plus.

Let's face it, you're coerced into using your stomach and seat to lift your hips up into the air and control your way down to the mat. Why abandon all that when you lie on your side? It just doesn't make sense 🙂

But give it a try. Find your control and connection in the Jackknife and then see if you can keep all that same stuff when you begin your Side Kicks. I bet it will at least give you a different look at lying on your side.

2. Vertically Speaking

Pilates Mat Exercise #25: Sick Kick SeriesFight off a severe case of ‘sexy on the beach' and take a look at this exercise standing up.

Yes, to perfect your Side Kicks, why not take that ‘standing' leg and literally stand on it?

Without the loungey lying down position, you can feel your stomach reach all the way to your foot standing on the floor.

  • Push into the floor and grow tall first.
  • Lift your belly button in and up as though it lifts all the way to the nape of your neck.
  • Don't get any shorter as you reach one leg forward. Reach fully into both legs.
  • Continue to reach as you move your leg a bit behind you.
  • If your trunk wants to wiggle forward and backward to counter your leg movement, resist!!

Please note: I am using this standing exercise simply as a teaching tool to find connection, not as an alternative or variation of the Side Kicks exercise.

3. Cadillac to the Rescue!

Pilates Mat Exercise #25: Sick Kick SeriesLet this exercise be your reward for wanting to perfect your Side Kick Series in the first place. Leave it to the Cadillac to save your a$$ every time…or at least find it.

Now you'll “stand in the spring” using all the information you gleaned from your previous standing experience.

Springs make life a little bit more lovely, don't they?

What's going on? Now the exercise is even more about my leg!

You've got that spring on but how is this helping?

Remember you've got several choices of springs at your disposal. At the very least you've got “leg” springs and “arm” springs.

Do what you have to do – if you have the heavier leg spring on and you just feel like you are fighting the spring and it's hard to feel work in your center, then by all means change it up and use a lighter spring.

Which spring??!

For now, I am using the lighter “arm” spring so I can especially connect to my center on my weaker more challenged side. I will gain more strength and coordination overall by working in this manner.

At some point it will be time to take what I've learned/strengthened with the lighter spring and challenge it further with the heavier spring. All the while working more efficiently from the muscles of my center.

The spring doesn't matter.

What has that spring done for me lately?

Helped you find your butt and your stomach? Relaxed your thigh, for the love of God?

Then that's the spring to keep. For now. Not forever…but perhaps for a little while.

The yummiest part about using the Side Leg Spring to better your Side Kick Series is the control you need to reach the leg from front to back – not just the arrival at the end points of your pendulum. The continual reach along the entire arc (your journey from where the leg reaches front until it arrives at the back plus your return trip) is what you seek.

Total control of the spring = total control of your muscles.

Control + ology, baby. Let's study up.

See how these 3 tips work for you. Share your success in a comment below.

Now go work out. You know you want to.

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