Think like a Sculptor: The Pervasiveness of the Thigh Stretch

Think like a Sculptor: The Pervasiveness of the Thigh Stretch

The Thigh Stretch is a straightforward and elegant exercise.

We find it all over the Pilates studio on every apparatus.

I'm hopelessly in love with the Thigh Stretch on the Reformer, it's true.

You can also enjoy the Thigh Stretch on the Ladder Barrel, the Spine Corrector, Cadillac and Mat.

Everybody Thigh Stretch

Make no mistake about it, the straightforward exercises in Pilates – you know, the ones in which you have to hold yourself all together in a nice long straight line – are very challenging to do well.

It behooves us to get everything working to ensure an effective stretch and opening of the hips and thighs.

Not to put too fine a point on it, but everyone can just lean back and play thigh stretch for a bit.

But how to really get the job done?

You know the drill: low belly in and up, ribs in and working and the long downward reach of the tailbone to activate the under part of the seat. Awesome.

No biggie.

Who you callin' a “big chunk?”


Let's think about the body.

Take a good look at the body.

Think like a Sculptor: The Pervasiveness of the Thigh Stretch

I do realize this dude is perfection, but I wanted to make it worth the look…

Back to business!

Unlike the eyelashes, the hips, thighs and buttocks play a significant part in connecting the lower body into the center.

Strong and potentially overdeveloped leg muscles can impact the low back, can impact the way the upper body sits on top of the waist, can impact the placement of your head on top of your body (where DOES that go anyway…).

With this in mind, perhaps it's not by accident that we find so many opportunities to find a Thigh Stretch exercise all around the Pilates studio.

Sage advice to me from Sandy Shimoda:

Never miss an opportunity to get a thigh stretch!

Yes, please.

I'm a leg man, myself…

The muscles of the legs can turn into the real workhorse of the body. The thighs, often the shoulders too, are big muscles that are right on the front of the body where we can see them. And use them.

A lot.

In my experience both as a teacher and a practitioner with a gymnastic background, the thighs and the low back can impact one another greatly.

Tight hips and thighs often come along with a tight low back.

I use the Thigh Stretch often as a touchstone exercise.

I can use the verticality here to help with other similarly shaped exercises like Shoulder Bridge on the Mat, Rolling Stomach Massage on the Cadillac, Chest Expansion anywhere, Swan, etc…

You get the picture.

The hips can often be difficult to parse out. How much seat to use to not get all clench-y and pushy with the hips? And old habits die hard…

Luckily we have the Thigh Stretch and our dear old friend:

Thigh Stretch

Thigh Stretch is a great teacher of length actually. It is a huge boon to your backbends for sure.

What is a backbend other than a big ol' thigh stretch?

You see what I mean.

Use length from your Thigh Stretch and you'll give your Backbend a strong support from the seat and lower body. What a nice treat for your back!

Thigh Stretch is a huge component of every Backbend in the Pilates Method.

Wanna better backbend? It's only a Spine Corrector away…

But for now, let's start simply.

Ladder Barrel

The most basic version of the Thigh Stretch is done simply standing at the Ladder Barrel.

Think like a Sculptor: The Pervasiveness of the Thigh Stretch

You've got to love the Pilates Method: how else would we know that stretching the thighs is a good stomach exercise?

The Ladder Barrel provides support for any individual, even the very tight-thighed ones. Adjust the placement of your foot/leg on the barrel to get the perfect stretch for your body.

It's really a lovely place for the Thigh Stretch.


Think like a Sculptor: The Pervasiveness of the Thigh Stretch

Thigh Stretch on the Cadillac is a wonderful precursor to the Reformer and Mat versions.

Here you've got help from the springs and a stable non-moving surface to get your act together.

All-in-all a lovely place to begin your Thigh Stretch journey.

Add in a little Chest Expansion here as well and you have the tools necessary to prepare you to work on these same 2 exercises on the Reformer.

Spine Corrector

Don't forget the Thigh Stretch inherent in the Spine Corrector exercises Leg Circles, Scissors, Bicycle, Shoulder Bridge. These exercises are a great place to find length over the hump of the corrector.

Even if you don't want to get so fancy so quickly, you can enjoy just a bit of inversion with a simple Thigh Stretch.

It's another great way to get at the lower body connection just like you did standing at the Ladder Barrel.

Think like a Sculptor: The Pervasiveness of the Thigh Stretch

Most importantly, the Thigh Stretch exercise, as well as the more elaborate exercises done here, provide us with feedback from the Spine Corrector.

Often a template to inform the back position, the Spine Corrector gives us information about how successful we are in opening the hips, thighs and low back.

The ribs and low back must be fastened into the apparatus to ensure maximum stretch and opening of the front of the body.

‘Cause then you'll take it vertical!


The Reformer version of Thigh Stretch is your preparation for the next exercise, (you guessed it) the Backbend.

Think like a Sculptor: The Pervasiveness of the Thigh Stretch

However, the Reformer version of the Thigh Stretch begins just as simply as its Cadillac counterpart.

Keep the body as one solid piece of steel as you lift back into the exercise. No wiggling!

The moving carriage and strong springs (3!) up the challenge on the Reformer and dare you to lean back and just pull with your arms.

Don't be seduced! It is not a backbend yet!

Connect your low stomach to the straps in your hands: reach the straps out and lift the stomach in and up in opposition.

The spring will not move easily but be patient and keep your position strong.

Be Your Perfect Z

Imagine the length one must cultivate in the Thigh Stretch as the shape of the letter ‘Z'.

The fingertips and toes are reaching away in opposition (hey there's your 2-way stretch!) and the body must lift up ever taller.

Give it a try.

Dare I say 3-way stretch?

You may be surprised by how much your toes reaching away can make your bottom wake up and do something.

To quote the amazing Karen Frischmann:

This workout brought to you by the letter ‘Z'!


Now let's look at the ultimate version of the Thigh Stretch, sans any help at all, done on the Mat.


See the ‘Z'?

Think like a Sculptor: The Pervasiveness of the Thigh Stretch

Jay Grimes used to encourage us to sit all the way back to our heels.

In the past he promised a free dinner to those of us who could go all the way back and return successfully.

We must be getting better as there has been no talk of a free meal as of late 🙁

You know how I feel about food and Pilates…

and given the incentive of free food…


The goal is to keep your position solid and go back as much as possible.

Just remember that though this may be the goal, it may not be today's goal.

Patience, friends.

And many joyous Thigh Stretches to you!

Got an exercise that shows up again and again in your workouts?

Tell us all about it in a comment below.

VIDEO BLOG: What has Pilates done for me lately?

What's been buzzing in my mind about our beloved Pilates Method?

So. Many. Things.

However, disparate items on my “checklist” are beginning to hone into a solid laser-focus.

Let's unpack that…

Zen and the Art of the 2-way Stretch

My Pilates workout enables me to be in my body in the present moment.

Mind chatter subsides. I am deep inside my body and looking around to see what's new.

Or what's new today that may not be as I left it.

Blissfully there is no time for considering/fretting about the past or the future.

How exhilarating!

Keep it simple, keep it moving

  • The order of the exercises: For most of the hour, you have a structure in place which paves the way to a deeper connection in the execution of the exercise. Unencumbered by the burden of selecting random exercises, you are free to allow today's experience of the exercise to take center stage. Maybe another related exercise will pop into your head for a hot minute. Duly noted for later. Oh yes, you WILL do it later. But for now, just keep moving!
  • One focus for the hour: Pick only one, lest you get distracted or bogged down in a slow-mo micromanagement of your workout. Use a correction you're working on from a previous lesson or even a new moment in an old exercise that makes all your exercises a little better.

The Spine Corrector Challenge

I truly believe we should all take the Spine Corrector challenge.


Run. Do not walk. To your Spine Corrector (or Small Barrel…you know who you are…)

There are so many gifts from Joe Pilates in this one brilliant apparatus.

Video Blog: What has Pilates done for me lately?

Small Barrel, Spine Corrector and Ladder Barrel: there's one that will be your perfect match.

Or why not enjoy all three?

A word about the exercises done on the Spine Corrector:

I take the name of this apparatus very seriously. There are many exercises that can be done here, but the original and most important ones emphasize the true purpose of this apparatus: Spine Corrector.

Used correctly (ha ha see how I did that?) your exercises here will open up the hips, thighs, low back, upper back and shoulders.

Doesn't that sound fabulous??

I started doing these exercises on the Small Barrel (being petite and on-the-stiff-side) and now work on the Spine Corrector as well. What a dynamic Posture Duo the Short Box Series and the Spine Corrector are for our bodies.

Three cheers for keeping it up and forward!

Stay tuned for more on the Short Box in next week's post.

The exercises

Part 1: The Everyday Basics

Arm series

  • Circles
  • One arm up/One arm down
  • Hug
  • Breathing

Leg Series

  • Circles
  • Scissors
  • Bicycle
  • Thigh Stretch/Shoulder Bridge

Part 2: Let's ratchet up to full-on invigoration!

All of the above exercises plus:

  • Helicopter
  • Leg Circles onto the Head
  • High Bridge
  • A couple pop-up Teaser moments

Finish both series with some rolling and a short rest.

Join me for a Spine Corrector basic series everyday for 2 weeks.

Or bump it up to the invigorating level and kick your own ass. Whadaya say?

See what changes you see/feel in your body.

Share your successes in a comment below.

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.