The Universal Reformer: A Brief Tutorial on the Down Stretch

The Universal Reformer: A Brief Tutorial on the Down Stretch

The Down Stretch on the Reformer is a pet project of mine. As you'll see in the video, the requirements of the exercise and my body are somewhat at odds.

Oh but I do like a challenge.

Years ago at Romana's Pilates Continuing Education workshops, Moses Urbano would give me a lovely assist in this exercise.

Even when Moses was nowhere to be found, when I got to Down Stretch he would magically appear to save me from my sinking, arching low back.

Eek! Pilates emergency!

I also take inspiration from Moses' beautiful Down Stretch. His execution of the exercise is flawless complete with an amazing embellishment.

Hence, my pet project for life.

The Shape of  Things

Ah, the shape…

In the simplest terms, the Down Stretch is a long body shape done on the knees, akin to the previous exercise Long Stretch which is described as “one solid piece of steel from head to heel.”

Yes, you've got to keep it together.

Another requirement of Down Stretch, a Swan-esque exercise is similar to another infamous Reformer exercise, Pulling Straps of Long Box fame. This is a tricky element for me and perhaps for some of you as well: finding sufficient arch in the upper back without the low back falling out all over the place.


And then there's the Thigh Stretch element: Down Stretch requires and promotes considerable opening of the hips and thighs.

Ok, now GO!

The Lower Body

The Down Stretch is just 1 of 7 exercises in the Long Stretch Series, a Reformer series which focuses primarily on the lower body.

The Long Stretch Series

Using the premise of the 2-way stretch, the Long Stretch Series seeks to perfect the reach of the lower body. Despite our firm grip on that foot bar these are not upper body exercises.

I like to describe the lower body as “the lion's share” of the body. It's really the reach down the back line of the body.


Finding length (and therefore reach) of the lower body depends on lengthening the middle back (the ribs/upper stomach must be working) and using the seat to power these exercises.

How about a little inner conflict?

Pilates is a full body workout.

The Down Stretch is a lower body exercise. The lower body is working in tandem with the upper body.

The goal of each and every Reformer exercise is to close the carriage with control.

For the Down Stretch this means both the upper body and lower body create a tug-of-war within our bodies.

Pilates = A 2-way stretch reaching out from a strong center.

Let's get into the position:

  • Keep the lift of the upper body with the lower body firmly attached to the carriage and shoulder rests.
  • Use the lower body to move the carriage. The upper body reluctantly follows.
  • To close the carriage use your lift of the upper body (pull up in the low waist) while the lower body continues to push outward to resist closing the springs.
  • Repeat 5x.

Oh Happy Day!

Diligent work in our meat-and-potatoes exercises often rewards us with a challenge.

A combo. A cadenza. An invigorating embellishment.

With each successive repeptition of the Down Stretch we cultivate an increasing amount of lift in our bodies.

Finally if our lift is suffucient we'll lift both hands high off the footbar and into an extended stretch of the entire front of the body. Wow.

Tell me you didn't see that one coming.

You'll stretch back as far as you can successfully return, potentially reaching as far back to touch the frame of the Reformer. How happy you'll be to resume your workout with the exercise that follows, the Up Stretch.

Enjoy this short video tutorial. Thanks for watching!

For more videos like this one visit my YouTube channel. Looking for help with a specific exercise or concept? Let me know your thoughts and I'm happy to dig in.

Wanna experience the blog live and in person? Join me this fall!

Upcoming Fall Workshops

Sunday November 27, 2016 Studio B Pilates+Barre, Tyler TX

You’ll love this jam-packed day of Pilates Continuing Education: I’ll be offering private lessons, a Mat class plus 2 workshops: A Cadillac Refresher – the Unsung Heroes(3 PMA CECs) and Strategies and Exercises on the Wunda Chair (3 PMA CECs)Register today

Thursday-Saturday December 1-3, 2016 Excel Pilates, Washington, DC

Join me for my post popular posts Live! and in person: On the Order of the Pilates Reformer Exercises (4 PMA CECs) and On the Order of the Pilates Mat Exercises (2 PMA CECs). I’ll be teaching my favorite Cadillac workshop: The Unsung Heroes and Progressions to Standing Arm Springs (3 PMA CECs) as well as a Mat class, private and semi-private lessons. Register today

Saturday December 17, 2016 LauraBPilates Studio, Raleigh, NC

In Raleigh we’ll have a full day of Pilates Continuing Education: private lessons and my favorite Cadillac workshop: The Unsung Heroes and progressions to Standing Arm Springs (3 PMA CECs)Register today

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  1. ugggggh. SO challenging. Thanks for meat and potato-ing the first of 7 in the series! When my eyes came to “Finally if our lift is sufficient we’ll lift both hands high off the Footbar and into an extended stretch of the entire front of the body.” I had to re-read that I was indeed still reading about the Down Stretch…and then you demo’d! What the!? I can’t imagine letting go of that bar and not hurling forward = not enough lower body connection. Check! Always something to work towards in Pilates (is.never.boring.) Thanks for helping us all get there!

    • Okay your comment made me giggle – I feel the same what sometimes – when I first saw that there was a combo of the BreastStroke exercise on the Reformer I thought “There’s a combo?” after which I immediately thought “Of course there’s a combo…” Never bored. I agree. #keepupthegoodwork

  2. Andrea, you are wonderful, and your tutorials a truly a gem… since they are so precise, short and to the point !! thank you very much for sharing your knowledge with the rest of us !!

    • Elena,

      Thank you so much for your kind words!! Making me blush LOL 😉 I so appreciate your feedback on my videos, thank you. Thanks for watching and for reaching out to connect here. See you soon in LA! xox

  3. Jayne o'Brien says

    Hey Andrea, thank you for posting this, I would love to see a tutorial on up stretch next ❤️

    • You are so welcome Jayne. And thank you for your suggestion – I will add it to the list… and oh dear…Up Stretch…suddenly so challenging for me…aaargh…but yes it will do me good to have to hash it out “out loud” in a tutorial. Lord knows I could use the workout ha ha. See you tomorrow 🙂

  4. Hey Andrea!
    Totally agree with Cor on this one – sooo challenging! This is super challenging for me as are all back extension exercises – I just want to dump into my lower back!! No Bueno, as you say!! ???? Great cue to anchor my feet into the shoulder rests and reach into them as you lift the upper body away….I also really lengthened my tailbone down which helped to use my seat….totally took my attention away from my arms!! Yay!!
    Liked the ‘push me-pull you’ action as you rock so to speak…..
    Even managed to come onto my fingertips and really s-t-r-e-t-c-h my back!!
    I have a question about springs please!! What springs would you generally use for the long stretch series…. I’m using kinda medium – half way between stomach massage (all on) and rowing series (just one) …… I actually had the same question about knee stretches….would you vary depending on client ?? I’m assuming you need something to push against and connect into centre (I do????)
    Thanks for another informative post
    #welovestretch ♥️♥️????

    • Hi Alessandra,

      Glad you liked the video despite this exercise being such a challenge for us all LOL.

      With regard to springs – The Long Stretch Series is traditionally done on 2 springs, as are the Knee Stretches. You did a good job of describing actually – between Stomach Massage and Rowing. Exactly 🙂

      Generally speaking, the spring itself doesn’t matter, what it does for the body is important and what to determine. For example, for Long Back Stretch and Up Stretch Combo sometimes it helps students not push in to the arms and use their center more if you do them on 1 spring instead of 2. Then when they get stronger you can go back to 2 springs. Does this make sense?

      Have a great week! xox

      • Alessandra says

        Wow!! Speedy reply! Thanks yes , makes total sense!! Gotcha????????
        Looking forward to your next exciting installment on the universal reformer! ????
        By the way, really wish I could make one of your workshops, but sadly no???? …. Next year maybe!

        • Alessandra! Wow you actually got up to your fingertips! Way to go! We both seem to have the same low back dumping problem (great low backs think alike 🙂 ! What would we do without Andrea lighting our Pilates path?! Be well, rock on.

          • Hey! Am loving our online Pilates lovefest going on here!! Isn’t it great to chat when we’re so many miles apart ???? We must all try to meet up when I’m over in California next #pilateswineparty????-sounds like you get to see amazing Andrea more often than me!!
            Yes #weloveandrea❤️

          • OK I am loving the Pilates Party that’s going on here with you gals 🙂 I would love to have you both visit California together sometime – we would have such fun and nerdy Pilates workouts…for a while I’ve even got 3 studio Mats – woo hoo! And thanks for the sweet hashtag #xopilatespeeps

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