The Universal Reformer: A Brief Tutorial on the Stomach Massage Series

The Universal Reformer: A Brief Tutorial on the Stomach Massage Series

The Stomach Massage Series on the Reformer is just one example of the cumulative power of the Pilates method. Valuable skills reside in the 4 exercises found here. They will serve you well as you advance along your Pilates path.

I invoke the Stomach Massage Series countless times during my workday:

“Remember that moment in Stomach Massage 3? It's the same thing now (in this other exercise).”

Often I hear the Stomach Massage Series is disliked, misunderstood, maligned and/or cast aside.

Awww, frownie face…

It's my fervent hope you'll come to find as much value and juiciness in this series as I do.

Find out more about each of the 4 exercises in this fundamental Reformer series in a related post.

What's in a Name?

Nearly one year ago I published my first post on the Stomach Massage Series.

I utilize these exercises every single day in the studio so it was hard to believe it's been a year since I've devoted an entire post to the Stomach Massage Series.

True, no one is happy with the name of this series.

Waaaahhh…we want our massage!

Consider that in each and every moment of these exercises our stomach – our center – is leading the way.

This is one of the challenges: sustaining the depth of engagement of the stomach gives a deep internal massage (and shower!) to our organs and our backs.

Consider also the wind-relieving potential of these exercises. We're not talking about abs glistening in the sun here, we're talking about the health of our bodily systems.

In my future post post on Pilates and its myriad benefits to our digestive system (I promise), the the Stomach Massage Series will be at the top of the list. I tell you it goes deep!

And if you are stiff, persevere!  There awaits for you a wonderful global stretch of the back.

How does Stomach Massage fit into the Order of Exercises?

I have a deep love and respect for Joe Pilates' original order of the Reformer exercises. It's a wonderful puzzle to examine and explore. As a result we move still closer to Joe's vision for training our bodies.

Seated on the Reformer, the Stomach Massage Series echoes our first series on the Reformer, Footwork. Footwork coupled with the lift of the Rowing Series (which also precedes the Stomach Massage Series) progresses our workout from lying down to sitting up.

Also in this series a new element is revealed for the first time: rotation.

See? You don't want to miss the excitement!

How do I know where to sit?

Depending on our training and our body, we may have been asked to sit on the very edge of the carriage. This may indeed be an eventual goal of the exercise, but what if it's not today's goal?

Let's find a place to sit that will be advantageous. This placement will help to find success in the exercises.

You'll know you're in the right place if you can tangibly feel the lift in the low back and maintain it without leaning back as the carriage moves. Stiffer folks may need to sit back a bit further for a bit.

What about overworking hips?

You may find for yourself or students that hips and thighs want to take over in the Stomach Massage Series. Maybe this discomfort even causes you to dislike this series.

Don't blame the exercise.

What are you doing for this elsewhere in the system? If tight hips and thighs are taking over in this series, it's more than likely they're showing up in all the other exercises as well.

We all have muscle groups that are strong – very strong – and like to do everything for us.

Find places in the system to focus on opening hips and thighs and you'll strengthen the stomach and seat.

Some possibilities:

Strategies for a Tight Low Back: Getting to the Bottom of it

Got a Stiff Back? You need the Pilates Barrels!

Think Like a Sculptor: The Pervasiveness of the Thigh Stretch

Over time with your newfound skills you'll reap even more benefit in the Stomach Massage Series.

Um, how do I keep my pants on?

A little fringe benefit of getting out of the hips and legs will also keep your pants on!

Amazing 🙂

From Zen and the Art of the Stomach Massage Series:

Keep your pants on!

“So why do my pants come off?”

I have heard teachers answer this questions numerous times thusly:

“If you use your stomach, your pants will stay on.”

While I do believe this to be true, it’s not quite the whole story.

To work this exercise well (and avoid wardrobe mishaps) use this recipe for maintaining a well-fitting pant:

Press your feet firmly into the footbar.

  • Press your heels fiercely against one another.
  • Find your upper stomach and your seat. Use them to push into the footbar and move the carriage.
  • If you can work primarily in the powerhouse (stomach and seat) and less in the legs, you’ll have a great chance of keeping your pants on.
  • Give it a go!

Enjoy this short video tutorial.

Want to see videos like this on other exercises? Tell me all about it in a comment below.

Thanks for watching!

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. Whoa, look at your LIFT!! Aspire. Love me some Stomach Massage…always a challenge but suddenly, after reading and watching all these amazing options and tips, I want to run to sir Reformer and go! Thanks for addressing the “where to sit” on the carriage; veeeery helpful as there is a lot of opinions of where to drop the butt anchor in this series.

    Question: When gripping under the carriage (#1) or on the shoulder rests (#2), are we are tightly gripping with all digits? Or should one be so solid in the feet on the Footbar that it’s a “light grip?” I assume that as one acquire’s more deep stomach strength our grip might lessen? Sometimes I find myself really gripping with all fingers to keep my lift in both #1 and #2 but then it suddenly the exercise becomes incorporates the arms too. Hmmmm.

    Appreciate you considering “the wind-relieving potential of these exercises” and for helping us keep our pants on. Giggling with Pilates is always encouraged. xo

    • Hi there 😉

      Excellent questions!!

      Use your grip on the carriage for SMS #1 just like the grip you use for hands on the Footbar. Connecting the palm/heel of the hand into the back and squeezing with all the small fingers especially will help your position and your lift stay solid as the lower body moves.

      For SMS #2, you are pressing down onto the heel/palm of the hand on the shoulder rests, but really just as a point of contact to lift up the back – this part of the body shouldn’t be doing the exercise for you LOL as you suggest…

      To lessen the arm tension think about the lift of the low back taking you up and over to your hand position for #1 – so the back is working more than you are holding on… or more succinctly, use your lift to “hold on” to the carriage with your back more than your arm. Think about how in Spine Stretch on the Mat (I know, grr…) your lower back is the mover and follower of your fingers as the hands go forward…same connection.

      Giggling in Pilates: A Must.

      Excellent work, my friend! Until Friday…

      • Thanks so much! Ah, i see. YES more of PUSH down connection through the heel of the hand through the back while on the carriage; I tend to grip and push/squeeze from below. This really does help keep the LIFT!! THNX!!!

  2. Great info as always, Andrea! I said “push with your seat” a million times today in stomach massage! I appreciate the other verbiage and cues you used to help them get that lift. I will copy you for sure! Thanks!

    • Hi Julie 🙂

      Thanks so much for reading and for working toward more seat in your Stomach Massage Series with clients – good job! It’s funny how some clients really light up at the new feeling in the this exercise and for others it’s like oh dear more work to do 🙁 I appreciate you sharing your thoughts here.
      Have a great week!

  3. Alessandra says

    Aha!! The banging carriage in rowing! ???? Just followed your video tutorial and yes, I’d missed out the LIFT!! Yay!! This also helped my noisy carriage tendencies in rowing 1…. and somehow it reminded me to LIFT in the first front rowing too…(think that’s rowing 4?) But ditto – your lift is v.impressive – I’m aspiring with Cor on that one!!????
    I’ve just been on the chair and found that stomach massage in the round, really reminded me to lift my back in push down (roll down on the chair – I’m not that great with the classical vocab :-)) and also in the ‘rolling up’ section of the roll up…. again reaching the legs and lifting the back up and over my stomach- aha – I smell 2 way stretch – as you say!!
    Like many I hated the stomach massage series when I first learn it and found it v. uncomfortable…. I still find it a challenge, but am starting to see the value of it, thanks to your teaching and this tutorial (we did the stomach series when I met you in Vintage) – so a big thanks for that!!
    I have one question regarding springs – i have found that I can get a bit more lift if I use slightly less springs – would you recommend starting with a slightly lighter spring and building up to all springs? I tend to use slightly less springs in footwork too, as I find all springs on can ‘jam’ into my lower back. Am assuming that as my LIFT strengthens then I’ll be able to build up the load? Also when teaching, I tend to use less load especially if clients have a weaker back and are not yet that connected into their centre…
    Sorry loads of questions today!!
    But thanks again for the informative post and video – I’m planning to visit LA next April, so I’ll definitely see you again and give you a big thank you hug!!????
    #rockon Andrea xoxo

    • Hi there –

      First I have to say ladies, thanks for the compliments on my lift in this video. And please know that in my weekly lessons the Short Box kills as there is always more lift to be had…but good to know it is all worth it ha ha LOL

      All you say about getting more lift and 2-way stretch in the Roll Up on the Mat and the Push Down on the Wunda is fantastic. Sounds like those are going well. Also with regard to the spring choice: Yes, let your connection and/or the body in front of you be your guide. Whatever serves you and students best is the spring you want. And yes – any sort of delicateness of the back would benefit from less spring. That sounds spot on, Milady!

      Excited you’ll be in LA again next April – let me know when you have dates and I will make sure we can meet up again for #pilatesgeekfun
      And I do love hugs 🙂

  4. Hi Andrea, love your posts and explanations as always! I was surprised to read the Stomach Massage Series is often not liked/taught/etc as it’s one I use often with my clients. I have found it so beneficial for my clients with lower back issues and it’s helped enormously (along with plenty of other exercises too)!

    I must say though that I am guilty of mainly using the first two in the series and I really must include the others more!

    • Yes, I have also heard that often Stomach Massage and Short Box series are disliked, left out, get a bad rap, etc… imagine my horror! They are such ‘meat and potatoes’ exercises and do so many fantastic things for our bodies. I love them.
      And yes, Clare, do the whole thing – the first 2 are awesome, of course, but the last 2 are what you’ve worked hard to set up in 1 + 2. Especially don’t miss the Twisting moment 🙂 Thank you so much for reading/watching and for sharing your thoughts here. xo

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