The Up Stretch: The Gateway Drug to Pilates Circus Tricks

The Up Stretch: The Gateway Drug to Pilates Circus Tricks

Previously I spoke of my newfound respect for the Long Stretch Series on the Reformer.

For years I didn't fully consider the import of these 7 exercises: Long Stretch, Down Stretch, Up Stretch, Up Stretch Combo, Elephant, Elephant with One Leg and the Long Back Stretch.

They seemed fine really.

Not a walk in the park and not a one-arm Snake/Twist either. We had a great relationship.

The Song Remains the Same

The Long Stretch Series teaches you how to use your lower body effectively.

Remember that our lower body is most of our body, the lion's share, if you will.

Within this series you'll use your lower body:

  1. in a round shape
  2. in an an arch
  3. in an undulating combination of round and arch in two ways
  4. in a round shape one side at a time, and
  5. facing upward and upside-down

Joe Pilates had a love for all things emphatic, it seems.

“Do you get it yet??” he asks us all the time.

A Gateway Drug to Pilates Circus Tricks

One particular gem within the Long Stretch Series is the Up Stretch.

A bit of a wolf-in-sheep's clothing this one…

The Up Stretch is the foundation for all kinds of delicious Pilates tricks.

You know the ones: all the way from Semi Circle and Snake/Twist to the Flying Squirrel and everything in between.

The Up Stretch is the first time in our Reformer order where we have just 2 fixed points and a moving middle. The hands and feet are connected to the apparatus and a flip-ton of action goes on in the center.

Think of the undulation of Up Stretch and Semi Circle, for example.

The Up Stretch: The Gateway Drug to Pilates Circus Tricks

Semi Circle is a gift! You've got your head and shoulders supported by the carriage. Enjoy it while you can.

Soon that will all go away in the Headstands:

The Up Stretch: The Gateway Drug to Pilates Circus Tricks

Now just the head and 2 feet are connected to the apparatus with a moving shape in between.

Can you see the Up Stretch in this exercise? All turned around and with no hands?

My old favorite

I love to cultivate the Up Stretch when working on my former nemesis: Snake/Twist on the Reformer.

The feet are no longer on the moving part of the carriage, and now you're turned around a bit again just like the Headstands.

The Up Stretch: The Gateway Drug to Pilates Circus Tricks

Don't be distracted. Just use your mad Up Stretch skills – your lower body – and get the job done.

Let's take it vertical!

The working title for this Guillotine-cum-Cadillac exercise is Monkey on a Stick. It's really just Semi Circle (Up Stretch) now working in a vertical plane.

On the Guillotine the bar your feet are on is not completely fixed, it moves a bit.

Aha! A new wrinkle on our road to Pilates Circus stardom…

Plus guess who's favorite exercise it is? ♥


Listen for the spring noise that is challenging Murat Berkin's foot position. He makes it look easy of course and does a great job of controlling the bar.

1 fixed point + 1 moveable point = the plot thickens!

Another low body exercise done on the Cadillac is Rolling In and Out.

The Up Stretch: The Gateway Drug to Pilates Circus TricksThe Up Stretch: The Gateway Drug to Pilates Circus TricksThe Up Stretch: The Gateway Drug to Pilates Circus TricksThe Up Stretch: The Gateway Drug to Pilates Circus TricksThe Up Stretch: The Gateway Drug to Pilates Circus Tricks

Here the lower body is fixed and the upper body's point of contact is the Roll Back bar (which moves!).

The good news is you are kneeling. Now challenge yourself to make Rolling in and Out a lower body exercise and not an arm exercise.

Thank you Up Stretch!

The Ultimate Up Stretch

For those of you who signed on for Pilates circus tricks, now is your time to shine.

The Flying Squirrel, an exercise few practitioners do at all is what the humble Up Stretch can prepare you to do.

Your fixed points of contact – alas – are not fixed at all…

Gravity awaits you at every turn…ready to wrap you in its clutches and face plant you on the mat…

Strive to find your Up Stretch in mid-air.

It's a wild ride!

Enjoy Christina Gadar's excellent Flying Squirrel at 1 minute in.

Never underestimate the power of a meat-and-potatoes exercise in our beloved Pilates method. Cultivate your best Up Stretch and it will reward you tenfold.

Know that even if you never reach the Flying Squirrel your butt will look nice 🙂

So how's your Up Stretch?

Share your thoughts and questions in a comment below.

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  1. I love the phrase “meat and potatoes” and use it all the time with students, usually to describe leg springs and arm springs on the Cadillac. But now I need to add “gateway drug”! So perfect!!!

    • Thanks Steph…I never knew how much the Up Stretch could help out all the other exercises until mine got better…enabling the gateway 🙂 Thank you so much for reading and sharing your thoughts here. Cheers to you!

  2. Andrea,
    I really enjoyed this post. Of course I like all of your post. But this one especially because I want to improve my up stretch to be able to do the flying squirrel without the face plant. 🙂

    • Hey there – Yes, no one likes a Flying Squirrel with a face plant ha ha. Great work today and we shall continue on your Up Stretch quest! xo

  3. Alessandra says

    Hello from London again!
    Like you, I’ve been working on developing my understanding of the long stretch series and was recently lucky enough to have some sessions with Samantha Walley (from Redondo I think you are acquainted!) during which she managed to unravel the mystery in the way that she does!! I’m only just getting to grips with the basics.. Long/up/down and elephant, but hello lower body indeed and big re acquaintance with my Powerhouse!! I now really enjoy those exercises. I look forward to one day attempting snake/twist 🙂 you make it look so effortless!
    Until then I’ll keep practicing the basics, all the while enjoying your blog and dreaming of squirrel!!

    • Hi Alessandra 🙂

      Yes, Sam and I are friends and we were classmates in Jay’s program. She is awesome and I too very much enjoy the way her mind works. She has unraveled some mysteries for me as well! I am feeling like the Long Stretch Series – all of them really have become more alive in my body in the last 6 months or so. The Elephant – stay tuned for another post on this one – can help you to do everything!!!

      Thank you so much for your kind words on the blog and in particular my Snake/twist. That one has been a loooooooong time coming. I actually quite enjoy it now, but oh it was such a boor for so long!

      Yes, the Pilates basics will take you far – keep up the good work 🙂 Cheers to you – I must get back to UK soon!

      • Alessandra says

        Thanks for your reply. And thanks for your fab blog! Looking forward to re visiting elephant with you! Meanwhile I’ll keep practicing the ‘meat and potatoes ‘ !!

  4. Perfect post for my wobbling Up Stretch woes. Check it out. I did some experimenting this weekend with the US and you are right (always!) that it is indeed that lower body connection that is missing. Magically, the Long Neck Springs reeeeaaally highlight this lack of connection. I tried the US with toes on the Headrest like LS (yes, wrong) but guess what, I could keep the Carriage out and boy could I feel the connection through the balls of my feets! Now, curl those toes under and bring the ol’ heels to the Shoulder Blocks and no boino; could not even keep the Carriage out. SO, I will be working on how to connect better in this position! If drugs are the answer, bring ’em 🙂 I might even join the circus one day! Super post! Thanks!!!!!! 🙂 xo

    • Corrie – I like the way you are approaching the US and problem solving with “why to I have connection here – and not there?” Wonderful work! Thanks for the love on the post and let’s discuss all things lower body and Up Stretch on Friday. Darn those long neck springs! I am sure they will not get the best of you – courage! xo 🙂

  5. Fantastic Andrea!
    You bright my day!
    Much love and gratitude from Thailand.

    • Luz 🙂 Thank YOU! I hope you are well and I thank you so much for reading and sharing your warm spirit here…I hope we’ll see each other again soon xox

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