The Reformer: The Use of Lift in the Long Stretch Series

The Reformer: The Use of Lift in the Long Stretch Series

Get ready to get your lift on!

Just when you thought it was safe to venture back onto the Reformer…

I am quite fixated on the Long Stretch Series. So much good stuff to be squeezed out of these 5 standard issue – yet elegantly insistent – exercises.

Glad to have you with me on this journey.

Check out last week's post to continue your Long Stretch Series geek-fest.

Repetitio est mater studiorum

One of the things I most enjoy about the Order of the Reformer Exercises is the ability to mark your progress.

The use of repetition is a key element to long term changes in our bodies.

Our bodies they are a-changin'

Many years of practicing Pilates can result in amazing changes in our bodies. As our bodies continue to change, so does our experience of the exercises.

Often we arrive at an old familiar series with newfound awareness.

Now we can demand more of ourselves than just yesterday's choreography and connection. Nuances may appear.

We may discover new muscles now under our control.

Imagine.

MORE control.

However, a perfectly innocent series may also become a new bugaboo.

In the spirit of it's-gonna-get-worse-before-it-gets-better I feel compelled to write this post about my new love/hate of the Long Stretch Series.

But first let me say this:

OMG the Long Stretch Series helps everything else!

Not a surprise.

When one exercise gets better, they all get better. Because you've found some extra muscles, no doubt.

At the risk of repeating myself, I have once again learned the value of lift.

The Long Stretch Series

Let's take the name at face value.

We'll use the 5 exercises in this series to find a length in the body that will ultimately give us a full-body stretch.

That sounds lovely.

What's moving?

The lower body – what I like to call the lion's share of the body – will be attached to the moving carriage in every exercise.

This gives us information: these are lower body exercises.

The upper body is attached to the stationary footbar and functions as a point of departure, let's say. It is not the mover in this series.

Closing the Springs

The Long Stretch Series is a perfect example of the muscular action required to close the springs on the classical Reformer.

It's lift!

Everytime. In every exercise.

If you've got to work to return the carriage completely the Reformer is compelling you to create lift in the body.

It's instant Pilates Method with this series.

Thanks, Universal Reformer!

We only have one exercise.

Joe Pilates is so tricky. Putting us in a horizontal position for the Long Stretch and expecting us to find lift.

Oh right, Down Stretch.

Thanks Joe, I get it.

The Demands of the Exercises

Long Stretch

The Reformer: The Use of Lift in the Long Stretch Series

“One piece of steel from your head to your heel!”

Back to the name again.

What are the demands of a long body position? A long back and long strong legs.

Let's go back to that long back part…

A long back (or tall back, in lift-speak) demands a long neck and open chest, a lift in the waist, ribs that are in and up to lengthen the mid-back, a working seat to help open the front of the hip (yup it's gotta be long as well) and easy reaching legs.

Oooh, so demanding…

I can do this more easily standing upright, but along comes the Long Stretch and I am stymied.

It's hard to find this long body position in mid-air.

No feedback from an apparatus in sight.

I have heard it said that Long Stretch and Down Stretch are really the same exercise, except you are kneeling in the latter one.

This is absolutely true. Let's use the lift in the Down Stretch to sort this out.

The lift in Down Stretch is impossible quite clear.

Down Stretch

The Reformer: The Use of Lift in the Long Stretch Series

I find Down Stretch to be supremely challenging.

The body position is precariously close to where my body just wants to let it all hang out and fall into the low back.

It's Lift! to the rescue!

Mine the opposing forces in your body: make the lower body push the carriage out even as you bring the carriage in.

Your lower body wants to stay out there, yet your lift is insistent to close the springs.

I. Smell. Two. Way. Stretch.

Up Stretch

The Reformer: The Use of Lift in the Long Stretch Series

Up Stretch is a gold mine that's jam-packed with skills to prepare you for crazy advanced exercises to come.

Put in diligent practice here and reap the benefits you'll use for Snake Twist, the Headstands and even the infamous Flying Squirrel.

Yes.

Get. Busy.

Elephant

The Reformer: The Use of Lift in the Long Stretch Series

Oh Elephant, is there anything you can't do?

Elephant is another skill-builder extraordinaire. You'll need lots of mad Elephant skills to find success in exercise favorites like the Pull Up on the Wunda Chair and Snake/Twist on the Reformer.

A teacher client of mine has decided that in Pilates one learns the “basic” or “foundational” exercises first because they are all so bloody hard it will take a lifetime to do them properly.

A fair point. The Hundred or the Elephant done well is no easy task.

Again my Reformer is my teacher. Without working the lower body properly, my carriage is very reluctant to close completely.

“I'm sorry,” says the Reformer. “Nope, this is not a leg exercise, try again.”

Well, at least repetition is my friend…

Long Back Stretch

The Reformer: The Use of Lift in the Long Stretch Series

This exercise has become a favorite of mine in recent months.

I find it to be the epitome of length in the lower body.

Yes.

Remember the moving carriage you are attached to?

This is not an arm exercise.

The Long Back Stretch is the juice behind every exercise in Pilates where we actively reach through the heels.

Think about it:

  • Short Box – the long reach of the heels to anchor the lower body on the box
  • Tower on the Cadillac – reaching through the heels in an effort to lengthen the entire back on the mat
  • Stomach Massage Series – the repetition of lowering the heels in the first 2 exercises in this series. Joe Pilates says “Do you get it?!”

Is it coincidence that the Stomach Massage follows the Long Back Stretch in the order?

Stomach Massage then followed by the Tendon Stretch?

This cannot be a happy accident…

Put the Long in Long Stretch, Baby

Persevere in your meat-and-potatoes exercise series like the Long Stretch Series.

Dig deep to discover the skills that will carry you all the way to High Bridge and beyond in your Reformer repertoire.

The Reformer: The Use of Lift in the Long Stretch Series

Use the one-leg version of the Elephant to work on one-sided exercises. It's bursting with information on how to better your Tendon Stretch with one leg.

Take some help when you can get it!

Got a series that's become a bugaboo?

Gimme the skinny in a comment below and we'll hash it out.

#pilatesproblemsolving

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.

Super!

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?

Guilty.

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.