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Movement Monday: Mastering the Spine Stretch in Pilates

Variation of the Spine Stretch with knees bent
Malcolm showing the Spine Stretch

Welcome to another Movement Monday, Pilates teachers! Today, we delve into the intricacies of the spine stretch—a fundamental exercise in Pilates that, as the name suggests, focuses on stretching and lengthening the spine. While the movement itself involves spinal flexion, it’s crucial to maintain a lengthened flexion to avoid collapsing and ensure the space between the ribs and hips remains open.

Understanding the Spine Stretch

The spine stretch is an excellent exercise for promoting spinal mobility and flexibility. However, to truly benefit from this movement, it’s essential to focus on both the upper and lower body. Here’s a breakdown of how to teach this effectively, emphasizing the importance of not only the upper body's role but also the critical engagement of the lower body.

Teaching the Spine Stretch in Two Parts

  1. Part One: Lumbar Focus

  • Begin in a seated position with your hands on your thighs.

  • Perform a posterior pelvic tilt, gently rolling the pelvis back to lengthen the lumbar spine.

  • This initial movement should solely concentrate on lengthening the lower back, creating awareness and control in the lumbar region.

  1. Part Two: Full Flexion

  • Maintain the posterior tilt while keeping the sit bones glued to the floor.

  • Gradually bring the head forward towards the feet, enhancing the stretch through the entire spine.

  • For those with varying levels of flexibility in the hamstrings and lumbar spine, consider performing this with the soles of the feet together rather than legs straight out.

Once these two parts are mastered, combine them into a seamless movement:

  • From the flexed forward position, roll back up to a seated position.

  • Lift the arms up as you come to a sitting position, preparing for the full spine stretch.

  • As you flex forward, ensure you maintain the posterior tilt of the sit bones into the floor, promoting a deeper and more effective lengthening of the spine.

Breath Patterns for Optimal Movement

Breathing patterns play a pivotal role in performing the spine stretch correctly:

  • Inhale as you lift the arms up, preparing the body for the movement.

  • Exhale as you flex forward, promoting relaxation and deeper spinal flexion.

  • Inhale as you lift the arms up again, returning to the starting position and elongating the spine.

Additional Tips for Pilates Teachers

  • Cueing: Emphasise cues that promote lengthening rather than collapsing. Remind students to keep the space between the ribs and hips open.

  • Flexibility Variations: Adapt the position of the legs (e.g., soles of feet together) to accommodate different flexibility levels.

  • Mindful Movement: Encourage students to perform the movement slowly and mindfully, ensuring they feel the lengthening through each vertebra.


The spine stretch is more than just a flexion movement; it’s an opportunity to cultivate length, control, and flexibility in the spine. By breaking down the exercise into manageable parts and incorporating mindful breath patterns, you can help your students achieve a more effective and beneficial stretch. Happy teaching, and here’s to a more flexible and lengthened spine on this Movement Monday!

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