Spine Stretch: Harder Than It Looks

Spine stretch is one of my favorite Pilates exercises. It is one of the original exercises. Like so many of Joe’s originals it looks simple, but there is a lot going on!

When you look at the name, Spine stretch, you get the impression that you’ll be stretching your spine. This is true. However, it is very important to do the exercise correctly or you could end up with a spine injury. Yes, I’m going to give step-by-step instructions in a minute, but this is worth saying twice.

For Spine stretch, ground down through your SITs bones and make sure your hip flexors are relaxed before you begin. If your pelvis is tucked, you are behind your SITs bones. If you begin with this form, you will cause your hip flexors to grip. When the hip flexors grip, they could pull your sacrum (tailbone) out of place. As someone who has a dislocated sacrum periodically, it’s not always painful, but when you try to sit up straight, your tailbone feels gross. It really is best to avoid dislocating your sacrum.

Spine stretch forwardAlso, when you roll forward, roll one vertebrae at a time until you feel your rib cage hinge. Your abdominals will be supporting your lumbar spine (low back). If you try to take the curved stretch too far, you could end up unintentionally applying pressure on the lumbar vertebrae. This stress could be too much and could cause an injury. Stick to the C shape and don’t roll down past the bottom rib.

Now that my safety pep talk is out of the way, enjoy this exercise! Notice how your spine moves as you articulate forward and reverse sequence to bring yourself back to a seated position.

Spine stretch

Spine stretch

  1. Sit with your legs straight in front of you, wider than your hips. Flex your feet so that you feel your heels press into the mat. Make sure that you can feel your SITs bones press into the mat. If you can’t feel your SITs bones, sit on a folded blanket or bolster. This will help reduce strain on your hamstrings and, when you get elevated to the correct height, you should be able to feel your SITs bones press into whatever you’re sitting on.
  2. Take a moment to sit in this position. Make sure that your hip flexors are relaxed. As you feel your SITs bones press into whatever is beneath you, feel yourself lift through the top of your head. When you lift through your spine, notice how your belly button naturally draws toward your spine.
  3. We will use Pilates breathing.
  4. Inhale to lengthen the spine and lightly engage the abdominals.
  5. Exhale and starting with your head, roll forward one vertebrae at a time. As you roll, let your hands slide along the tops of your legs, keeping your elbows straight. (This will help keep your shoulders away from your ears.) Stop after your bottom rib hinges into your body so that you make a C shape. Never collapse your upper body onto your legs. You should still feel your SITs bones pressing into the mat, and your hip flexors should be relaxed.
  6. Inhale into your spine.
  7. Exhale and reverse sequence. Draw your belly button to your spine and, starting with your lower spine, stack your vertebrae back up. Make sure your head comes all the way up to neutral when you return.
  8. You may do this 3-5 times.

Spine stretch video

Here is a video for visual learners.

For the yogis, this looks like Upavista Konasana, but it sure isn’t the same! What do you think of Joe’s version? Let us know in the comments below.

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Sarah Stockett is STOTT certified in Matwork, Reformer, Cadillac, Chair, & Barrels, Injuries & Special Populations, and CORE; a Yoga Alliance RYT-200; and has studied Active Isolated Stretching. When she is not trying to discover the best exercises to get rid of pain, she likes watching movies and travelling with her family.

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