How to Use Pilates Arm Circles to Open Your Upper Back

In this post: When your upper back gets tight, you want to find a quick and effective way to stretch it. Pilates Arm circles on the Arc barrel is the exercise for you.

pilates arm circles on the arc barrel

I would say a majority of my days have been spent hunched over something.

As a kid, I was hunched over my desk taking notes and doing tests. Through college, I was hunched over a computer.

Now, I feel like I spend my time practically stooped over something all day long. Whether it’s checking Facebook on my phone or bending over so I can hear my little fella tell me a story, I end up bent over.

The trick to being able to stand up straight after spending so much time bent over is spending time in the opposite position. This means that in order to have perfect, pain-free posture, I have to stretch my spine the opposite way.

Pilates Arm circles on the Arc barrel is one of the best exercises to quickly and easily stretch your upper back. Here’s what you need to know to get the most benefit from this Pilates exercise.

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Why You Should Do Pilates Arm Circles on the Arc Barrel

When you practice Pilates Arm circles on the Arc barrel, the structure of the barrel helps you really stretch and open your upper back. With your upper back draped over the apex of the barrel, you place yourself in spinal extension before you even start working. For someone who might sit at a desk or work at a computer for hours a day, this position can feel very rewarding.

Then, you add movement. As your arms circle, you’ll feel the stretch in different areas of your body. Just make sure you keep your abdominals engaged and don’t lose your form as your arms move. Here’s how to practice Pilates Arm circles on the Arc barrel.

How to Do Pilates Arm Circles on the Arc Barrel

pilates arm circles on the arc barrel
  1. Place the Arc barrel so that the curve seems like a bump in the road on your mat.
  2. Lean back on the Arc barrel so that your upper back is near the apex of the barrel. You should feel like your head is supported and your heart is opening toward the ceiling.
  3. Broaden your collarbones.
  4. Bring your arms straight above your chest, shoulder-width apart. Keep your elbows straight and your palms facing each other.
  5. Use Pilates breathing throughout.
  6. Lightly activate the muscles along the bottom of your rib cage to ensure that your ribs don’t pop open toward the ceiling. Your ribs will be angled somewhat toward the ceiling, but you should still feel muscular engagement throughout.
  7. Reach both arms toward your ears as if you are doing Arm reaches.
  8. As you get to your deepest point, rotate from your shoulders to open your palms to the ceiling. (Did you guys see that I put that in bold? Yeah, it’s that important.)
  9. Bring your arms with the palms facing the ceiling by your sides.
  10. From your shoulders, rotate your palms to face your thighs.
  11. Bring your arms back to your starting position above your chest. At no point in time should your arms be sliding on the ground. 
  12. Complete 3-5 circles this direction.
  13. Then, switch directions.

Finding the Best Arc Barrel

If you’re in the market for an Arc barrel, I recently compared the top five Arc barrels on the market. Here’s who made my top five list and which barrel I’d buy.

For the Visual Learners…

Here is a video explaining how to practice Pilates Arm circles on the Arc barrel for visual learners.

Before You Practice Pilates Arm Circles on the Arc Barrel, Don’t Forget…

Before you practice Pilates Arm circles on the Arc barrel, don’t forget to focus on your physical goals.

If you’re doing this exercise to open your upper back, make sure your back is in a nice, supported stretch over the barrel. You shouldn’t feel pain or strain when you get in position, but you should feel a stretch.

Then, let your arms gently circle. Start with small circles to ensure you don’t strain your shoulders.

If you feel any sort of pain or if your spinal muscles start to tighten up or cramp, you should stop what you’re doing. Use your hand to lift your head and move it toward your chest. Then, allow yourself to sit up or slide off the barrel.

Make sure that you don’t practice this exercise any more today. In the future, you can give it a try again, though.

Are you interested in learning the basics of yoga and Pilates from the privacy of your own home? Sign up for my FREE 30-day program, and I’ll teach you how to safely practice many popular yoga poses and Pilates exercises.

How do you like to do Arm circles–on the Mat, Arc barrel, or foam roller? Let us know in the comments below.

About Sarah Stockett

Hi, I'm Sarah! I'm a certified Pilates and yoga instructor with a passion for pain relief. I believe you can use simple exercises to relieve your aches + pains. AND, I believe I can teach you how.