Shell stretch is a classic Pilates exercise used to relieve tight back muscles. Follow these 3 easy steps to relieve low back pain and feel better now.

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When you’re searching for stretches to help you relieve your back pain ASAP, Shell stretch is one of the first you’ll find because it’s very effective.

This classic Pilates exercise stretches the low back and allows your body to rest in the fetal position, which can be very comforting and restorative for all parts of your body.

However, Shell stretch is a kind of tricky Pilates exercise. Although it provides a great benefit to some, it can be extremely challenging (and even painful) for others.

Here’s more about how to do this pain-relieving exercise and modify it to work for you.

Related: If you’re searching for simple, effective ways to relieve low back pain; sign up below to get your free copy of The Secret to IMMEDIATE + LASTING Pain Relief and learn my #1 trick to help clients relieve pain right now!

Shell stretch is best for…

Shell stretch is a great exercise for anyone to do. Even if you don’t have back pain, this simple Pilates move can help keep your low back muscles stretched and healthy, preventing future pain.

Also, this is wonderful for people who have mild low back pain and no hip, knee, or ankle pain.

Although it’s completely safe for anyone to try, some people think Shell stretch is uncomfortable. If this happens to be you, check out the modifications below.

Modify Shell stretch if…

In some cases, you may want to skip the general directions for Shell stretch and move right to the modification. Be sure to modify or find an alternative stretch to Shell stretch if you:

  • are pregnant or have a large belly right now,
  • have had knee or ankle surgeries (including replacements),
  • have difficulty bending or straightening your knees or ankles,
  • are prone to knee or ankle pain, or
  • have an extremely tight back.

If this is you, don’t worry! Scroll down for your 3 easy steps to modify this pose, so you can get the most out of this exercise.

How to do Shell Stretch

using shell stretch to relieve low back pain
  1. Lower down on to your knees with your legs together. Your legs should either be right beside each other or just a little wider.
  2. Hug your belly button to your spine, and sit your bottom back toward your heels. Let your spine round forward as your upper body folds toward the floor.
  3. Reach your arms out straight and place your palms on the floor. With straight elbows, you are in an active Shell stretch. If you bring your arms by your side, you are in a resting Shell stretch.

Remember to use Pilates breathing. Inhale through your nose, and exhale through pursed lips.

Related: Is this not quite the exercise you were thinking of? It’s easy to confuse Shell stretch with its closely-related-yet-quite-different yoga counterpart, Child’s pose. Check out Choosing the Best Back Stretch to Help You Quickly Feel Better.

How to Modify Shell Stretch if You’re Pregnant or Have Too Much Belly

a modification of shell stretch
Separate your legs.
  1. Lower down on to your knees with your legs parallel but separated. Make some space for your belly. If this is uncomfortable for your knees or hips, move your legs so your knees are apart and your big toes touch.
  2. Hug your belly button to your spine, and sit your bottom back toward your heels. Let your spine round forward as your upper body folds toward the floor.
  3. Reach your arms out straight and place your palms on the floor. With straight elbows, you are in an active Shell stretch. If you bring your arms by your side, you are in a resting Shell stretch.

How to Modify Shell Stretch if You Have Knee or Ankle Pain

a modification of Shell stretch with the knees toward the chest
  1. Lay down on your back. Let your low back press into the mat as you lift your legs.
  2. Hollow out your belly, and hug your thighs toward your chest. You can have your head lifted or on the floor.
  3. Hold here and focus breathing into your low back.

How to Modify Shell Stretch if You Have a Very Tight Low Back

  1. Lay down on your back. Let your low back press into the mat as you lift your legs.
  2. Hollow out your belly, and hug your thighs toward your chest. You can have your head lifted or on the floor.
  3. Hold here and focus breathing into your low back.

Related: If you still don’t care for this exercise, check out Child’s pose.

For Visual Learners…

Sometimes, it’s just easier to watch someone do it and follow their verbal instructions. Here’s a video to talk you through how to do Shell stretch.

Want to learn more exercises to relieve your back pain?

If you were searching for a good back stretch today because you have some back pain you’re trying to get rid of, you’re in luck! I’ve created a course to teach you everything you need to know to permanently ditch hip and back pain. Click here to check out my Spinal Rejuvenation program.

Or, if you want a free taste of what you’ll learn in Spinal Rejuvenation, click here to download The Secret to IMMEDIATE + LASTING Pain Relief.

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.