How to Do Spine Stretch Forward in Pilates

Proper Form, Variations, and Common Mistakes

Spine Stretch
Ben Goldstein

Targets: Back, hamstrings, abdominals

Equipment Needed: Mat

Level: Beginner

Pilates mat exercises move from exercises done on your back to moves done in seated, kneeling and eventually standing. The spine stretch forward takes a page from the seated moves and can be done anywhere you have room to sit with your legs extended. Practice the spine stretch forward as part of a quick at home routine. In the traditional order of Pilates exercises, it is the eighth exercise, coming after the double leg stretch and being followed by the open leg rocker. This one exercise will help you perform all of the rolling exercises in the Pilates mat as well as other moves that rely upon spinal articulation.


Spine stretch forward is a great stretch for the back and the hamstrings. More importantly, it is a deep abdominal exercise and a preparation for later exercises in the Pilates syllabus. It's a great stretch to do near the beginning of an exercise routine and then later in the routine for a deeper stretch.


Watch Now: Lengthen Your Spine with the Spine Stretch Forward

Step-by-Step Instructions

Sit up tall with your best posture. Imagine your shoulders are directly over your sit bones so that you are neither leaning forward nor back. Using a mirror to check your position is profile will help you to see your alignment and work into better form each time you work out.

  1. Your legs are extended about shoulder width apart, and your feet are flexed. If you are positioned on a yoga size exercise mat, your feet should land just outside the mat. Lengthen the back of your neck and reach the top of your head to the sky. Your shoulders stay relaxed while your waist draws inward and upward.
  2. Inhale and extend your arms out in front of you, shoulder height. The palms face down and your fingers lengthen forward. Be certain to keep your arms directly in line with the shoulders and to maintain a fixed width between the arms.
  3. Exhale as you lengthen your spine into a large C-shaped curve forward. Imagine the shape of a high and tall upper case "C" and not a small lower case "C". Your objective is a high arc in the spine and a deep scoop in the abdominals. This C-curve appears in many Pilates exercises and the Spine Stretch Forward is an ideal place to master it.
  4. From the lowest deepest point in the exercise, reverse the action and begin to roll up one vertebra at a time. This is known as spinal articulation and should be done smoothly. Sequence this roll-up action by starting to round up through the lower back, then the middle back and then the upper back. Finally, the head comes fully upright. For the entire duration of this rolling up motion, the abdominals are engaged and active drawing both in and up.

    Common Mistakes

    Work to keep the legs taut and straight as you deepen the stretch. The backs of the knees work down into the mat underneath you. The tops of the thighs contract to add to the straightening motion.

    Your ultimate goal is to reach the crown or top of the head towards the mat while maintaining a high hollow scoop in the front of the body.

    Avoid any flattening of the spine. Flexible individuals may find it easy to flatten out the torso towards the mat. However, that completely eliminates the purpose of the exercise. Work your "C" curve and you will stretch your spine and strengthen your abdominals.

    Imagine a two-way stretch. Pilates utilizes opposition in every exercise. Within the spine stretch forward, the arms and legs are lengthening forward but the waist is pulling strongly backward. 

    Modifications and Variations

    If your hamstrings are tight, sit on a raised surface, like a folded towel or a yoga block. You can also try this exercise with your knees bent and feet flat on the floor. Over time you should gain more flexibility.

    It also works quite well to do this exercise with the fingertips or palms sliding forward along the floor in front of you. This variation will take some pressure out of the shoulders and upper back.

    Safety and Precautions

    If you feel any pain while performing this stretch, ease out of the stretch. If you have a back or leg injury or ongoing problem, discuss what stretches are appropriate with your doctor or physical therapist.

    Try It Out

    Incorporate this move and similar ones into one of these popular workouts:

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