Pilates Neck Pull - Tips from the Masters

Doctor pulling back neck of patient holding mirror. Credit: Adam Gault/Spl / Getty Images

The Pilates neck pull is one of the advanced exercises of the classical Pilates mat sequence. Alisa Wyatt shares the insights of three great Pilates masters she gleaned from training with them. Whether you are learning neck pull or teaching it, I'm sure you will appreciate these notes from the teachings of Romana Kryzanowska, Jay Grimes, and Kathy Grant.

Alisa Wyatt is herself a highly respected Pilates instructor and teacher of teachers. She demonstrated the neck pull exercise for the photos illustrating our instructions for neck pull

Romana Kryzanowska on the Neck Pull

Romana used to say, "Place your hands at the base of your skull and use them to pull your head out of your body, like a champagne cork out of the bottle." She would also say, "Press your head into your hands and vice-versa so they work together to pull your spine long and fix your necks! Keep pressing as you roll down and up!"

Jay and Romana both say the neck exercises come from Joe's [Joseph Pilates] boxing experience. Boxers must have a very strong neck to withstand the whiplash of getting hit.

Jay Grimes on the Neck Pull

Jay talks about the way the pulling the neck long with the hands gives the spinal vertebra space so that you can achieve the two-way stretch. While the heels are reaching away, the hands are helping to pull the head the other way.

Alisa notes that when Jay assists her in this exercise, he always uses the strap over her feet and gets behind her to push as she goes forward so she gets a full stretch with her head between her knees (that's the reason for the legs hip distance apart). Then he presses his knees into her upper back and pulls her body tall by grasping under her armpits--this lifts your back up in the most wonderful stretch. Then, he presses one hand on top of her head, steps out of the way and presses the other fist into her abdomen as I roll down. The hand on top of the head is really key to the two-way stretch and is quite vigorous but feels great as you push your spine long into it.

Finally, Jay says that Joe always used a strap over the feet so you can pull against it and engage the whole body -- you only come up as far as you can keep the strap taught. With or without the strap, it's important to press the heels and legs down into the mat.

Kathy Grant and the Neck Pull

Kathy would stand next to Alisa and have her hold the curl in the places she is weak while pressing her head into her hands and lengthening -- torture! 

Alisa Wyatt has published beginner, intermediate, and advanced classical Pilates mat exercise DVDs. See Alisa demonstrate the full Neck Pull Exercise