Welcome to the third installation of The Shape of All Things Pilates, exploring the organization of the Pilates exercises into Body Shapes, as taught by Karen Frischmann and Sandy Shimoda of Vintage Pilates in Los Angeles.
3. The Arched Back
Within the Pilates exercises there are 2 arches to be found:
- The Upper Back Arch is found in exercises like Pull and T on the Reformer, Spread eagle on the Cadillac and Arm Circles on the Small Barrel
- The Full Back Arch is more advanced and includes Backbends on the Ladder Barrel, High Bridge and Tree on the Reformer
Both arches can be found in the Swan on the Ladder Barrel: a Full Back Arch followed by an Upper Back Arch.
The Upper Back Arch
You can learn to cultivate and perfect your Upper Back Arch on the Small Barrel with the Arm Circles series.
Your head may not be in contact with the barrel at first, but as you begin to move and stretch the back up and over the barrel your position will change allowing even more of your upper back and head to be on the barrel.
Reach both arms overhead at the same time to create a shape reminiscent of the Swan exercise. Be sure to anchor all of your back into the Small Barrel as your Upper Back Arch requires a lot of support from the stomach and the seat. Your tailbone must root into the mat to enable the back to lift up and away from it.
A case for the Tall Back
Remember that the Tall Back is inherent in all the other Body Shapes including the Arched Back. Finding length and lift ensures that your arch does not ‘dump’ into one area of the back, commonly the low back, but is evenly distributed along the entire back as much as possible.
Take it to the Mat
So all your hard work on the Small Barrel ain’t been in vain fer nothin’…
Let’s see if you can recreate the Arched Back for the Swan on the Mat.
When you need the most help.
Summon all your forces from the Small Barrel and throw in a little Down Stretch from the Reformer to boot.
Again, what goes on in the lower body can help the upper body. Use the reaching away of the lower body as you lift up and away into your imaginary Small Barrel.
The Full Back Arch
The Full Back Arch is a more advanced position. Backbends can be very beneficial for the back. However, backbends require strength and length in the back to feel their very best.
I have always been able to do a backbend – I can get it done, but don’t hate me too much – but the strength that I gain and apply from all the other Pilates exercises improves my backbends to the point where they feel so good to do. They felt okay before, but using the support of the Barrels to tap into your *gasp* stomach makes them feel delicious.
Next Stop: The Spine Corrector
After the Upper Back Arch at the Small Barrel, you can use the Spine Corrector in a couple different ways to work on the Full Back Bend. Different positions on it will work better for different backs.
Which one do you think works best for me?
I feel best in the position in the 2nd photo. This orientation on the Spine Corrector allows the arch to be exactly where I need it most, in the upper back. It is a more challenging position and if you’ll scroll up to my Swan on the Mat photo you’ll see why.
The other orientation on the Spine Corrector in the 1st photo only helps me flare my ribs out more…not necessary.
Backbends on the Ladder Barrel
The Ladder Barrel is a wonderful, fully-supported place to work on your High Bridge. Even if you’re not interested in High Bridge the backbends here are still good for you. Hold onto whichever rung you are able to reach.
*Safety note: Place your Ladder Barrel against a wall to do this exercise. My carpet is very secure. I had to be careful while taking the photo. The wall will ensure the Barrel does not move when you are in mid-backbend.
Well, If you’re like me your fingertips may barely graze the ladder.
If you are taller you can progress and hold onto a lower and lower rung as you do each repetition.
Reach to the lowest rung and make all us shorties jealous.
The Barrels: So easy to love
The Barrels are a wonderful help in perfecting the shape of the Arched Back. With several barrel choices: Small Barrel, Spine Corrector and Ladder Barrel, you can choose the one that is best for your particular back.
Use them well and they can be your inner guide and always be with you, especially in the Mat exercises Swan Dive, Swimming and Rocking and OMG even the Pull Straps and T!
Questions about The Arched Back? Leave a comment below, we’re happy to help.