The Shape of All Things Pilates: Side Bend

pilates side bend

The Shape of All Things Pilates: Side BendWelcome to the fourth installation of The Shape of All Things Pilates. We have been exploring the organization of the Pilates exercises into Body Shapes, as taught by Karen Frischmann and Sandy Shimoda of Vintage Pilates in Los Angeles.

Previously we have worked on the Tall Back, Round Back and Arched Back.

Get ready, now it’s going to get even more interesting…

4. Side Bend

Often the first place you’ll encounter the Side Bend is the Short Box Series on the Reformer.

The Shape of All Things Pilates: Side Bend Side Bending in the Pilates Method demands length and lift along both sides equally. Often one side is tempted to crunch rather than to lengthen, or one side may simply not know what to do at all.

What to do about all of this…

A case for the Tall Back

Remember that the Tall Back is inherent in all the other Body Shapes including the Side Bend. Find the length and lift of your Tall Back and then just don’t get any shorter as you reach and bend to the side.

Easy peasy, no?


No pole, no problem

Another help to your Side Bend on the Short Box is to lose that pole for a while. Simply place your fingertips lightly onto your shoulders to find more connection to and awareness of the sides of your back.

The Shape of All Things Pilates: Side Bend

Sans pole you can feel if the upper body, the shoulders, arms and hands, are working so hard they want to do your side bending for you. You’ll gain awareness and strength in the sides and eventually you will reclaim your pole with greater ease in the arms and shoulders.

Lost in Space

Sitting on the Short Box and bending to the side is no easy feat. Often it’s hard to tell what the **bleep** your back is doing back there. Perhaps a twist may creep in on your way to the side…oh dear…

Not to worry, Cadillac to the rescue!

Roll Back with One Arm

The Shape of All Things Pilates: Side Bend

The stretch that accompanies the Roll Back with One Arm on the Cadillac is a delightful place to gain awareness of just how this whole side bending thing works. Your back, supported along the mat, will now receive feedback to pinpoint exactly what’s happening when you work your side bend.

If there is a little twist, you’ll notice. You’ll feel your length along the mat to help lift and stretch out the crunchy side.

Did I mention you may actually enjoy it? Whhhaaaaaat??

Side Bend Most Beloved

The Shape of All Things Pilates: Side Bend

The darlings of the Side Bend world, Mermaid shows up on nearly every piece of Pilates apparatus.

The Mermaids pictured in this post, on the Reformer and one version on the Wunda Chair, are only two examples. You also have several versions on the Cadillac and the Barrels (as well as the Side Sit Ups) at your disposal.

Depending on the relationship of the body to the particular apparatus, no two Mermaids are exactly alike. See which Mermaid works best for you. The feedback and resistance from the apparatus in these versatile exercises can demystify the Side Bend requirement of length on both sides. Aaargh…

I mean, Ahhhhh…

Hey wait, it’s the Logo!

The Shape of All Things Pilates: Side Bend

Side Bend on the Mat is one of the most iconic of the Pilates exercises. Used in numerous Pilates logos (guilty), it is a challenging exercise and usually one that you don’t learn for a while.

It’s helpful not to over think this exercise. Just reach out and stretch. Pretend you’re a cat. Remember this Side Bend is your treat after all your hard work in the exercises that precede it, notably Side Kicks Kneeling. Have a good time and then get ready to roll. Literally.

I took my very first Mat classes at Excel Pilates in Washington, DC. Just when I thought we’d covered all there possibly was to do on the Mat, the day arrived when Lesa taught the class the Side Bend. I felt so accomplished to reach the Logo exercise. Which I didn’t even know was coming…


Share your thoughts about our posts on the Body Shapes of the Pilates Method. Have a favorite? A nemesis?

Stay tuned for the final post on…ominous music cue…The Twist!

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Andrea Maida

Andrea Maida

A native of Pittsburgh, Andrea began her study of the Pilates method in 2000. She holds two comprehensive certifications from Romana’s Pilates in New York and Excel Movement Studios in Washington, DC.  Andrea continues to study with numerous world-class instructors including Romana Kryzanowska, Jay Grimes, Sari Mejia-Santo, Junghee Kallander, Cynthia Lochard, and Kathryn Ross-Nash whenever possible. Andrea was privileged to be in the inaugural class of The Work at Vintage Pilates under the direction of Jay Grimes, 1st Generation Master Teacher and student of Joseph Pilates.

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