Side Bend and Stretch

Side stretch is one of my favorite Pilates exercises. It builds strength and endurance. It increases flexibility. And it makes you work your inner thighs along with your shoulder stability, arms, and powerhouse. Side stretch is a balance challenge that makes you check your alignment and pull up through your midline non-stop.


Intro to Side Stretch and Step 1

Young woman exercising on exercise mat
Panorama Media/Getty Images

Side stretch takes side plank into a side bend and stretch.

Set up:

  1. Begin sitting sideways with your legs folded to the side. Put your top foot on the floor in front of the other, heel to toe. Release tension in your hips so that you are seated with deep creases at your hips. The sit bone of your top hip drops toward the mat (it might not get all the way there, that's OK).
  2. Place your supporting hand on the mat in line with your hip and a few inches past your shoulder.

Side Stretch Step 2

side stretch exercise
Stacked as if Between 2 Walls. (c)2010, Marguerite Ogle
  1. Before you press up, draw your abs in, drop your shoulders, and lengthen your spine.
  2. Inhale: Press into the supporting arm and straighten your legs to lift your pelvis away from the mat.
  3. Use your inner thighs - up and in - even as you press down through your feet. This is a big key to this exercise. Think of pulling your sit bones together to get more support from the pelvic floor and up through your midline.
  4. Feel support from your abs, from under the supporting side, and from your back (especially your latissimus area).
  5. You are stacked vertically so that your shoulders are one on top the other, as are your hips. Go up as if you are between two walls.

If you are a beginner, this exercise is quite challenging and it is fine to work on going just this far, but read on so you know where you are headed eventually.

Pilates Side Stretch Step 3

pilates exercises
Pilates Side Stretch. (c)2010, Marguerite Ogle
  1. Keep you body in a long lifted line and sweep your top arm in an arc to reach overhead. As your arm goes up and over, your shoulder stays down and your shoulder blade slides subtly down your back.
  2. Take a long stretch all the way through your body. Feel this through the middle of your body from the tip of your fingers to your feet.
  3. If you have your balance, take the stretch further by reaching into a side arc with your upper body. This arc goes up with the sides of the ribs sliding up toward the ceiling. It doesn't just curve over and down as if to drape over the supporting arm (see upper left next page).
    Make sure you are pressing through the supporting arm and getting good lift out of the shoulder. Do not lock your elbow or hyperextend (our lovely model is a little hyperextended here)
  4. Return to side plank
  5. Return to start position
  6. Repeat 2 times on this side
  7. Change sides

At this level, you are working toward performing this exercise with great fluidity and precision. Mark each position without stifling the flow of the movement.

There are variations on foot positions for this exercise. Some people do it with the feet together so that you go up on the outside edge of the bottom foot. I have also seen it with with the bottom foot in front. As always, I encourage you to explore it all.

Side Stretch Exercises on Pilates Equipment

pilates equipment exercises
side stretches on reformer, chair, and cadillac. Getty Images

Now you can see how the skills learned in an exercise like side stretch on the mat translate onto Pilates equipment like the Pilates chair, reformer, and cadillac.

Beautiful, right?

Side stretch is one of the classical Pilates mat exercises. It is followed by boomerang

Note: In the photo on the bottom, Alisa Wyatt is using many of the skills we are working on in side stretch as she does twist on the Pilates chair. See Alisa demonstrate neck pull.