Cues To Use: Five Best Assisted Stretches On The Pilates Reformer

Can we just Stretch Today - Pilatay

We’ve all been there. A client comes in, exhausted, mind in a million places. It is clear that Pilates is the last place they want to be.

“How are you feeling today?”

You’re pretty sure that you know the answer based on the fact that they are wearing an “I’m Just Here For Feet In Straps” shirt (available at

Shop: I’m Just Here For Feet In Straps

Your annoyingly energetic and positive question is greeted with the dreaded response: “Can we just stretch today?” (That needs to be a shirt. Who wants one? Vote “me” by clicking here and hitting “send.”)

You pause, a silence that, to the client, seems to go on forever until finally it is broken with a little laugh, because surely they are joking - we all know Pilates is NOT stretching - followed by a firm and final, “No.”

Read: “The Truth About Pilates: 5 Pilates Myths, Debunked”

Or, and this is when they really know they are in trouble, you go into a full-on monologue about how ALL Pilates exercises ARE a stretch … WITH strength AND control.

(This is precisely when the client realizes they are screwed. You are probably going to spend the next hour showing them how to squeeze the juice out of every Pilates exercise until they are ready to drop dead, because, isn’t Pilates great!)

Read: “When The Going Gets Tough, Go To Pilates: 5 Ways Pilates Keeps You Centered In Times Of Stress”

However, you’re not wrong. Pilates IS strength, stretch, control AND stability all in one package. You CAN get great stretches from even the hardest Pilates exercises, which put both your strength and flexibility to the test.

Since there is NOTHING better than an assisted stretch, and we love our clients and want them to be happy, here are some of my favorite assisted stretches on the reformer, which I like to give my clients when I know they need a little extra yumminess in their workout.

Yes, you CAN stretch today … AND get a great workout!

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The classical assist in rowing is absolutely divine, particularly if you have been sitting at a desk, hunched over, or feel compressed in any way. For an added dose of yumminess, try the back and hamstring stretch at the end.

This is a great example of how an exercise can go from “I hate this one” to “That felt so good” with just a little assistance from a good tactile cue.

PIlates Reformer Rowing Tactile Cues Pilatay

What’s important: Make sure you are wearing safe, teaching shoes when standing on the equipment; watch for shoulder sensitivity and ask for feedback to make sure there is no pain; grab the forearm, never the fingers or other joints.

Pilates Rowing Tactile Cues Stretch Pilatay

What’s important: Use the heels of the hands and your body weight to save your energy and for your safety; work from your powerhouse and be aware of your body mechanics.

Stomach Massage

Stomach Massage 1-3 (round back, flat back and reach) are so challenging for so many people, it makes the assisted stretches in 4 (rotation) even more welcome. The client will almost forget how torturously the series started.

Pilates Stomach Massage on the Reformer Pilatay

What’s important: Anchor and brace yourself against the reformer and position yourself with strong and solid footing, prepared to meet the force of the client; hold them with two hands by the forearm, never by the fingers, hands or other joints.


I will never forget the first time I tried Mermaid in my classical training. I learned it originally as a nice, soothing side stretch on light springs. When I took my classical certification, I learned it on a Gratz, with two springs (I know some do it on one), legs together. I felt crunched up, like I couldn’t move. It was so heavy. But then, the teacher grabbed my arm and gave me the best side stretch known to man. It was like the heavens were opening, birds were singing… OK, OK, OK. You get the point. Now, I crave it. And my clients love it.

Reformer mermaid stretch pilatay

What’s important: Help the client transition the arms smoothly, by holding their ribcage as they windmill the arms; make sure you are grabbing the forearm, not the fingers or hand; use body weight to guide the stretch up and over.

Short Spine

Although I used to be partial to a different stretch in Short Spine, in which the teacher holds the ankles still with one hand, and assists the body downward by pressing the other forearm into both hamstrings, I am now leaning towards this yumminess. I like the way this stretches the low back, hips and hamstrings at end range, where I, and my clients, need it the most.

Short spine stretch Pilatay

What’s important: Stand to the side and be conscious of the client’s personal space; your own head and gaze should also be off to the side; fingers to the outside, away from the body’s center; even though you are standing to the side, keep your body weight centered; use body weight in a downward motion toward the footbar to assist the lower back down. (While some teachers prefer to grab the shins, which would give the client a bit more personal space, I prefer the thighs so I don’t have to worry about putting weight on sensitive knees.)


This assist is heavenly.

When the teacher puts weight on my ankles and I begin to take flight, I feel like I could go forever.

The stretch all up the front of the body and muscle engagement up the entire back body is a feeling I will crave until the day I die. It’s what made me fall in love with extensions, and gave me the freedom to strengthen my back enough to do unassisted extensions.

There are teachers who will not give you this joy, as they believe that you need to find the strength within yourself … these teachers are sociopaths.

KIDDING!!! They’re actually really good teachers, and they are not wrong. We do want to build the strength to do long and even extensions without an assist.

But, in my studio and practice, there is a place for both ways of thinking. And, this is an article about yummy assisted stretches. Not mean teachers who deny you joy. KIDDING AGAIN! Jeez.

Listen, the fact of the matter is: now that I have known this joy, I simply can’t deny my clients the same feeling.

breast stroke Pilates Pilatay Reformer Exercises

What’s important: Brace yourself; use body weight; as always, don’t put weight on joints; make sure they are positioned on the box correctly so that their feet don’t hit the frame; up, up and away!

So there you have it. Those are some of my favorite assisted stretches on the reformer.

What are your favorite assisted stretches on the reformer? Comment below!

From the author, Tracy Belcher

*Disclaimer: There assists are my personal favorites, and this is not intended as a training of any kind. They should be used only by certified and insured Pilates teachers who were professionally trained to do them and to work with clients (this article/blog post is not intended as a professional training). Before you do any hands on work, know the laws in your state about working with clients, including laws regarding consent, and always ask clients for permission.

**Special thank you to my Pilates bestie, Paul, for being my model for these photos, @matteophotographs for taking the photos, Kenlie Reed for being on “fat roll patrol,” and my editor David Johnson for making sure I don’t sound like a doofus.