5 Pilates Exercises for Back Strength and Flexibility

Strengthening your back for lifting and living is pretty obvious to many. It’s a pretty simple line of reasoning: The more you lift weights, the stronger your [back] muscles get, and the stronger your muscles are, the easier/better life becomes.

The flip side to this coin is that lifting can also lead to back discomfort and pain. Or more specifically, the additional stress of lifting weights in the saggital plane over and over  combined with the other dumb shit things you do on a daily basis (like sit 9-10 hours a day) leads to quite a beating for your back.

As I often point out to my 1:1 clients, a strong back is a flexible back! Your ability to bend, twist, extend, round over and move with ease is a sign of vitality and strength.
This is why Pilates is highly recommended for low back relief. The consequences of modern life is just too harsh for our spines. The spine, and all their surrounding musculature, was destined for movement!

I want you to stay bendy and enjoy everything life has to offer, in and out of the gym. In order to do that, here are a few go-to Pilates-based exercises to strengthen and lengthen your back!

Advanced Pilates Exercises for Meatheads

Spine Twist – There are two variations in this video. The modified version of the classic spine twist uses the cross-legged position to help those with really tight hips or hamstrings sit upright. The second version uses straight legs.

I’ve chosen to keep my hands behind my head for this Spine Twist so that I can feel my head pressing up into my palms, ensuring I keep a good posture.

Coaches’ notes:

  • If sitting cross-legged on the floor, grow out of your sit bones to create a long spine. If you’re still too tight to sit upright, prop your bum on a pillow
  • If legs are stretched out, flex the feet and glue the knife edges of the feet together. As you twist, the feet should stay glued together
  • Twist from the spine, not the hips. In fact, imagine you’re cemented down from the hips down.


The Rollover – This one is hard y’all but man it’s good!

I can’t emphasize this enough: The Rollover has nothing to do with the legs. It takes a lot of core strength and back flexibility to do this exercise correctly, and the legs go along for the ride.

Another way to think about it is this way:

  • Your core is the driver of the bus, it initiates the lift of the tailbone and carries the legs
  • Your spine is the front seat passenger, navigating the GPS and telling you where to turn
  • The arms act like the gas and brake pedals. You apply force to the arms for leverage
  • The legs (the least important of all), are like the 8th graders sitting in the back of the bus being annoying AF. On a good day, they might help and on a bad day they make you hate life. But it quite literally is being carried on the bus and not much else. STOP. MAKING. IT. ABOUT. THE. LEGS.

Coach’s notes:

  • Press your hands up against a sturdy surface like a wall, rig, or the floor
  • Draw the legs up to 90-degress and lift the tailbone off the floor
  • Next, roll the lower back off the floor, then mid-back
  • At the top, your back should be shaped like the letter “C”, and your thighs pulling energetically away from your face
  • Descend slowly, with control


Foam Roller Swan & Swan Dive – These exercises are about thoracic (upper) spine extension, and they each build off one another for a reason. You have to master one before going to the dive. In my online course, I teach you to do this using only your bodyweight. It’s important to grasp this concept before adding props.

In lifting, we’re taught that spinal extension is a big no-no. In this instance, extension is the ultimate goal, and it’s a lot easier said than done. The foam roller allows you to get more out of your Swan/extension.

P.S. You get an entire foam roller Pilates workout in this online program

Coach’s notes:

  • With wrists on top of a foam roller, lift the nipples (not your damn head) off the floor & send your sternum forward
  • The foam roller will naturally roll towards you…let it.
  • Bend from the back of you bra line to stay out of your low back and keep those legs glued to the floor
  • Keep your feet pressing into the floor. At no point should they lift (except in the Swan Dive)
  • With Swan Dive, maintain the Swan pose throughout the movement. You’re rocking on your public bone the whole time

Double Leg Kick – This exercise is a Trifecta. It incorporates, back extension, coordination, and hamstring/glute activation.

This isn’t necessarily and “advanced” exercise, but the choreography might throw you in a for a loop. Start slow, nail the movement and then speed it up

Coach’s notes:

  • The double leg kick is an energized, active kick, not a wimpy bend of the knee. If I just wanted you to bend your knees I’d send you off to church to go pray. Turn those hamstrings and glutes on, girlfriend!
  • If you look closely, my neck stays in line with my spine as I go into extension because the neck is a part of the spine. They move together, as they would in a deadlift. There is no reason to look up at any point.



Mermaid with Rotation – Oh, what a glorious feeling the Mermaid brings. I use this one pretty much every day, not only because lateral flexion doesn’t appear often in daily strength training, but because it does wonders for back strength and flexibility.

Coach’s notes:

  • I’m using the foam roller but you can use a towel, ball, or any prop that slides away
  • Avoid leaning to the side, because it’s about bending to the side
  • Pull your ribs and hip bone away from each other
  • As you twist, allow the nipples to the lead the way. The arm doesn’t do much else

If you use these five exercises daily, I guarantee your back will start to feel stronger, longer, and more flexible in no time. Repetition is your friend here.

Want a fun, flexible, approach to Pilates training? The Barbell Pilates Sisterhood offers monthly at-home Pilates to help you FINALLY get consistent. 




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