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How to Help Pilates Students with Flat Thoracic Spines

We usually picture the upper back as rounding backward, right? But if Pilates has taught us anything it's that each person is different. Maybe you've noticed that some of your students have flat thoracic spines. As you watch them move, perhaps you've noticed that the upper back also seems to be stiff and restricted. 

What are some guidelines for teaching this body type? 

First, it's important to remember that with a stiff and flat spine, there might just not be a lot of movement possible. It doesn't necessarily mean that you're cueing incorrectly or that the student isn't understanding you. There's just simply not a lot of movement and that's okay.

If we try to force a big movement, then we potentially overuse the few segments that do move well or strain our muscles trying to go further than our bones allow us to move.

That's why it's important to keep the movements small but detailed. We might not see a lot of visible movement, but that doesn't mean that nothing is happening. Your student might feel a ton of muscle activity. Ask your student where she's feeling the exercise and how intensely.

Let's take the Chest Lift for example. Students with stiff thoracic spines will not be able to come up very high. Otherwise, the neck will be overused. It's best to be content with just a few repetitions and focus on not using the neck at all. Keep all the work in the abdominals and thoracic spine. Even though it may not look like she is moving much, she still might be feeling a lot!

We can't expect to make huge miraculous leaps of progress regarding mobility. Instead, we shoot for little bits of progress at a time and celebrate those successes along the way. 

On November 5, 2019, I held a Live Q&A where I discussed these tips in full detail. I also talked about:

  • The benefits of a C-Shaper
  • Creating mobility before stability
  • Using anterior-posterior breath to restore kyphosis
  • & more!


Members, check out the replay video here

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