The Pilates ‘Climbing the Tree’ exercise for back relaxation

pilates climbing the tree übung hintere beinmuskulatur und hüft entspannung

Charleston Samu Rii Marquis CSRM

Climbing the Tree – I can well imagine doing it because I climbed a few coconut trees myself as a child in St Lucia in the Caribbean. In the Pilates Climbing the Tree exercise, however, we climb up our leg. This is of course a little different and most likely a strange activity for a grown-up. Nevertheless, sometimes when I watch toddlers climbing up their legs to get to their ‘magical’ toes, I would say from the look in their eyes that they enjoy it. There seems to be something magical about it! Let’s take a closer look.

Relaxation for our hamstrings and lower back

The Climbing the Tree exercise activates our deep muscle corset system to relax our hamstrings and lower back in a contract-and-release-technique fashion. As we climb up, we push the leg we are climbing up away from our hands – isometric contraction. On the way back we pull the leg towards the chest – isotonic relaxation.
Incidentally, the Climbing the Tree exercise also gives us a full understanding of the dynamics we need for the Pilates Single Leg Stretch.

Starting position

Lie on your back with your legs stretched out and your arms along your body.

The procedure

Breathe in to prepare. Exhale and activate your ABC principle
A – navel to spine
B – chin to chest
C – shoulder girdle to pelvis
in order to lift your right knee and upper body and place your hands on your right knee. Inhale and bring your torso back onto the mat while flexing and pointing your feet. Exhale and bend your left leg (keeping your feet on the floor). Inhale and extend your right leg up, bring your torso back and at the same time extend your left leg on the mat. Flex and point your feet again. Exhale, activate your ABC principle again to lift your upper body vertebra by vertebra. Climb up your right leg step by step, keeping your elbows in external rotation. Inhale and pause, exhale, climb back vertebra by vertebra and pull your leg towards you. Bring your leg back onto the floor. Repeat the same sequence with the other leg.

Wow, these instructions sound complicated! But we have a video for you to study and enjoy. Stick with it, because there’s always sunshine behind the clouds! Your patience will be rewarded. Click now, lean back and enjoy.

Coaching keys

Use our coaching keys as mental support when doing the Climbing the Tree exercise. Say them and visualise them …

  • I lift my upper body while climbing up vertebra by vertebra.
  • I don’t sink into my chest as I climb up vertebra by vertebra.
  • I ground my body by pressing my supporting leg onto the mat and my working leg against my hands.

A tip: You can use our video to practice the coaching keys of the Climbing the Tree exercise. Let’s not underestimate mental training!

With mindfulness we get further

What do we pay attention to?

When climbing we work on feeling a lightness in our upper body and a ‘sweet’ release on the back of our working leg and the front of our hips. It is important to understand that we first have to ground and lengthen our spine before implementing the ABC principle to lift our upper body. The lifting can then come from our ABC principle – our core – and not from faulty actions such as (1) tilting our pelvis upwards (posterior tilt), (2) pressing our back into the mat or (3) pushing our neck forward. Because, if we unconsciously allow ourselves to do one or more of these 3 faulty actions, our neck, lower back and diaphragm will suffer. It will be impossible to breathe correctly.

Speaking of breathing, our in-breath allows for lightness and buoyancy in all extensions, and our out-breath allows for grounding and stability in all flexions.

And last but not least, the climbing of the leg is brought about by the B and C of the ABC principle and the pushing away of the leg when climbing up.

Try it & fly with it!


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