Single leg stretch is all about learning to move from center. Many people find it especially helpful in targeting the lower abs. Note that this exercise is different from single straight leg stretch, which stretches the hamstring muscles of the back of the thighs.
Single leg stretch trains the abdominals to initiate movement and to support and stabilize the trunk as the arms and legs are in motion. There is an element of coordination to this exercise as well.
It is a good exercise to start a stomach series or to use as part of a warm-up.
Before beginning, review and practice sequential breathing if you need to work on your breath.
- Start on your back with your knees bent and your shins parallel to the floor. This is the tabletop position for the legs. Take a few moments to breathe deeply into the back and lower abs.
- Pull your abs in as you exhale, taking your belly button down toward your spine as you curl your head and shoulders up to the tips of the shoulder blades. As you curl up, extend your left leg at a 45-degree angle. The right leg remains in tabletop position with the right hand grasping the right ankle and the left hand moving to the right knee. You will maintain your upper-body curve throughout the exercise. Be sure to keep your shoulders relaxed and your abdominals deeply scooped.
- Switch legs on a two-part inhale. Bring air in as the left knee comes in, and bring more air in as you gently pulse that knee toward you. Now the left hand is at the left ankle and the right hand at the left knee.
- Exhale and switch legs again. Bring the right leg in with a two-part exhale/pulse and extend the left leg. The hand-to-leg coordination continues with the outside hand of the bent leg going to the ankle and the other hand moving to the inside of the knee.
- Repeat, switching legs up to 10 times.
Since the single leg stretch is a foundational exercise, be sure your form is correct.
Movement in the Torso
Keep your torso still and stable. Movement should be in your arms and legs only.
Bicycling the Legs
Keep your feet moving in a straight line rather than allowing them to go up and down in a bicycling motion.
Modifications and Variations
With the Pilates single leg stretch, it is possible to get a good abdominal workout while protecting your neck and back.
Need a Modification?
You can do this exercise with your head down. If the small of your back is starting to come off the floor or you are feeling back strain, your legs are too low. Raise your legs so that you are working your abs and not your back.
Up for a Challenge?
As your core strength increases, experiment with lowering the legs and/or raising the head and shoulders. You can also move on to single-leg kick, double leg stretch or criss cross.
Safety and Precautions
Release the exercise if you are feeling tension in your shoulders and neck or if your lower back is taking the strain.
If you have any back or neck problems, talk to your doctor or physical therapist about which types of exercises are best for you. You should avoid this exercise (and others in which you lie face-up on your back) in the second and third trimesters of pregnancy.