Double Leg Stretch: A Classic Core Strengthener

Double leg stretch is one of my favorite classic Pilates moves. You curl up into a ball, then burst out like a swimmer diving into the water. Then, breaststroke back into a ball. To me, it feels exciting.

Be prepared that exciting does not translate to easy. This exercise is quite a challenge to the abdominals. If you have never done this before, start small and, as you feel more comfortable, you can increase the distance between your arms and legs.

Double leg stretch

  1. Begin on your back, knees bent heels in line with your SITs bones. Your arms should be reaching on the floor beside you, with your collarbones broad.
  2. Your head, spine, and pelvis should be in neutral.
  3. We will be doing Pilates breathing.
  4. Inhale into the sides of the ribs. Exhale, lift one leg to table top and then the other. Engage the adductor (inner thighs) and feel the legs connect to each other. Soften the muscles in the front of your hips, your hip flexors. They will need to be relatively relaxed in order for you to do the exercise without pain.                                                                                                                                                  Double leg stretch
  5. Inhale, make sure the head and cervical spine are in neutral and engage the core. Exhale and, from the bottom rib, hinge and lift the upper body off the floor. The hands reach for the shins or ankles.
  6. You can either start from table top or with your knees toward your shoulders so that you’re in a ball. Both ways have benefits. Play around and see which you prefer, then do the other. Normally, whatever the body doesn’t prefer is what the body needs. You can also make a conscious decision to switch between the two styles.
  7. Inhale in your starting position. Exhale and reach the legs straight as the arms come by your body and shoot up by your ears like a diver entering the water. If you are beginning, reach your legs and arms toward the ceiling while keeping your spine in neutral. Once this becomes easier, increase the challenge by reaching the arms and legs further apart. At the most challenging level, your arms will be by your ears and your legs will be very low to the ground.                                Double leg stretch
  8. Inhale and circle the arms around like a swimmer doing breaststroke as you bend your knees and return to your starting position.
  9. Exhale, shoot the arms and legs out straight.
  10. Inhale, bend the knees, circles the arms, and return to starting position.
  11. Do 5-10 reps.
  12. To finish, inhale at center. Exhale, lower your upper body, then one leg and the other. Your spine should still be in neutral.

In defense of neutral

If you have taken Pilates before, you may have had an instructor cue you into Imprint before lifting. In fact, if you have taken Pilates with me, I may have cued you into Imprint before lifting. However, things have changed.

When I was getting certified, we were taught that you should go into Imprint before doing the Ab Series because the ab work was so taxing, and Imprint would help people keep their backs safe. I am all for safety and pain-free movement, but as I did this time and time again, my abdominals started strengthening in this modified state. This meant that when I went you use my abs when I was standing, my pelvis instinctively wanted to tuck under me.

That tucked pelvis, which is so helpful when you’re on your back, is a real doozie of a problem when you’re standing. When your pelvis tucks under you and you’re standing, it puts undue stress on your lumbar vertebrae (low back), and you end up with muscular disfunction and back pain.

It is for this reason that I prefer people keep their spine as neutral as possible and control their movements to increase and decrease difficulty.

Modification for double leg stretch

That being said, if you find that you need some extra support for your low back, place a folded hand towel under your low back. This should provide a surface to help your core stabilize and strengthen.

Also, if you’re having neck pain, lower your head and upper body to the mat. You can still reach your arms and legs with your upper body down.

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What did you think of Double leg stretch? What does it remind you of?

Here is a video for my visual learners.

Sarah Stockett is STOTT certified in Matwork, Reformer, Cadillac, Chair, & Barrels, Injuries & Special Populations, and CORE; a Yoga Alliance RYT-200; and has studied Active Isolated Stretching. When she is not trying to discover the best exercises to get rid of pain, she likes watching movies and travelling with her family.

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