One Leg Kick: A Pilates Classic Hamstring Challenge

Of all the Pilates exercises that use the hamstrings, I find One Leg Kick to be the most challenging. In this exercise, you must have hamstring and core strength to correctly execute the prep. To do the full exercise, as Joseph Pilates intended it, you must also have a flexible spine.

This article contains instructions for how to do the One Leg Kick Prep, which I learned from my STOTT PILATES training, and instructions for how to do the classic Pilates exercise. Both are equally effective, so pick the exercise that works best for you.

One Leg Kick Prep

  1. Begin on your stomach with your fingers stacked on top of each other. This allows enough space for your collarbones to be broad and your shoulders away from your ears.
  2. Make sure your legs are inner hip width apart and parallel. Your heels should be in line with your SITs bones, and you should be able to feel your kneecaps lightly touch the mat.
  3. Take a moment to lengthen through your spine and feel the front of your pubis on the mat. You don’t want to have the pubis grinding into the mat, but you don’t want it hovering either.
  4. We will be using Pilates breathing.
  5. Inhale and lengthen, reaching head through toes. Draw your low belly up to your spine to protect your low back. Maintain this abdominal lift throughout the exercise.
  6. On your exhale, you will bend your right knee 3 different times. You will bend your knee with a pointed foot, then release the leg almost all the way to the ground. Bend your knee with a flexed foot, then release the leg. Finally, bend the knee with a pointed foot and, instead of lowering the leg, reach through the toes so that the leg straightens. Then, lower the leg to the ground.
  7. This breathing pattern makes the exercise feel unbalanced, but it protects the low back from injury.
  8. Inhale to lengthen and make sure you still have abdominal engagement.
  9. Exhale and repeat step 6 for the left leg.
  10. Do 5-10 repetitions for each side.
  11. I find that Shell Stretch feels very nice after this exercise.

Single Leg Kick

The main difference between Single leg kick and Single leg kick prep is that we lift the upper body in the full exercise. This means that all of the leg movement and breathing that you just learned will also apply here.

  1. Begin on your stomach with your fingers stacked on top of each other. This allows enough space for your collarbones to be broad and out of your ears.
  2. Make sure your legs are inner hip width apart and parallel. Your heels should be in line with your SITs bones, and you should be able to feel your kneecaps lightly touch the mat.
  3. Take a moment to lengthen through your spine and feel the front of your pubis on the mat. You don’t want to have the pubis grinding into the mat, but you don’t want it hovering either.
  4. We will be using Pilates breathing.
  5. Inhale and lengthen, reaching head through toes. Draw your low belly up to your spine to protect your low back. Maintain this abdominal lift throughout the exercise.
  6. Exhale and lift the upper body into extension. Your elbows should be under your shoulders and your forearms and hands should be flat on the floor in front of you. To do the full Single leg kick, it is essential that the abdominals stay lifted from the floor and that you don’t sink into your shoulders. If your form starts to deteriorate, lower the upper body and finish your reps from the prep position. You will feel pressure as your pubis presses firmly into the mat.
  7. Follow steps 5-10 from above.
  8. To come out of the exercise, inhale to lengthen and exhale to lower the upper body.
  9. I find that Shell Stretch feels very nice after this exercise.

Single Leg Kick Video

For visual learners, here’s a video.

Sometimes the hamstrings might feel like they’re close to cramping. Reduce your range of motion slightly and that should prevent you from getting a cramp. What other tips do you have for preventing a hamstring cramp? Let us know in the comments below.

Sign up for our newsletter to receive helpful health and wellness tips. Don’t forget to Like us on Facebook! Just search for Custom Pilates and Yoga.

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.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *