Single Leg Stretch: A Classic Pilates Ab Exercise

Single leg stretchSingle leg stretch is an original Pilates exercise and a wonderful exercise for the abdominals. It is normally done as part of an ab work sequence. We will explore the other exercises in the sequence in the upcoming weeks, so stay tuned!

When doing Single leg stretch, I prefer that the spine stay in neutral. Specifically, the lumbar spine (low back) should stay neutral. Some people will cue that you should go into Imprint, however, I think that doing ab work from Imprint instead of neutral does a disservice to your posture. We need to work from neutral so that we can strengthen our muscles to hold us in neutral when we’re standing. When our muscles, don’t do their job and support us, we end up with aches and pains, especially in the low back.

Single Leg Stretch

  1. Begin on your back with your knees bent, heels in line with your SITs bones. Your collarbones are broad with your arms reaching by your sides.
  2. Make sure your pelvis is neutral.
  3. We will do traditional Pilates breathing.
  4. Inhale into the sides of your ribs, keeping your abdominals active, and lift one leg to table top.
  5. Exhale and lift the other leg to table top.
  6. Inhale, make sure the head is in neutral, and lift up to Ab prep by tucking the bottom ribs into the body cavity. Reach the left hand for the right knee and the right hand for the right ankle.
  7. Exhale and reach the left leg on a forty-five degree angle. Some styles of Pilates will have you reach the leg so that it is parallel to the ground. For me, I find that to be less ab work than if I reach out on an angle. It’s up to you. Experiment and decide what is the best choice for your body today. Also, you may bring the right knee toward your right shoulder, or you may leave it in table top. Again, it’s up to you.
  8. Inhale, bringing both legs back to table top.
  9. Exhale, switch your arms and do the other side.
  10. Alternate sides until you complete 10 sets.
  11. When you are finished, inhale back to center. Exhale, lower the upper body, then one leg, then the other leg. Use the whole exhale to lower.

Single Leg Stretch Modifications

Single leg stretch can be quite a challenge, but there are ways to lessen the intensity.

  • If your neck hurts, lower your upper body and head. Keep your spine in a lengthened, neutral position, and you can continue your ab work.
  • If your hips are gripping and your leg can’t reach with ease, set one foot back on the floor and work one leg at a time. Specifically try to relax the muscles in the front of the hip so you don’t feel a grip. When you bend your knee, bring the knee as close as you can toward your shoulder without compromising your neutral spine. Keep the muscles in the hip relaxed as the leg reaches away.
  • If you hear or feel a click when you reach your leg, you probably have a tendon that is rolling over the bone. That’s not a really big deal, but it’s also unnecessary. Try reaching your leg on a higher angle (coming up toward the ceiling). If the clicking does not go away, stop what you’re doing and rub the muscles in the front of your hip socket. They can be hard to access, so take your time.
  • If you are feeling pain in your low back, you have several options. You can:  reach your leg higher toward the ceiling so you can bring your pelvis back to neutral, place a folded towel under your low back to help create support, or go into Imprint. Imprint is used to help support the spine when the abs are weak, but at some point in time, you will need to transition out of Imprint or you will risk creating a negative muscle memory for your body.

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Single Leg Stretch Video

For my visual learners, here’s a video. I should mention, my videos and articles don’t always contain the exact same information. The reason I do both is to supplement your knowledge. Some explanation is appropriate for print, and some is better with demonstration.

Does Single leg stretch remind you of any other exercises? Let us know below.

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About Sarah Stockett

Hi, I'm Sarah! I'm a certified Pilates and yoga instructor with a passion for pain relief. I believe you can use simple exercises to relieve your aches + pains. AND, I believe I can teach you how.