How to Do the Single Straight Leg Stretch in Pilates
The Single Straight Leg Stretch is a Pilates mat exercise that builds endurance and strengthens the abdominal muscles. It also stretches the backs of the legs. Although the name is similar, this exercise is different from the Single Leg Stretch. Keeping the legs straight throughout this exercise trains the body to stabilize the core muscles, and to move with precision and fluidity. In addition, the Single Straight Leg stretch builds stamina and coordination throughout the whole body.
- Begin lying on the floor with your legs extended straight out in front of you. Rest your arms along your sides with your palms facing down. Relax your shoulders away from your ears and let your belly drop toward the floor.
- Inhale as you pull your abs in deeply, sinking your navel in toward your spine. Curl your head forward until your chin touches your chest as you simultaneously bend both of your knees and pull both legs in toward your chest. Point your toes and clasp your hands around your shins.
- Extend your right leg straight up to the ceiling. Hold onto your right ankle with both hands. Extend your left leg in front of you, fully straightening the leg. Let your left heel hover about two inches above the mat.
- Keep your abdominal muscles scooped, your back flat, and your upper body curved throughout the movements.
- Inhale and press your spine deeply into the mat. Exhale as you pull your right leg closer toward your head with two short pulses. Exhale twice, once with each pulse.
- Inhale again and on your exhalation, quickly switch the position of your legs by "scissoring" them past each other.
- Hold onto your left ankle and repeat the movement. Inhale as you press your spine and exhale as you pull your leg close with two short pulses.
- Repeat five times with each leg. More advanced students can repeat up to 12 times with each leg. When you are finished with the sets, clasp your hands behind your head and bring both legs together. Bend your knees so your legs form 90-degree angles to prepare yourself for the Double Straight Leg Stretch.
Hot Tip: Breathe Out, Out
When you pull your top leg in with the double pulse, be sure to breathe out at the same time! An easy way to remember this is to think, "Out, out," as you pull your leg in twice.
Modifications & Tips
The Single Straight Leg Stretch will strengthen your abdominal muscles. It will also build full-body coordination and poise. Keep the following information in mind when practicing this move:
- Try to keep your torso perfectly still throughout the exercise.
- If your neck hurts or feels strained, practice the exercise with your head down.
- If your lower back rises off the floor or if your back feels strained, it means your bottom leg is too low. Raise your bottom leg higher, decreasing the distance between your legs, to use your abdominal muscles instead of your back. As you gain strength, you can increase the distance between your legs.
- If it is difficult to practice this exercise with your legs completely straight, practice it with your legs slightly bent until you have built up enough strength to perform it with straight legs.
- Bring your gaze to your belly button.
- Keep your lower back on the mat.
Extend to Build Strength
The Single Straight Leg Stretch will build stamina, stability, and grace. Remember to breathe throughout the exercise, and move with precision and control. As you build strength and endurance, you will also gain the ability to sync your breath and movement in a fluid, steady rhythm.