Pilates On the Go: Single Leg Stretch

It’s a new year, so why not make it a new you? Whether you are shoveling snow, skiing in the mountains, running the trails, or getting bikini-ready for that spring break vacation, the Pilates “stomach series” is a great way to strengthen and tone the core. Better core strength means fewer back, neck, and hip injuries. Not only that, but working the core will increase your metabolism, and can improve your digestive system. So how can you resist all of these benefits? Get on your mat and make it happen!

Start from the beginning of the Pilates mat series, with the One Hundred. Continue on with the Roll-up, moving into Single Leg Circles, then Rolling like a Ball.

Now that the body is warmed, transition into Single Leg Stretch, the first exercise in a series of five known as the stomach series. This series is meant to flow from one exercise to the next without changing the initial body position.


Once you have finished Rolling Like a Ball, move your hips to the center of the mat, with your knees bent. Roll your spine down to the mat one vertebrae at a time, until you are lying flat on the mat. Lift the right foot off of the floor, and pull the right knee into the chest. Place your right hand to the outside of your right ankle, and left hand below the knee (on the shin) of the right leg. Extend your left leg straight, and in line with the hip at an angle that allows your back to remain flat on the mat. Inhale reaching the elbows wide (relaxing the shoulders away from the ears). Exhale as you tuck the chin and lift forward from the back of the chest and upper abs. Imagine your navel is anchored to the floor below. You are now in the proper alignment.

Inhale pulling the left knee into the chest, changing the hand position so the outside hand is on the outside of the left ankle, inside hand is below the knee, on the left shin (right leg is reaching long and in line with the hip). Keeping the left knee into the chest, exhale and watch the navel sink deep into the spine. Repeat for 5-10 sets (one set is switching the legs right then left).

Another breathing pattern to choose is inhaling as you pull the right knee into the chest, and continue the inhale as you switch legs and bend the left knee into the chest. Exhale as you repeat the leg movement, pulling the right knee into the chest, completing the exhale as you switch and pull the left knee into the chest. One set is: Inhale bringing the right knee into the chest, continuing inhaling as you bring the left knee in; exhale bringing the right knee into the chest, continue exhaling as you bring the left knee in.


  • Do not strain and lift forward from the neck. Tuck the chin towards the chest, and lift forward from the back of the chest and abdominals.
  • When you are lifted forward, the bottom of the shoulder blades (Scapula) are sinking into the mat, and the tops of your shoulders are off the mat.
  • Slide the shoulders down and away from the ears, and press the elbows out wide to maintain the proper alignment. Think of opening the chest up, so as not to sink the shoulders into the neck.
  • Your eyes should ALWAYS be focused on the abdominals, so the chin stays tucked, and the head does not fall back and cause strain in the neck. Remind yourself not to look at the ceiling, or this can cause strain in the neck.
  • Resist the abdominals from releasing (pushing out), as the legs are extending back and forth. Rather, scoop the belly in, drawing the navel to the spine, and think of pressing the spine further into the mat as the legs switch.


The video above shows variations for all levels. Below is an explanation of each, and some information about how to modify the Single Leg Stretch is you have knee and/or back issues.

BEGINNING POSITION: Extend the straight leg at a 90 degree angle (toe to ceiling). Keeping the extended leg below the belt line (as though you have a belt around your waist). If the neck feels strained as you are first introduced to this exercise, lower the neck and head on the mat and perform the exercise in this position (modified beginner). A rolled or folded towel may be placed under the head for better alignment and comfort.

INTERMEDIATE/ADVANCED POSITION: Extend the straight leg in line with the hip at a 45 degree angle, or as low as eye level. Do not lower the leg below hip level, as you may find the exercise less challenging, and the back may begin to release from the mat (the back should remain flat against the mat).

KNEE INJURY (past or present): Never hold the knee, hold the underside of the thigh (hamstring), rather than the top of the shin.

BACK INJURY: Begin by extending the straight leg to the ceiling only. Eventually, your lower abdominal strength will improve, and you will be able to lower the leg to a more challenging angle.

Pilates is a progression. Keep challenging yourself, and you will eventually see and feel the results!

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