Pilates On the Go: Single Straight Leg Stretch

Now that Spring is here, many of us are looking forward to getting outside and doing a little more biking, running, surfing, hiking, etc. All of your outdoor activities can keep you lighter on your feet, and a strong core can help you avoid injuries. “Spring” into action and get your core in shape with another new exercise. Single Straight Leg Stretch is the third exercise in the stomach series, working the abdominals with an additional stretch in the back of the legs.

Finish the Double Leg Stretch by bringing the knees into your chest, fully exhaling the air from your lungs. Now you are ready to challenge yourself to Single Straight Leg Stretch.



  • Lie on your back with your knees bent in towards your chest, hands are on the shins and elbows are reaching wide, with your head lifted forward (eyes are focusing on the abdominals).
  • Extend your right leg straight and up toward the ceiling, taking hold of your ankle, calf or hamstring (depending on your flexibility). Stretch your left leg long toward the wall in front of you, so that it is no lower than eye or hip level. You are in a split-like position.
  • As you exhale the air from your lungs, imagine you have a heavy weight anchoring your abs to the floor below. Keep your chin tucked forward towards the chest as though you are holding a small ball, without strain.
  • Inhale as you pull your right/raised leg long and straight over your head taking a double pulse, at the same time stretching the left leg long out in front (splitting the legs far apart).
  • Exhale and switch the left leg long and over your head, stretching the right leg forward (think of scissoring them past each other), taking hold of the left ankle, calf, or hamstring.
  • The breathing pattern is: Inhale for one set, taking hold of right ankle overhead, continuing the inhale scissoring the legs and taking hold of the left ankle overhead. Exhale for one set, as you scissor the legs taking hold of the right ankle, continue the exhale as you scissor the legs taking hold of left ankle. Imagine the rhythm of windshield wipers beating.
  • Complete five to ten sets of the Single Straight Leg Stretch. Finish the exercise by putting both legs together, toes reaching towards the ceiling at a ninety-degree angle, and hands placed behind your head with elbows reaching wide.


  • Make sure you are not sinking or hunching in your neck and shoulders, or relying on the shoulders to hold the weight of the legs overhead. Instead, keep lifting forward from the back of the chest, and use your powerhouse (abdominals, inner thighs, and buttocks).
  • Keep your eyes focused on your navel, and make sure the abdominals are scooping to the spine.
  • Try to remain very still in the torso, as you stretch and scissor your legs.
  • As you progress with Single Straight Leg Stretch, think of stretching the legs from the hip socket, and finding more length in the legs by gently straightening the knees (without gripping or locking out the knee caps).

Advanced version: Try reaching your arms long by your sides (reaching towards the wall in front of you). Keeping the proper alignment, and perform with precision and control. If this hurts your lower back or neck, be mindful, and move the hands back to the ankle, calf or hamstring.

Modified version: Perform the exercise with your head and neck on the mat. Keep the chin tucked slightly, so the neck and head are in line with the spine. You can place a folded towel under the head for support and comfort.

Thought: Your body is your tool. Take care of it with proper nutrition and exercise, and it will help take care of you. Watch the video if it helps you.

Try to add this one to the beginning of the entire Pilates series beginning with the One Hundred. If you’re in a ‘crunch’ for time, start with the first in the stomach series, which is the Single Leg Stretch. Happy Spring!!


April 07, 2010 at 11:05 am

Thankyou for these demos!
I love pilates, and have been practicing for six years now- in baby steps for sure. But over the long haul, pilates has done more for my posture and core than the decade prior doing exhaustive numbers of crunches and situps.
The history on pilates is very interesting. Joseph Pilates wanted a way rehab injured World War I vets who could not move from their beds- hence the ‘pilates’ philosophy got underway. Later his expertise spread among the dancing and performing elite. Practical and pivotal in changing lives, and still is.


April 19, 2010 at 9:42 pm

I loved this! Thank you!

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