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Sample Pilates Exercise: Single Leg Stretch

Apr 09, 2009

Single Leg Stretch, Essential Level

Starting Position

Supine with upper body flexed off mat. Imprinted position. Legs tabletop. Hands resting against outside of legs, scapulae stabilized.


To prepare, inhale...

Exhale extend one leg out on diagonal, moving outside hand to ankle, inside hand to knee of flexed leg.

Inhale begin to switch legs and hands.

Exhale fully extend other leg, changing hands to flexed leg.

Inhale begin to switch legs.

Complete 8–10 repetitions.


Target Muscles: transversus abdominis to compress abdomen and stabilize lumbo-pelvic region; deep pelvic floor to aid in firing transversus; rectus abdominis and obliques to sustain thoracic flexion and pelvic stability; obliques and multifidus specifically to prevent rocking of pelvis against reciprocal leg movement; hip flexors eccentrically as leg reaches away and concentrically as leg returns; scapular stabilizers.

Stability: upper body in flexion; lumbo-pelvic region during reciprocal movement of leg; scapulae.

Mobility: hip and knee flexion⁄extension.

Coordination: arm and leg movements with breath and stabilization.

Endurance: sustained contraction of abdominals throughout exercise.

Note: may be done stabilizing lumbo-pelvic region in neutral once strength is gained and ability demonstrated.


  • ensure engagement of transversus abdominis throughout exercise to keep abdominals flat
  • use vasti muscles to pull patella up as knee extends
  • extend leg only as low as pelvic stability can be maintained
  • stabilize scapulae to avoid neck tension
  • avoid gripping hip flexors


  1. Head on Mat. Keep legs high to practice coordination.
  2. Double Breath. Exhale to extend each leg, then inhale to extend each. Increases pace of exercise.
  3. Flex Hip Only to 90 Degrees. Increases challenge to abdominals.
  4. Scoop Foot as Leg Extends. Increases challenge to abdominals and increases range of motion at hip. Can also reverse scoop with emphasis on bringing foot toward sit-bones.
  5. Hold Fitness Circle® Resistance Ring. Adds upper-body resistance, promotes greater awareness of scapular stabilizers.
  6. Shoulders on Arc Barrel. Assists abdominals with thoracic flexion. Resting head on Barrel as well will eliminate neck tension while encouraging thoracic flexion (may need Foam Cushion under head).
  7. Spine Supporter. Develops abdominal strength and/or reduces neck tension due to weakness in cervical flexors or abdominals.
  8. Hands behind head. Alleviates neck tension due to weakness in cervical flexors. Abdominals will have to support more weight.

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Photo credit: STOTT PILATES® photography © Merrithew Corporation.

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