How to Do Double Leg Lift in Pilates

Proper Form, Variations, and Common Mistakes

 Ben Goldstein / Verywell

Also Known As: Mermaid, lower lift, double straight leg stretch

Targets: Upper and lower abs

Level: Beginner

The double leg lift Pilates mat exercise is a very effective abdominal exercise, working both the upper and lower abdominals. These leg lifts are an ideal core strength builder when performed correctly. They are challenging while still being excellent training for beginners. In the classical Pilates sequence, this exercise comes after the double leg stretch.


This exercise works both your upper and lower abdominal muscles, plus the hip flexors (especially the sartorius). It also requires activation of your quadriceps at the front of your thighs and your gluteal muscles in your buttocks. Your abs are pulled in and working hard, so this is a good opportunity to practice breathing deeply into your back and sides. A strong core is key to good posture and ease of movement throughout daily life.

Step-by-Step Instructions

Perform the double straight leg lifts on a mat or other comfortable surface.

  1. Lie on your back and extend your legs straight up toward the ceiling. Rotate the legs out slightly, keeping the heels together and inner legs pulled in the center line, in Pilates stance. Point the toes. Place your hands behind your head, keeping the elbows wide and chest open.
  2. Inhale. On the exhale, pull your abdominals down to the floor. Allow that motion to press your lower back into the floor as you curl your upper torso up off the floor. You will maintain this core strength torso position throughout the exercise. You are now in the starting position.
  3. Inhale. Keeping abdominals pulled in and pushing your back into the mat, lengthen your legs out of your hips. Begin to lower your legs slowly. The lowering motion should take longer than the lifting motion. You can lower the legs in three stages as a variation, lowering the legs a third of the way toward the mat, pausing, and lowering another third.
  4. When your legs are lowered as far as you can while maintaining control and alignment, pause.
  5. Exhale and lift your legs to the upright position with a firm and controlled effort, deepening the abs as you return the legs upright.
  6. Check your position: Pilates stance, open chest, wide elbows, abdominals pulled in.
  7. Repeat the exercise 6 to 8 times.

Common Mistakes

Avoid these errors so you can get the most out of this exercise while preventing strain or injury.

Lower Back Arching From Mat

Go only as low as you can while maintaining control and good alignment. Do not let your back peel up off the mat as you lower your legs; use your powerhouse and keep those abs pulled in.

Pulling up Head or Neck With Arms

Don't try to hold yourself up by pulling on your head and neck with the elbows and hands—a common temptation. Use your upper abs to maintain the lift of the chest. Try working up to it by leaving your head down.

Modifications and Variations

As with most Pilates exercises, you can change this exercise to make it more accessible as needed.

Need a Modification?

Leave your head down on the mat if you need to build strength to get the proper form or if you feel any neck discomfort. If you leave your head down you can have your arms stretched out along your sides, palms down. Keep the chest open.

You may also want to try placing your hands under your hips. This helps relieve a lot of pressure on the lower back.

If you have difficulty keeping your legs straight, you can do it with knees slightly bent tuntil you build up enough strength.

Up for a Challenge?

Once you have perfected your form with this exercise, you can progress to side double leg lifts or the Pilates scissors.

Safety and Precautions

If you have osteoporosis or spondylitis, talk to your doctor or physical therapist to see if this exercise is appropriate. As with most ab exercises done supine, you should avoid this exercise during pregnancy. If you feel any neck strain, check your form and consider doing this exercise with your head on the mat until you gain enough ab strength to keep your upper body elevated. Check with your Pilates instructor for any modifications or suggestions for alternative exercises.

Try It Out

Incorporate this move and similar ones into one of these popular workouts:

By Marguerite Ogle MS, RYT
Marguerite Ogle is a freelance writer and experienced natural wellness and life coach, who has been teaching Pilates for more than 35 years.