How to Do Leg Pull Back in Pilates

Proper Form, Variations, and Common Mistakes

Pilates Leg Pull Back

Verywell / Ben Goldstein

Also Known As: Leg pull, leg pull up, reverse plank with leg pull, reverse plank with leg lifts

Targets: Back, abdominals, hamstrings

Equipment Needed: Mat

Level: Intermediate

The Pilates leg pull back is an intermediate level mat exercise. Leg pull back focuses on the back muscles and abdominals and strengthens the glutes and hamstrings. You will also need shoulder strength to maintain the position. Building on the back support (reverse plank) exercise, the leg kick adds a stability and flexibility challenge. In the classical Pilates series, leg pull comes two-thirds of the way down the sequence, after swimming and leg pull front and followed by side kick kneeling and side bend.

Benefits

This exercise stretches the front of your body while it strengthens your back, hamstrings (the muscles in the back of thigh) and arms. In practicing this move, you are adding functional fitness you need for everyday tasks including sitting down with control rather than simply dropping into a chair. That becomes more and more important as you age. This is also a good stretch and strengthening exercise for runners.

Step-by-Step Instructions

You need a mat on a firm surface.

  1. Sit tall with your legs together, extended straight in front of you. Your abdominal muscles pull in and up as your spine lengthens. Relax your shoulders.
  2. Keep your chest open, and your shoulders rotating back and down as you pull the heels of your hands directly back until you can place your hands flat on the floor with fingertips pointing front. You may be leaning back slightly. Now inhale.
  3. Exhale to engage your hamstrings and lift your pelvis to create a long line, ankle to ear. Your abs should be stabilizing your trunk and pelvis. Push down through the backs of your arms to help keep your chest open and get more support from your back. Inhale at the top.
  4. On an exhale, deepen the crease at your hip to lift your right leg toward the ceiling. Hold the rest of your body completely still. Don't let lifting your leg pull your pelvis out of alignment. Your hip doesn't go with the move, nor does your butt drop.
  5. Inhale to return the leg to the floor. Use control—don't just drop your leg—lengthen it as it goes down and keeps the rest of your body stable.
  6. Exhale: lift your left leg. You can take a break before lifting the left leg if you need to. Lower yourself with control and keep your shoulders down. Start over, lifting the left leg.
  7. Inhale to return the left leg to the floor. Exhale to hold.
  8. Inhale to fold just at the hip joint, placing your pelvis back on the floor. Keep your shoulders down as you do.
  9. Do three sets.

Common Mistakes

Avoid these errors in doing this exercise.

Hyperextending

Be careful not to hyperextend the elbows and knees. Your limbs should be straight but don't force it. Use your back and gluteal muscles to take the pressure off of the knees.

Sinking

You should feel as if your body is being lifted rather than that your lower body is sinking to the floor. Don't let your neck sink into your shoulders. Keep your shoulders down and neck long.

Modifications and Variations

As you build your flexibility and strength, you can modify this exercise or give yourself more of a challenge.

Need a Modification?

If you find this exercise hard on your wrists, lower yourself between sets. You may find it easier to point your fingers out rather than towards your feet.

You can modify it by placing your hands on a higher surface such as a weight bench or chair. You can also do this exercise on your elbows.

If you find this exercise difficult to perform, you may want to go back to basics. Knee folds teach you how to deepen the crease at the hip and isolate the movement of the leg. Practice the reverse plank position, which does not have the leg raise, until you can hold the position for at least a minute. If you have difficulty maintaining the long line of the body, try doing a leg pull prep with your knees bent, raising one leg at a time.

Up for a Challenge?

For an extra challenge, add a balance disc or BOSU under your feet for instability.

Safety and Precautions

This exercise should be avoided if you have any injury along the line of your body, including your neck, shoulders, wrists, back, knees, and hamstrings. If you feel any pain, gently come out of the posture and end the exercise.

Try It Out

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

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