How to Do the Single Straight Leg Stretch in Pilates

Proper Form, Variations, and Common Mistakes

Verywell / Ben Goldstein

Targets: Hamstrings, abdominals

Equipment Needed: Mat

Level: Intermediate

The single straight leg stretch is an intermediate Pilates mat exercise that challenges abdominal endurance and stretches the back of the legs. This is a different exercise than the Pilates single leg stretch, but both are part of the Pilates series of five sequence that can be added to any Pilates workout. It's also a great addition to a flat abs workout. To build up to this move, use chest lift.


This exercise stretches the hamstring muscles of the back of the thighs. You may also feel a stretch in the upper back. It challenges the abdominal muscles as they are contracted in maintaining the body position during the stretch and the scissoring motion as you switch legs. This exercise also will train you in controlling your core and coordinating movement and breathing.

The hamstrings get a workout from walking and running, and so stretching them is common among people who enjoy those cardio activities.

Step-by-Step Instructions

Begin by lying flat on the mat but with your legs extended toward the ceiling. Legs and heels are together in Pilates stance, rotated slightly outward from the hips.

  1. Lengthen your spine, pull in your abdominals, and curl your chin and upper body up off the mat. The tips of the shoulder blades touch the mat. You will maintain this upper body lift throughout the exercise.
  2. Grasp your right ankle (or below the knee if you have tight hamstrings).
  3. Stretch your left leg out at a 45-degree angle. You can adjust the angle of the outstretched leg to make the exercise more or less difficult. The lower the leg, the harder the abdominals have to work to maintain alignment.
  4. Inhale: Gently pull your right leg toward you. Pulse the leg toward you twice, increasing your stretch.
  5. Switch legs quickly.
  6. Exhale: Pull your left leg toward you. Pulse the leg toward you twice, increasing your stretch.
  7. Switch legs quickly.
  8. Repeat six to 10 times.
  9. If you begin to feel a strain in your neck, it is time to rest and then begin again.

Common Mistakes

To get the most from this exercise, avoid these errors.

Shallow Breathing

In a deep scoop like this one, you will want to breathe deeply into your back and sides. Try to get a nice smooth rhythm going with the breath and the switching of the legs.

Weak Ab Support

Your upper body is supported by the abdominals, not by straining the back or neck. Do not hunch your shoulders or arch your back. If your lower back lifts off the floor, decrease the distance between your legs as this is a sign that your bottom leg is too low.

Torso Movement

The movement should only be in the legs. If your torso is twisting or moving, you are not maintaining proper control.

Modifications and Variations

You can modify this exercise in several ways to make it easier or more difficult.

Need a Modification?

Decrease the distance between the legs to lessen the intensity. Bending the knee slightly can help if you have tight hamstrings or weak core muscles.

You can modify the single straight leg stretch by keeping your head down and just practicing the movement of your legs. Keep your head down if you experience any neck pain.

Up for a Challenge?

Increase the difficulty by lowering the outstretched leg (therefore increasing the distance between the two legs). Do this only if you can use your abdominals to keep your lower back from popping up off the mat. Also, try the single-leg kick.

Safety and Precautions

Avoid this exercise you have any injuries to your shoulders. If you feel any shoulder pain, end this exercise.

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.