How to Do the Single Straight Leg Stretch

Single straight leg stretch
Ben Goldstein

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 Single Leg Stretch.

Modifications for this exercise include leaving the head down, bending the knees slightly, and increasing or decreasing the distance between the legs.

Difficulty: Average

Time Required: 5 minutes

This is a no-equipment, body weight exercise. You only need an exercise mat. You can perform it at home, at a Pilates studio or the gym.

How to Perform the Single Straight Leg Stretch

  1. 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.
  2. 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. It is supported by the abdominals, not by straining the back or neck. Chest lift is a good building-block exercise for this move.
  3. Grasp your right ankle, or below the knee, if you have tight hamstrings. Stretch your left leg out at a 45-degree angle.
  4. 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.
  5. Inhale: Gently pull your right leg toward you. Pulse the leg toward you twice, increasing your stretch.
  6. Switch legs quickly.
  7. Exhale: Pull your left leg toward you. Pulse the leg toward you twice, increasing your stretch.
  1. Switch legs quickly.
  2. Repeat 6 to 10 times.
  3. If you begin to feel a strain in your neck, it is time to rest and then begin again.


  1. You can modify the single straight leg stretch by keeping your head down and/or bending the knees slightly.
  2. If you choose to increase difficulty by lowering the outstretched leg, you must be able to use your abdominals to keep your lower back from popping up off the mat.
  3. Try to get a nice smooth rhythm going with the breath and the switching of the legs.
  4. In a deep scoop like this one, you will want to breathe deeply into your back and sides.
  5. The exercise, swimming, will provide a good counter stretch for the single straight leg stretch.

Muscles Targeted

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.

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