Single Leg Stretch Pilates Mat Exercise

Stretch to build abdominal muscle stamina and stability

single leg stretch
Photo: Ben Goldstein / Model: Melissa Castro Schmidt

Single leg stretch is all about learning to move from center. It trains the abdominals to initiate movement and to support and stabilize the trunk as the arms and legs are in motion. Many people find it especially helpful in targeting the lower abs. There is an element of coordination to this exercise as well. It is a good exercise to start a stomach series or to use as part of a warmup.


Watch Now: Build Ab Strength with a Single Leg Stretch

Note that this exercise is different from the single straight leg stretch, which stretches the hamstring muscles of the back of the thighs.

What You Need for Single Leg Stretch

This is a mat exercise, so all you need is an exercise mat and a place to stretch it out and do it. You can do it at home, at the gym or Pilates studio.

How to Do the Single Leg Stretch Pilates Exercise

1. Prepare: Lie on your back with your knees bent and your shins parallel to the floor. This is​ the tabletop position for the legs. Take a few moments to breathe deeply into the back and lower abs. You should review and practice sequential breathing if you need to work on your breath.

2. Inhale

3. Exhale: Pull your abs in, taking your belly button down toward your spine as you curl your head and shoulders up to the tips of the shoulder blades. As you curl up, your left leg extends at a 45-degree angle. The right leg remains in tabletop position with the right hand grasping the right ankle and the left hand moving to the right knee. You will maintain your upper-body curve throughout the exercise. Be sure to keep your shoulders relaxed and your abdominals deeply scooped.

4. Inhale: Switch legs on a two-part inhale. Bring air in as the left knee comes in, and bring more air in as you gently pulse that knee toward you. Now the left hand is at the left ankle and the right hand at the left knee.

5. Exhale: Switch legs. Bring the right leg in with a two-part exhale/pulse and extend the left leg. The hand to leg coordination continues with the outside hand of the bent leg going to the ankle and the other hand moving to the inside of the knee. Keep your feet moving in a straight line rather than allowing them to go up and down in a bicycle motion.

5. Repeat: Switch legs up to 10 times. Release the exercise if you are feeling tension in your shoulders and neck or if your lower back is taking the strain.

Modifications for the Pilates Single Leg Stretch

With the Pilates single leg stretch, it is possible to get a good abdominal workout while protecting your neck and back.

You can do this exercise with your head down. If the small of your back is starting to come off the floor, or you are feeling back strain, then your legs are too low. Raise your legs so that you are working your abs and not your back.

As your core strength increases, you may want to experiment with lowering the legs and/or raising the head and shoulders.

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