Single Leg Stretch

Joseph Pilates referred to this exercise as the ‘One Leg Stretch’. However, don’t be misled into thinking this is about stretching without control and concentration.

If you are a cat person, you will recognise the stretches they do when they get up from sleeping. One of those includes stretching each leg back behind them but you can still see the control they have over the leg……its active! No slouching and flopping in this stretch!

In this exercise you are lying on your back but the movement of each leg remains very active. The core of this exercise is about abdominal control and strengthening.

Preparation Exercises


Start on your back with both legs bent and feet flat on the floor. Pelvis in neutral position.

Inhale as you count to 2, exhale as you count to 5.

Focus – breathe in through the nose, follow the breath down, see it flood the lungs and feel it in the side and back of your body, without letting the abdomen peak. Breathe out and contract the lungs sending the breath back up into the throat and out the mouth.

Add: Chest Lift

Exhale and flex the spine, pause at the top and inhale, exhale and return. Do 6 in total.

Add: Single leg foot lift

At the top of the Chest Lift practise taking one foot just off, alternate for a total of 2 each foot.

Focus – control of pelvis, sacrum and the supporting leg and hip.

Add: Single leg extensions

At the top practise stretching the knee and extending the leg to 45 degrees. Inhale to stretch the leg, exhale to return.

Focus – move slowly, and with control. Watch the pelvis, the supporting leg and hip, try and stay steady. Do 5 each leg.

Dead Bug

Start on your back with both legs bent into a 90/90 position and arms pointing up to the ceiling.

Exhale to stretch one leg and the opposite arm away from each other, inhale to return them back to the starting position.

Focus – apply the same breathing as above in the first preparation exercise. Keep the stability in your pelvis and spine – only your arms and legs are moving.

Single Leg Stretch

Start on your back in chest lift position with both legs bent into 90/90 position, hands on knees. Pelvis in neutral position.

Inhale to prepare, exhale to extend the left leg away until straight with the foot on the same level as the bent knee. Imagine sliding your foot along a table. Use the hands to anchor the bent knee. Inhale return to starting position. Repeat with the right leg. Alternate sides. Do 3-6 on each side.

Once you feel that you can maintain this activity without neck soreness or your pelvis tilting, press the right leg out straight as the left leg returns. Do 3-6 each side. As you develop strength and stability, you can try lowering the legs further with each press out.

Things to watch out for when you are not doing this exercise under supervision:

  • Your pelvis stays in the same neutral position throughout
  • Your neck remains pain and tension free. If this isn’t the case, try supporting your head in your hands while still undertaking the leg movements
  • Your leg presses out at the same level as the bent knee. Imagine you are pressing a wall away
  • Your legs remain active and engaged through the whole movement

What you will feel:

  • Increased ‘tension’ in your abdominal muscles, particularly the lower ones as they work hard to stabilize your torso and support your legs through the movements
  • No tension in your neck as your abdominals become stronger and do the work of supporting you in the chest lift position