How to Do the Single Leg Stretch in Pilates

The Single Leg Stretch is an endurance-building Pilates exercise that tones the abdominal muscles. It is the first move in the “stomach series,” which all start from the same initial body position. The Single Leg Stretch trains the body to initiate movement from the abdominal muscles. The trunk is stabilized and supported while only the arms and legs move. This exercise develops full-body coordination and stamina.


  1. Begin lying on the floor with your legs extended straight out in front of you. Rest your arms along your sides with your palms facing down. Relax your shoulders away from your ears and let your belly drop toward the floor.
  2. Inhale as you pull your abs in deeply, sinking your navel in toward your spine. Curl your head forward until your chin touches your chest and simultaneously bend your right knee and pull it in toward your chest. Place your right hand on the outside of your right ankle, and place your left hand on the outside of your right knee. Keep your left leg fully extended with your toes pointed. Raise your left heel about two inches off the floor.
  3. Keep your abdominal muscles scooped, your back flat, and your upper body curved throughout the movements.
  4. Exhale and switch your leg and hand positions. Your outside hand should hold your raised leg’s ankle and your inside hand should hold that leg’s knee.
  5. Repeat five times with each leg. More advanced students can repeat up to 12 times with each leg.

Hot Tip: Anchor Your Abs

To help keep your back flat on the floor for this exercise, imagine that your abdominal muscles are weighted down with an anchor. Keep your abs deeply scooped, pulling in toward your spine. The more you can stabilize your torso, the more strength and agility you will build!

Modifications & Tips

The Single Leg Stretch will build stamina, strength, and full-body coordination. Keep the following information in mind when practicing this move:

  • Try to keep your torso perfectly still throughout the exercise.
  • If your neck hurts or feels strained, practice the exercise with your head down.
  • If your lower back rises off the floor or if your back feels strained, it means your bottom leg is too low. Raise your bottom leg higher, all the way up to a 90-degree angle if necessary, to use your abdominal muscles instead of your back. As you gain strength, you can lower your leg.
  • Move your feet in a straight line. Do not “bicycle” your legs.
  • Bring your gaze to your belly button.
  • Keep your lower back on the mat.

Stretch for Strength

The Single Leg Stretch is a traditional Pilates move for building stamina and stability. By building endurance in your abdominal muscles, you also gain support for your back. The more you can maintain a steady and unmoving torso, the more support your back will gain! Practicing the Single Leg Stretch is also a great way to warm up your body and prepare your abs for the rest of the stomach series exercises.

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