Single Leg Stretch Pilates Core Exercise
How to Do the Single Leg Stretch Pilates Core Floor Exercise | In-Depth Guide [VISUAL LEARNERS] Beginner
Proper Form, Common Mistakes, Easier & Harder Variations | Home Resistance Training
WHAT DO YOU WANT TO SEE?
MUSCLES THIS WORKS
MAIN MUSCLES WORKED IN the Single Leg Stretch
TRANSVERSE ABDOMINIS, OBLIQUES, & RECTUS ABDOMINIS
OTHER MUSCLES WORKED:
- Pelvic floor
WHAT WE'RE DOING TODAY
ALL WE'RE DOING:
Laying on your back, you'll be drawing in one knee while straightening the other, back and forth.
This is a pilates core exercise that I just love. All you need is your body - no equipment - and it's challenging enough to really strengthen your core.
Single-leg stretches are a good progression once the Dead Bug has been mastered. This exercise activates the rectus abdominis (the six-pack muscle) more because the upper body is held slightly off of the floor.
One leg is extended at a time. The weight of the lengthened leg puts a larger demand on the abdominal muscles. One leg is extended out but the arms move together, this will cause the low back and pelvis to want to rotate against the unchecked (because the opposite arm is not moving back) rotation. The obliques will be active to stabilize the pelvis and low back.
HOW TO DO THE EXERCISE
HOW Single Leg Stretches SHAPE OUR BODY
Flat stomach, toned and tapered waist, improved posture, confident, graceful movement.
PROPER FORM: Single Leg Stretch
EQUIPMENT, SETS & REPS
SUGGESTED STARTING WEIGHT FOR WOMEN:
SETS & REPS:
6-8 on each side
Controlled movement of legs. Increasing the speed of the movement will increase the muscle activity of the core - maintaining a stable torso.
BODY POSITION FOR THE Single Leg Stretch
BODY STANCE: Lie on your back. Float your knees and hips bent to tabletop position - thighs perpendicular to the floor and shins parallel to the floor, both are 90-degree angles [It is helpful to position one leg and then your other leg so that you are able to keep the spine neutral and the abdominals engaged].
ARMS: Gently holding the back of your thighs (close to the knee).
NECK/HEAD: Slightly tip your neck down towards your chest - just a small amount- so that your gaze lands naturally towards your toes rather than the ceiling- this will keep your neck muscles from feeling strained.
UPPER BODY: Lift your head, neck & shoulders off the ground so that you are balancing on the tips of your shoulder blades.
HOW TO DO
HOW TO DO Single Leg Stretches
CUE: The goal of this exercise is keep your hips & pelvis as still as possible. Only your arms & legs are moving. The torso is completely still.
Move both hands to hold the stationary leg (non-working leg) still, and reach the working leg out - energized with toes pointed.
Once it is fully extended, begin to pull it in as you extend your other leg out. Switch your hands to hold your leg that comes in.
Your stationary leg should be bent to approximately 90 degrees of hip flexion and knee flexion, but if you bend at your hip and your knee more than that, it is ok. The goal is to keep your torso still and your spine as neutral as possible * when your upper back is lifted your spine will be more curved just below your shoulder blades, at your bra line. Having one leg stretched out while the other is bent helps to keep your pelvis and low back neutral.
I like to exhale as I stretch one leg out, & inhale on the in-between when my leg is coming back in.
Keep your knee in line with your hips, not pulling your knee out to the side, not rocking your torso from side to side.
Keep your abs pulled down, belly button to spine as you do this- periodically check & pull them in if you notice they are starting to bulge outward instead.
The movement of your legs should be smooth and controlled with the focus on keeping the torso still. Continue the movement by alternating your legs for the desired number of reps.
HOW TO SAFELY GET OUT OF THE EXERCISE
Bring your legs back to the table top position. Bring your hands down. Lower one leg to the floor, lower the other leg to the floor. Roll to your side and sit up.
WHAT TO AVOID WITH THE Single Leg Stretch
Guess what? Good news! Many avoids are the same for most movements. Once you learn the basics, there's really only a few extra avoids for each individual movement.
1. Avoid Abs Bulging Out
AVOID: Avoid letting your abdominal muscles bulge out.
- This is the most common mistake.
- You should not see your lower abdomen pooch or bulge out when the abdominal muscles are active.
- This means that you are pushing your rectus abdominis (6-pack muscle) out instead of using your transverse abdominis to stabilize your midsection.
WHAT TO DO:
- This most frequently happens when you are first lifting the legs or when your core muscles get tired.
- Make sure to lift one leg at a time, concentrating on pulling the belly down towards the spine without flattening your low back.
- Correct activation of your abdominal muscles will result in a flat or slightly “scooped” out appearance of your lower abdominals.
- If you are unable to activate your abdominals without them bulging out
- Work on pulling your belly button down towards your spine in a hook lying position (feet on the floor, knees bent)
- Add in controlled breathing while maintaining the position.
- Master this exercise before progressing core exercises.
2. Avoid Flattening Low Back
AVOID: Avoid flattening your low back.
WHAT TO DO:
- Maintain a neutral spine position to prevent injury or muscle strain.
- You should not be able to feel your low back pressed into the floor.
- Work on activating your core muscles without flattening your low back.
3. Avoid Arching Low Back
AVOID: Avoid arching your low back.
WHAT TO DO:
- Maintain a neutral spine position to prevent low back joint injury, muscle strain or damage over time.
- If your ribs lower ribs flare upwards or your belly is lifted up - this indicates you are arching your low back. Your pubic bone and front hip bones should be in one plane - can check by placing fingertips on the pubic bone and set the base of your palm on the hip bones - your hand should be flat.
- This can happen if you move the arms up too far overhead or your legs too close to the floor.
- Limit how far you move your limbs.
4. Avoid Holding your Breath
AVOID: Avoid holding your breath.
WHAT TO DO:
- When first learning core exercises it can be difficult to keep the abdominals activated and continue a normal breathing pattern.
- Inhaling and exhaling will increase the core muscle activity, and bring oxygen to the muscles as they work.
- It is helpful to work on abdominal muscle activation coordinated with breathing before adding the leg movement.
5. Avoid straining the neck
AVOID: Avoid straining the neck.
WHAT TO DO:
- The rectus abdominis originates from the 5th -7th ribs and the xiphoid process (end of the sternum) and attaches to the pubic bone. Activating this muscle can lift the upper part of the torso slightly off of the floor.
- The cervical spine (neck) is curled forward and stacked over the thoracic spine, the muscles should be relatively relaxed.
- You may need to limit your reps as you build your strength and learn the correct form for this exercise.
6. Avoid Leg Too Bent
AVOID: Leg too bent or not fully extending
WHAT TO DO:
- Straighten your leg.
7. Avoid Legs Pulling Out
AVOID: Pulling knee out to the side.
WHAT TO DO:
- The knee should stay aligned with the hip as you pull it in.
- To help with this, you can have one hand on the knee & one hand on the lower leg that you are pulling in to be more aware of your leg placement.
8. Avoid Tilting Pelvis or Shoulders Side to Side
AVOID: Shifting hips & or shoulders.
WHAT TO DO:
- The only things that should be moving are your legs & hands. The pelvis & hips & shoulders should stay completely still.
- It’s easy to start almost rocking side to side with the movement, shifting or tilting the pelvis/hips/shoulders with each rep.
MAKE IT HARDER
MAKING THE SINGLE LEG STRETCH MORE CHALLENGING
From the tabletop position, holding behind the thighs (close to the knees). Straighten both legs up. Continue with the alternating legs, keeping them straight. It is fine to have a slight bend in the knees.
This will work the core muscles more to hold steady against the increased movement (not just in and out but up and down) of the legs. It will also increase the activity of the iliopsoas and rectus femoris to lift and lower the extended leg (longer lever arm) with control while lengthening the hamstrings.
MAKE IT EASIER
MAKE THE Single Leg Stretch MORE DOABLE
Bend Knees Less
Bend Knees Less
If you have knee pain or a knee replacement, not pulling the leg in so far &/or holding above the knee area can help with this.
Keep Head On Ground
Keep Head On Ground
If you have any neck pain or history of neck injury, leave your head on the floor (neck supported with a washcloth , if needed). This is a good option for learning the form, or for weaker abdominals. If you do this version, it may be a good idea to raise the legs at a higher angle to reduce the load on the low back.
WHAT WE'RE DOING TODAY
WHAT & WHY
BENEFITS OF TRAINING THE core muscles
LAYING DOWN EXERCISES YAY
This is one of my favorite core exercises. I will probably end up writing this on every core exercise blogpost, but core exercises have changed the strength of my body a LOT. I am able to have a good comparison because, welp, embarrassingly I never did them before at all. I didn't really understand their value so I skipped them. I feel so different in my body when exercising and doing daily life now that these movements have been a part of my regular workout routine.
These movements are done lying down on your back, making them a nice way to start or end your day. Lying down lets you concentrate on activating the abdominal muscles without worrying about the back muscles. These exercises seem pretty simple but they can be very challenging and do a great job of activating the core.
MAIN MUSCLE WE ARE TRYING TO ACTIVATE
It is important to really understand and feel the abdominal muscles working the way they are supposed to work. The main muscle you are trying to activate is the transverse abdominis which is deep - deeper than the rectus abdominis (6-pack) muscle. This is the corset muscle - it is attached to the ribs, the pelvis, iliopsoas, and connective tissue in the front of the torso, and wraps around your midsection to join the fascia that attaches to the back muscles. When activated it feels like you have shrink-wrapped your mid-section, just like cinching up a corset or back brace. If you have never heard of this muscle before and have no idea how to activate it, start with the Transverse Abdominis Activation exercise before moving on to the others.
The key to the core exercises is being able to find and activate this muscle. The transverse abdominis muscle runs across your midsection, from the ribs to the public bone, around the sides of the torso, and attaches to the spine through fascia, it is like a big back brace. It is one of the most important spinal stabilizers, unfortunately, many people are not even aware of it and they don’t know how to activate it. A bonus is to be able to activate the pelvic floor muscles at the same time. This will take time and concentration. The biggest mistake people make is that they are not patient enough to make sure they are using the correct muscles and they progress the exercises too quickly. This set of exercises is designed for making it easy to feel the correct muscles working.
WHY BOTHER DOING IT?
WHY DO WE EVEN CARE?
Core exercises should be considered the foundation for all exercises - you must be able to stabilize your midsection to be able to use your arms and legs in a healthy and effective way.
TYPE OF CORE EXERCISES MATTER
Exercises like sit ups, crunches or Russian twists, involve holding the legs and arms still and moving the low back (lumbar spine) over and over again. Sometimes this is even done while holding weight. This type of movement trains the muscles to move through the spine. This type of exercise, bending over & over at the spine, will actually weaken the tissues that support the spine, the ligaments and discs. These exercises work the rectus abdominis muscle which acts to bend the back (flex), it does not stabilize the spine, it does not even attach to the spine.
Exercises that train our core muscles to stabilize the spine instead of moving the spine helps to prevent damage to the low back. This is what most physical therapists will tell you.
HELPS HAVE THE STRENGTH, BALANCE & COORDINATION NEEDED TO DO EVERYTHING BETTER & MORE EFFICIENTLY
Unfortunately, a very high number of people in the U.S. will have back pain at some point in their lives. Also, once you start lifting weights to increase the strength of your legs and arms, or increase your activity to include heavy work like shoveling, you want to be sure that your core muscles are strong enough to keep up.
Strong and healthy abdominals impact just about everything we do in our daily lives. When the abs are stronger you can move with less effort, lift more, carry more, and walk and bike further. The core muscles are the center of the body - they all work together to coordinate the lower and upper body and the left and right sides of the body. Healthy core muscles will improve balance and coordination.
Learning how to move and exercise with good form will help prevent back pain, and if you injure your back, having good core strength will help you recover more quickly. Core exercises will increase the strength of your core, but more importantly, the exercises train the muscle how to do their job. Their job is to make subtle coordinated changes constantly in order to hold and move the body. These exercises train the muscles of the torso for endurance, strength, and motor control (the ability of the muscles to work together to stabilize the trunk as the arms and legs are moving). Many people are unsure of how to activate their core muscles, especially the transverse abdominis. The main job of the transverse abdominis is to compress and stabilize the midsection. The core muscles need to work together all day long, in a highly coordinated fashion to keep us upright during all of our daily activities.
If you have ever had back pain or an injury, complex pregnancies and/or deliveries, pelvic floor pain, abdominal surgery, including cesarean sections - sometimes the transverse abdominis is not responsive. It is not uncommon for muscles to “shut down” after pain or injury. And in the case of abdominal surgeries, it is necessary to get through these muscles. Different surgeons have different approaches, but to get through to the contents of the abdomen, you must get through the muscles, so the muscles have been injured. After the surgery or trauma, the muscles need to be re-educated, to learn to do their job. This is no different than rehabilitation after a sprain, strain, or tear of the other muscles in your body.
Untrained core muscles don’t always cause back or neck pain, when the core is not stable, it affects the way we use our arms and legs. Poorly trained core muscles can cause hip, knee, ankle, foot, shoulder, and arm pain or injury.
These exercises focus on activating the muscles that compress the abdomen. The muscles support and protect the internal organs, including the liver, stomach, intestines, and bladder. Increasing the intra abdominal pressure by activating the muscles improves the function of the internal organs including digestion, bladder and bowel control, and breathing.
EVERYDAY LIFE &
HOW WE USE OUR Core MUSCLES IN EVERYDAY LIFE
1. THE TRANSVERSE ABDOMINIS, AND OBLIQUES WORK ALL DAY LONG TO STABILIZE THE SPINE DURING DAILY ACTIVITIES:
- Pushing a wheelbarrow
- Washing windows
- Kicking or throwing a ball
- Climbing stairs/ladder
- Stepping into a high car/truck
- Painting overhead
2. THE RECTUS ABDOMINIS FLEXES THE SPINE
- Sitting up from lying down - like getting out of bed
- Prevents you from falling backward - balancing on a ladder while washing windows or painting.
3. THE TRANSVERSE ABDOMINIS, OBLIQUES, DIAPHRAGM, AND PELVIC FLOOR COMPRESS THE ABDOMEN
- Going to the bathroom
- Supports the internal organs for improved function - especially digestion
HOW TO FEEL WHAT MUSCLE IS WORKING
How to Feel What Muscle is Working
The most important muscle to activate for this group of exercises is the transverse abdominis muscle. This is a hard muscle to find. It is broad and deep. When you activate this muscle the belly button and spine move closer together, the ribs on the left and right sides of the front of the torso come in closer together. You should feel like you are tightening up a corset or shrink-wrapping your midsection.
Transverse abdominis: Lie on your back, knees bent. Find the two pointy parts on the front of your pelvis. Drop your fingers down off of the bony part, in the direction of your belly button. Now clear your throat. You should feel the transverse abdominis contract under your fingertips.
If you cannot find this muscle, or if you are unsure if you are doing it right, try the Transverse Abdominis Activation exercise.
SPIFFILICIOUS FACTS ABOUT MUSCLES & MOVES
It could be argued that it is not necessary to do specific exercises for your core muscles because you are using them all day long. This is true to some extent. If you are relatively active, with good posture, good control over your midsection, you have established healthy movement patterns - keeping your spine neutral and stable during heavy lifting or repetitive movement, and have no history of back pain, or abdominal surgery (cesarean sections, hysterectomies) or complications/difficulty in pregnancy or childbirth, then you may not have to do specific core exercises - because you are using those muscles correctly all day long.
ALLLL MUSCLES & WHEN
ALL MUSCLES WORKING & WHEN DURING THE Single Leg Stretch
All of the muscles of the torso will be working to stabilize throughout the movement.
The rectus abdominis works hard to stabilize the trunk in the beginning position - with the head and shoulders lifted up off of the floor. One leg reaches out long which lengthens the lever arm - pulling the pelvis down with it. The activity of the rectus abdominis and obliques increases. The hip flexors (iliopsoas and rectus femoris will work (minimal) eccentrically to control the movement. The quadriceps muscle contracts concentrically to straighten the knee as the leg is stretched out.
The thigh is returned to the starting position by concentric contraction of the iliopsoas and rectus femoris.