Ok guys. Here is Exercise 3, the Double Leg Stretch, of the Pilates Series of Five. This is a favorite of mine because not only are you working your abs, you’re also getting a great stretch up the backs of your legs. Add this to your previous two exercises, the Single Leg Stretch and the Double Leg Stretch.
Exercise 3- Single Straight Leg Stretch (10 reps)
1. Draw your bellybutton into your spine. Curl your head and shoulders up and off the mat. Stretch your right leg straight up towards the ceiling, grasping both hands onto your ankle or calf (depending upon your flexibility). Extend your left leg out and away, so that you are in a splits position.
2. On an inhale, pull your right leg towards you, pulsing twice. At the same time, actively stretch the left leg long and away from you, creating a split.
3. On the exhale, switch legs in a scissor-like fashion, so that the left leg is now the top leg. Repeat the action, this time pulsing your left leg towards you as your right leg stretches away. Make sure your tummy is pulled in flat and your low back isn’t arching off the mat.
3. Continue switching legs for a total of 10 times on each side.
Things to keep in mind
-Don’t allow your lower back to arch off of the mat. This is an indicator that your legs are too low and you are working less in your core (and are more at risk for straining your back). Raise your legs to a height where your low back is no longer arching.
-Eyes forward. (If you’re looking up at the ceiling, your neck is going to kill you. Either keep your eyes forward and your upper body curled all the way up, or put your head down.)
-Shoulders down, out of your ears. You should always have a neck.
-Head and chest remain lifted throughout the exercise. Do not let them drop as you extend your arms overhead.
-Keep your torso still and stable. Only your arms and legs should be moving.
-Tummy pulled in nice and flat. Imagine zipping on those skinny jeans. You know the pair. Where you have to pull your tummy both in and up. Now do that throughout the exercise. We want to work on building your abdominal muscles in, not out.
– Raise the height of your bottom leg, decreasing the size of your splits. It can be as high, while still challenging your abs and getting a leg stretch.
-If flexibility is not your strong suit, grab on a little higher up on your leg (ie. behind your calf or hamstring). You will still feel a stretch, but the position will be better tailored to your flexibility.
-If your neck starts to bother you, place your head down on the mat. As you grow stronger, you will transfer that work into you abdominals, as opposed to placing the strain in your neck.
-Reduce the number of repetitions and don’t be afraid to take breaks. Proper form is more important than risking the integrity of your body.
-Lower your bottom leg. As long as you are not arching in your low back, your legs can go as low as just above the mat.
-Increase the number of reps.
-Interlace your hands behind your head (elbows wide, neck and shoulders relaxed). Without the assistance of your arms, your abs will have to work twice as hard to move your legs. Extra points if you do one set with arms and another set with your hands behind your head.
Photos by Michele LoBosco