Exercise Breakdown Express: Single Leg Stretch

Exercise Breakdown Express continues this month with the first exercise in the Ab Series: the Single Leg Stretch. It’s a great core exercise that also lengthens your legs. It can also be modified for any skill level. Read through the directions below and get on the mat!

Exercise Goals

  • Strengthens abdominals.
  • Upper body stability for lower body mobility.



  1. Starting position: Lie on your back. Bring the legs to tabletop and crunch up to the tips of your shoulder blades. Stare at your core. Bring the left hand to the left ankle and the right hand to the left knee. Extend the right leg out to 45 degrees.

  2. Inhale in this position. Exhale and switch the leg position and hand position, keeping the abdominals engaged in the crunch position.
  3. Keep the upper body in this position and continue simultaneously switching the hand position and leg position.


The Technical Anatomy Stuff
Primary Muscles Used

Abdominals (transversus abdominis, internal oblique, external oblique, rectus abdominis)
Why? To lift the head, neck and shoulders off the mat and keep the upper body stable while the legs move.


Secondary Muscles Used

Hip flexors (iliopsoas, rectus femoris)
Why? To keep one leg in tabletop position and bring the other leg into tabletop position when the legs switch.

Hip extensors (gluteus maximus, hamstrings)
Why? To extend the leg out from the tabletop position.

Quads (quadriceps femoris)
Why? To extend the leg at the knee in 45 degrees.

Calf (Gastrocnemius, soleus)
Why? To extend and point the ankle.

Shoulder flexors and extensors: (anterior deltoid, pectoralis major and latissimus dorsi, teres major, etc.)
Why? The shoulder flexors (front of the shoulder) bring the arms to the lower leg while the shoulder extensors (back of the shoulder and side body) keep the side body engaged and the shoulders down.

Front of the arm (biceps brachii, brachialis)
Why? To keep the slight bend the arm as it reaches for the lower leg.


Things to Think About

  • Scoop the navel into the spine.
  • Lengthen the extended leg out of the hip. Try to reach it long to the wall in front of you.
  • Keep the elbows reaching wide while the hands rest lightly on the legs.
  • Don’t twist the body from side to side. Maintain the chest lifted in the center for the whole exercise.


For Increased Intensity…

  • Press both hands into the thigh below the knee, elbows wide. This will create more resistance in the abs. Pull the navel to the spine.


For Decreased Intensity…

  • Extend the free leg up toward the ceiling.

  • Keep both legs in tabletop position and just switch the hand positions.

Add this exercise to your routine! Do all exercises in a row and you’ve got  yourself a mini Pilates workout in the comfort of your own home. Enjoy!

The Hundred
The Roll Up 

Exercise Breakdown Express: The Roll Up

Exercise Breakdown Express is here for August. This month we’re featuring the Roll Up, an exercise that can be adjusted for any strength level. You’ll be able to track your progress as you become stronger, and you’ll definitely feel it in your core.

Exercise: Roll Up

Exercise Goals

  • Strengthens abdominals.
  • Pelvic articulation.
  • Lower body stability for upper body mobility.


  1. Starting position: Lie on your back with the legs long on the mat. Feet are in Pilates First Position with the heels squeezing together. The heels dig into the mat to engage the hamstrings. Arms are straight out from the shoulders, fingertips to the ceiling.

  2. Inhale prepare. Exhale nod the head forward to begin curling the upper body off the mat. Roll up one vertebrae at a time, pulling the abs into the spine.
  3. Inhale with the upper body in a C-curve and the arms parallel to the legs. Shoulders are down.
  4. Exhale as you roll back down to the mat, going down one vertebrae at a time.

The Technical Anatomy Stuff
Primary Muscles Used

Abdominals (rectus abdominis, external oblique, internal oblique, transversus abdominis)
Why? To lift the upper body off the mat and flex the spine into the C-curve position. The deep abdominals and pelvic floor muscles keep the pelvis stable while rolling up and articulate the pelvis to get the lower back to the mat when rolling down.

Secondary Muscles Used

Back (spinal extensors: erector spinae)
Why? To assist the abdominals with the movement of the torso, especially on the way down.

Hip flexors (iliopsoas, rectus femoris)
Why? The legs should be engaged, but the hip flexors really help to hold the upper body in the C-curve seated position. (Note that this is a secondary muscle for a reason. Don’t rely on your hips to lift you up!)

Hip extensors (hamstrings and gluteus maximus)
Why? Engaging the hamstrings helps with lower body stability. You want the legs held in a strong position so you can freely move in the upper body.

Arms (shoulder flexors: anterior deltoid, pectoralis major and elbow extensors: triceps brachii)
Why? To keep the arms reaching in front of you at shoulder height.

Arms and Shoulder Blade depressors (shoulder extensors: latissimus dorsi, teres major, pectoralis major and scapular depressors: lower trapezius, serratus anterior)
Why? To keep the shoulders down and the side body engaged.

Things to Think About

  • Imagine you’re curling the body up and over a ball that’s sitting on your lap.
  • Dig your heels into the mat to engage the hamstrings and stabilize the lower body.
  • Keep reaching toward the wall in front of you as you roll down through the spine. Keep the shoulders down while you do this.
  • Watch the heels drag back with you as you roll down to ensure you’re tucking the pelvis.

For Increased Intensity…

  • Bring the arms in line with the ears and keep them at that height while rolling up.
  • Find a flow between roll ups.

Add props!

  • Place a ball, magic circle or baton in your hands as you roll up and down. Use it as a reminder to keep the chest wide and shoulders down while you’re rounded in the torso. Add arm pulses on the circle or ball to work the arms. Add pulls on the baton to work the arms and chest.

For Decreased Intensity…

  • Perform the exercise with a strap or weight on the tops of the feet to keep the lower body stable.
  • Perform the exercise with the knees bent and feet on the mat hip width apart.
  • Perform the exercise with the hands on the hamstrings to assist the upper body as it curls up and forward.