Firstly, the name of the exercise ‘Single Leg Stretch’ indicates that we will be stretching parts of our body, however you should definitely know by now that this does not mean we forget about our abdominal connection!
The movement for the Single leg stretch is all about directing from your centre/mid line; it trains the abs to initiate this movement. Just like we learnt in ‘Single Leg Circles’, we ground our hips and shoulders (*box) to support and stabilize the trunk whilst the free part of our body is in motion. This part grounding and part free movement is key to achieving long lean limbs. It is as if we are stretching our legs long, away from our body to create length.
Many people find this exercise super helpful in targeting the lower abs, which we all find hard to recruit most of the time.
Beware, there is an element of coordination to this exercise as well!
How do I do it?
Lie on your back with your knees bent in towards your chest. Now, to nail the precision take a few moments to use the breath to root the trunk in to the mat, stabilise the hips, deepen the abdominal recruitment. This exercise uses breath to facilitate the stretch. Inhale to lift the chest, neck, and head out of the mat, place both hands on one shin (elbows wide o open the collar bones) extend the opposite leg out to your high diagonal. Make sure the knee that is bent toward the chest is drawn in to your midline, along with the toes of the extended leg.
Do nothing as you inhale, as you exhale draw the abs deeper and the knee closer to your chest to deepen the stretch (do not come in to your hip flexors, stay grounded).
You will stay lifted in the chest, neck and head throughout the exercise so make sure your shoulders are relaxed away from your ears, elbows wide to open the chest and back.
Inhale, grazing the inner thighs together to switch the legs, keep stable in the hips and remember to draw the bent knee and extended leg in to your centre line. Exhale, take a stretch.
For the breath: When you perfect the precision, use a single breath to flow the exercise and work deeper in the abdominals; inhale to switch the legs twice, exhale switch the legs twice, or inhale switch exhale switch and repeat. Just don’t forget to breathe!
For the set up: Again, once you have an understanding of the aim of this exercise, the modified/correct hand positioning is left hand on to right shin with right hand on right ankle, switch legs now the right hand is on the left shin with left hand on left ankle. (same hand on same ankle always). This is the ultimate coordination test so make sure you have the exercise down before modifying the hand position.
For those with sensitivity: You can do this exercise with your head down if you struggle with keeping the head lifted. If your lower back is arching out of the mat, or you are straining your back, then your extended leg is too low. Lift the leg to the ceiling for beginners or those with back sensitivity and get in to the abs.
For the more advanced: As your abdominal/core strength increases you can experiment with lowering the legs and/or raising the head and shoulders further out of the mat.