Straight Legs?!

Before we move on to the next exercise in the repertoire in our in depth how to’s, ‘Single Straight Leg’ (more commonly known as ‘Scissors’), let’s talk about the importance and benefits of keeping straight (and lifted) legs in our exercises.

We come across lifted straight legs for many different Pilates exercises, whether they are extended out to a high/low diagonal, or lengthened long towards to ceiling, however we are aware as Pilates instructors and human beings that sometimes we struggle to keep a solid form during exercise that our bodies aren’t normally used to.

For instance most people will need to bend the knees in toward the chest before extending the legs straight up/out and once they are in this position find it hard to keep stable without findings their legs beginning to wilt and their abdominals giving in to their lower back! Some might be in agony from pain in their quads!

So what is the problem here? Are the leg muscles too short? Too tight? Imbalanced?

The answer could be ‘yes’, probably tight hamstrings/hips/lower back where your quads (knee to ab area) compensate for the tight or weak muscles and work harder = pain!
Fix:
1. Gentle stretching in between exercises and in your spare time.
2. Alter the position of your pelvis. Perhaps your pelvis is slightly tilted, this is very common as many of us don’t have perfect posture therefore don’t have a perfect pelvic tilt. A few 1:1 sessions to understand your ‘neutral pelvis’ position will make it a lot easier to lift the legs in a straight position.
3. Of course, strengthening your lower core. Especially if you feel these exercises in your lower back this could be lack of lower abdominal recruitment. You may have a weak transverse abdomens (like most of us!). More Pilates practice makes perfect. If you are a regular Pilates mat or Tower class goer and you still suffer with these exercises, I’d recommend trying a few machine/reformer sessions to focus in on the problem area for a different type of muscle understanding!
4. Flex the feet. Sometimes when we extend the legs out or up toward the ceiling, we want to maximise the length with a pointed toe – causing cramp, tension in the feet and thighs, release this and glue your heels together to get in to the abs and bum!
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How do I do it?
Lie on your back with both legs towards the ceiling, lift the head neck and shoulders out of the mat to gaze in to your abdominals. Take hold of the right thigh, behind and just below the knee, extend the left leg long a few inches off the mat. you can use the hands to curl up higher in to your centre.
Inhale: hold your position.
Exhale: draw the leg closer towards your chest, second exhale to deepen the abdominals. Keep lifted in the head and chest as you…
Inhale: switch legs.
Exhale: repeating the same two short breaths on this leg.
The benefit of straight legs:
Once you understand how to engage the abdominals and route your upper body and hips in to the mat, we can then understand how to gain length in the legs as we route the hip to lift out of the hip flexor and extend the muscle long. This particular exercise, Scissors, will also help strengthen/increase flexibility in the back and hamstrings, teaches you more about the breathe and coordination, and deepens the core strength.
Modifications:
– The more flexible you are the more able you’ll be to hold on higher up the leg – try and move up the leg every so often.
Flex the feet and turn the thighs out (externally rotate them) so the heels are toward your midline and toes away from your centre to get in to the inner thigh and butt!
– Keep the legs straight at all times so range of movement doesn’t matter as long as you are lengthening out of the hip flexor and still engaging the abdominals. However, the lower you extend your free leg away the deeper the stretch and the more flexibility you can acheive.
Lifting your hips out of the mat as if to begin your shoulder bridge (shoulders/ribs/hips in line), lift your legs straight up towards the ceiling, supporting your lower back with your hands, kicking one leg in towards your chest with the same breathing cycle as above.
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– You can also make this exercise much easier if you are an absolute beginner or struggle too much with the straight leg by keeping your head down and/or bending the knees slightly.
If you do choose to increase the difficulty by any of the above suggestions, please be aware you must use your abdominals to keep your lower back from lifting out of the mat. Also, try and get a nice rhythm going to ease the breath cycle in, speaking of which you should also try and use the breath to stretch open the back too.
Lots to think about as always, so get started now…
P.S. EPL run a mat class every Tuesday at 6.30pm, come and perfect your mat moves with us!

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