Pilates Exercise – Single Leg Straight (a.k.a. Scissors)

Pilates Exercise – Single Leg Straight (Scissors)

One of my favourite Pilates exercises is the Single Leg Straight or Single Straight Leg Stretch, otherwise known by its rather more evocative name of “Scissors”. It’s relatively simple yet provides a decent workout to beginners and intermediate practitioners. It’s an efficient 2-in-1 combo that not only strengthens but also stretches (different muscles). And finally, it looks elegant, almost like a dance pose. Do enough of them and you’ll get a pair of shapely dancer’s gams.

How to do the exercise

  1. Lie on your back in imprint position (belly scooped in, lower back pressed firmly against the mat), knees bent up.
  2. Raise your legs to table top position (shins parallel to the floor), arms by your side.
  3. Raise your upper body slightly off the mat, chin tucked in slightly, raising arms to your shins.
  4. Inhale, lightly clasp your right ankle or lower right calf with both hands, straightening your right leg and stretching it as close as possible towards your face. At the same time, straighten your left leg and lower it until it hovers just a couple of inches from the ground.
  5. Keep your toes pointed.
  6. Exhale, pulse the legs twice in opposite directions, pulling the right leg closer towards your face while stretching the left leg even lower towards the mat. Synchronise your leg pulses with two short exhalations, which should sound like two sharp puffs.  
  7. Inhale and prepare to switch.
  8. Scissors your legs, lifting the left towards your face and sweeping the right down towards the ground. Your hands should now be clasping your left ankle. Pulse twice again with two short and sharp exhalations.
  9. This is one set. You should aim to complete 8 to 10 sets in a fluid and steady rhythm.

Key points and tips

  1. Maintain pelvic imprint throughout – scoop in your belly/abdominal muscles, keep your lower back on the mat at all times.
  2. Do not tense up your shoulders. Keep them down and relax the neck area as much as possible.
  3. Try to keep your torso as still as possible. The only parts moving are your legs and your hands. Your body should not be rocking forward, backward or sideways.
  4. Pulse your legs from the core and hip area rather than jerking them, which will cause your torso to shift or rock.
  5. Stretch your hamstrings before you begin. Tightness in the hamstrings could prevent you from straightening your legs completely in this exercise.


  1. Keep one or both knees slightly bent if you have trouble straightening your legs completely in the exercise.
  2. If your lower back pops up from the mat or if it feels strained, this means your bottom leg is too low. Decrease the distance between both legs. Keep the top leg at 90 deg to the ceiling and the bottom leg at 45 deg. As you gain strength you will be able to draw the legs further apart (i.e. top leg closer to your face, bottom leg further down towards the ground)
  3. If your neck hurts or feels strained, place your hands behind your head instead to lend support to the affected area.

 Key muscles engaged

Transverse abdominal muscles are contracted to maintain imprint and core stability.

Obliques and lower back muscles are activated to support stability.

Hip flexors (iliopsoas, rectus femoris, sartorius, tensor fascia latae, pectineus) are activated in scissoring and switching the legs

Hamstrings (biceps femoris, semimembranosus, semitendinosus) are stretched in straigtening the legs and keeping them as far apart as possible.

Scapula stabilisers (rhomboids major and minor, middle and lower trapezius) are engaged in keeping the shoulder blades back and down, relieving strain on the neck,



As with the other exercises in the Stomach Series, the single leg straight builds core endurance and strength in the abs, especially the deeper muscles such as the transverse and oblique abs.  

The scissoring movement trains body coordination and control, while toning the thighs and building hamstring flexibility.




Isport.com. Pilates Guides: How to do the single leg stretch. http://pilates.isport.com/pilates-guides/how-to-do-the-single-straight-leg-stretch-in-pilates

Ogle, Marguerite (2007). About.com Pilates Guide: How to do single straight leg stretch. http://pilates.about.com/od/pilatesmat/ht/StraightStretch.htm

Ramasamy, Paalu, & Chong, Wei Ling. Pilates 101 Manual – Stomach Series: Single Leg Straight.



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