Why Can’t I Straighten My Legs in Pilates Exercises?
Do you have difficulty straightening your legs in Pilates? Whether it’s seated in exercises like Saw or Spine Stretch Forward, or with your legs in the air like in Leg Circles, Open Leg Rocker, or Teaser, it’s common to have trouble straightening your legs. Read on to learn about the factors that affect how much your legs straighten and get tools that can help you with your practice!
Why do we have difficulty with leg straightening?
The good news, how straight your legs are in Pilates isn’t a reflection of skill level and that regular workouts will actually help loosen up any tight spots. But the bottom line is: it’s totally normal to not be able to straighten your legs and whether you can depends on your own unique anatomy. Let’s dive into why:
Lack of Flexibility (Tight hamstrings, hips, or low back)
Tightness in the hamstrings, hips, and lower back can significantly hinder leg straightening in Pilates exercises. These areas of the body are interconnected and play a crucial role in achieving proper alignment and range of motion.
Limited pelvic mobility
Limited mobility in the pelvis due to past injury, weakness, deconditioned tissues and more can prevent the legs from easily straightening during Pilates exercises.
Poor posture and imbalances in the body can make it challenging to get your leg straight. Issues like anterior pelvic tilt, rounded shoulders, or uneven weight distribution can affect the alignment and mechanics of the lower body. These imbalances are easily improved with regular Pilates workouts.
Individual Anatomical Structure
It’s important to acknowledge that each person has a unique anatomical structure, including variations in bone length, joint shape, and muscle attachment points. These individual differences can impact leg straightening in Pilates exercises.
For example, some individuals may have naturally shorter hamstrings or hip joint structures that limit their range of motion in achieving a fully straightened leg position. Understanding your own anatomical structure can help you tailor your Pilates practice to work within your individual capabilities.
Reframing Our Thinking
The focus of Pilates is the Powerhouse. So instead of putting all of your focus on straightening your legs, turn your focus toward your core, pelvis & spine. Your form is the most important factor, not how straight your legs can go.
Sitting Up Straight with Legs Out
When seated with legs extended (like Spine Stretch or Saw), aim for a vertical pelvis rather than straight legs, it’s ok to bend your knees as much as needed.
If it’s a struggle to sit up tall with bent knees, sit on a small box to allow you to keep your pelvis upright. See this video for examples.
Work to stay on your sit bones, while pulling in your low abs and lifting your low back bones to create space in the spine. When you focus on your pelvic alignment, your legs may bend naturally – which is perfectly ok!
Legs Extended in the Air
When you force your leg straight in exercises like Leg Circles, there’s a chance your pelvis is tucking – which can strain your lumbar muscles and compress your discs.
Instead, focus on keeping your hips level making the circles small enough so your pelvis doesn’t wobble. You’ll feel your Powerhouse work harder to keep you stable, this is the goal at work!
See these videos with Pilatesology Teacher, Shari Berkowitz, for game-changing tips:
And put them into action with these workouts:
Tools for Your Practice
It’s important to remember that each person’s body is unique with varying levels of flexibility, mobility, and strength. As well as unique anatomical structure that can limit range of motion.
Be sure to focus on your own practice & successful movement patterns rather than comparing yourself to others. Form is the most important factor, not how straight your legs can go!
In exercises like Saw or Open Leg Rocker, the primary goal is to engage the lower abs while keeping the pelvis upright and torso lifted. When the core is properly activated, it provides a stable foundation for the legs, allowing for improved leg extension.
Flexibility & Mobility
In some cases, limited flexibility or mobility can hinder leg straightening. Finishing a workout with some deeper stretches like the Ladder Barrel Leg Stretches can help improve flexibility over time and contribute to better leg extension.
Modifications & Progressions
If you struggle to straighten your legs in certain exercises, do modifications and progressions that can help build strength and gradually improve leg extension. For example, you can start with bent knees and work towards straightening them over time. Use props like blocks or straps to assist when needed, this is how Pilates is meant to be practiced.
Patience & Consistency
Progress takes time and consistency. Approach your Pilates practice with patience. Celebrating small wins along the way like on days when you feel healthy and strong can help you stay motivated and focused on your goals!
While straightening the legs in Pilates exercises may present challenges, it’s not an indicator of skill level. All bodies are different! Remember, progress is a journey, and with consistent practice, patience, and perseverance, you can unlock your full potential in your practice. Pilates practitioners are frequently cued to ‘straighten their legs’ and for some it’s just not possible. This is perfectly okay and you’ll get an even better workout with proper form. ✨
“Tight Hamstrings: Causes, Symptoms, and Stretches.” Stretching Exercises Guide. Retrieved from https://www.stretching-exercises-guide.com/tight-hamstrings.html
“Can’t Get Legs Straight for Leg Raises?” Capital Physiotherapy. Retrieved from https://www.capitalphysiotherapy.com.au/cant-get-legs-straight-for-leg-raises/
“Can’t Sit Up with Legs Straight on the Floor?” Axial Chairs. Retrieved from https://axialchairs.com/cant-sit-up-legs-straight-on-floor