How to Do the Double Leg Lift Pilates Mat Exercise

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Pilates Double Leg Lift Starting Position

The starting position.
The starting position. John Freeman/Getty Images

Sometimes called the Mermaid exercise or the lower lift by trainers, the double leg lift Pilates mat exercise is a very effective abdominal exercise, working both the upper and lower abdominals. These leg lifts are an ideal core strength builder when performed correctly. They are challenging while still being excellent training for beginners.

Follow these step by step instructions and learn to protect your back as you get a great abdominal challenge.

Getting into Starting Position

Perform the double straight leg lifts on a mat or other comfortable surface.

  1. Lie on your back and extend your legs straight up toward the ceiling. Rotate the legs out slightly, keeping the heels together and inner legs pulled in the center line, in Pilates stance. Point the toes.
  2. Place your hands behind your head, keeping the elbows wide and chest open.
  3. Inhale. On the exhale, pull your abdominals down to the floor. Allow that motion to press your lower back into the floor as your curl your upper torso up off the floor. You will maintain this core strength torso position throughout the exercise.

Starting Point Modification

To modify this exercise, leave your head down on the mat as shown in the photo. This is a good way to work up to this challenging exercise. If you leave your head down you can have your arms stretched out along your sides, palms down. Keep the chest open. You may also want to try placing your hands under your hips. This helps relieve a lot of pressure on the lower back.

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Performing Double Leg Lifts

Keeping the core engaged coming down.
Keeping the core engaged coming down. OJO_Images/Getty Images

Once you are in the starting position, you can begin the movement of the exercise:

  1. Inhale. Keeping abdominals pulled in and pushing your back into the mat, lengthen your legs out of your hips. Begin to lower your legs slowly. The lowering motion should take longer than the lifting motion. You can lower the legs in three stages as a variation, lowering the legs a third of the way toward the mat, pausing, and lowering another third.

    Go only as far as your can while maintaining control and good alignment. Do not let your back pop up off the mat. Use your upper abs to maintain the lift of the chest. Don't try to hold yourself up by pulling on your head and neck with the elbows and hands—a common temptation!
  2. When your legs are lowered as far as you can while maintaining control and alignment, pause.
  3. Exhale and lift your legs to the upright position with a firm and controlled effort, deepening the abs as you return the legs upright.
  4. Check your position: Pilates stance, open chest, wide elbows, abdominals pulled in.
  5. Repeat the exercise 6 to 8 times.

Tips for Performing Double Leg Lifts

  • Protect your back! This is a challenging exercise to do correctly. Try working up to it by leaving your head down, and whatever you do, do not let the lower back peel up off the mat as you lower your legs; use your powerhouse and keep those abs pulled in.
  • Breathe. Your abs are pulled in and working hard, so this is a good opportunity to practice breathing deeply into your back and sides.

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