One leg circle is the Pilates exercise that is best known for helping people get toned and trim thighs. That’s because it uses circumduction. Circumduction is a circular movement of a limb from its joint.
When doing this exercise, I think of a compass (the one from Geometry class, not the one to save you in the wild). Your leg reaches toward the ceiling, and that establishes the center point for your circle. As you move that leg, think of your starting point and try to draw a circle around it.
In some styles of Pilates, the one leg circles are very big. The working leg opens and then comes almost to the floor, then sweeps past the midline of the body, and returns to the starting point.
My circles are different because we’re focusing on making a very precise circle that works for each of us individually. Perhaps your one leg circle will be very big because you have open hips, open hamstrings, or whatever. However, the largeness of your circle is not the point. It is not what will get you the most benefit. Keeping your pelvis in neutral and drawing an appropriately challenging circle (where you bring your leg toward your face) is what will work best for those new to Pilates, recovering from an injury, building core strength, or wanting trim thighs.
One Leg Circle
- Begin on your back with your spine in neutral and your knees bent. Your heels are in line with your SITs bones.
- Take a moment to ensure that your pelvis, rib cage, and head are in neutral alignment.
- Reach your arms by your sides and broaden your collarbones.
- Remember, we will be doing Pilates breathing, where we inhale through the nose and into the sides of the ribs and exhale through pursed lips.
- Inhale and begin lifting your working leg toward the ceiling.
- Exhale and fully extend your working leg. Your pelvis is still neutral. Some people say it’s okay for the pelvis to tilt into imprint. Personally, I prefer for my clients to work from neutral. So, if your pelvis tilted when you reached your leg toward the ceiling, try putting a slight bend in the back of your knee. Or you could reach the leg for the corner where the ceiling meets the wall. Either way, return the pelvis to neutral.
- You may either keep the knee of the stabilizing leg bent or your may straighten the leg. Either way, maintain muscular energy in the leg.
- Inhale and bring the working leg past the midline of your body. As you exhale, the leg circles down away from you, out to the side, and then toward your face. Please note that you’re drawing a circle on the ceiling. When the leg comes back to starting position, you’re not trying to return it straight to the ceiling. You’re engaging your quadriceps (thigh muscles), and bringing the leg toward you. Circle this direction for 5-10 reps.
- Switch directions. Inhale and reach the working leg out to the sides. Exhale and circle the leg down, past the midline, and toward your face. Circle this direction for 5-10 reps.
- Inhale to bend the knee. Exhale to set the foot on the floor in line with the SITs bones.
- Do the other side.
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For visual learners, here is a video.