Pilates Leg Lifts: An Easy Ab Workout

Leg liftLeg lift is frequently a transition pose. In fact, it’s even part of Table top position, which is a setup for other Pilates exercises. However, I believe Leg lift can stand alone as a Pilates exercise.

This exercise challenges the core to keep the spine in neutral while the leg lifts to table top position. Because your leg is heavy, this ends up being a sufficient challenge to the core muscles.

Additionally, your core works to keep your spine in neutral despite your moving leg. This strength directly translates to when you are upright and, for example, walking.

In the past, I have used Leg lifts to help recover from my umbilical hernia surgery, C-sections, and diastasis rectus abdominis. Also, I use this exercise with any post-surgical client who has been cleared to exercise. Since the spine is stable and the goal is to keep the spine in neutral, this is a great exercise for anyone wanting to build core strength.

Leg Lift

  1. Begin on your back with your knees bent, heels in line with your SITs bones.
  2. Relax your shoulders away from your ears.
  3. Make sure your spine is in neutral. If your abdominals are weak, make a triangle with your hands by connecting your pointer fingers and thumbs. Place this under your sacrum (tailbone) to help keep your pelvis neutral throughout the exercise. Otherwise, let your arms rest by your side.
  4. Take a nice, deep inhale.
  5. Completely exhale. Feel the air leave your abdominal cavity and chest, but don’t let your spine move.
  6. We will use Pilates breathing.
  7. While keeping the muscles active that connect your ribs to your hips, inhale into the sides of your ribs. I think of trying to close any space between my arm pits and my ribs.
  8. As you exhale through pursed lips, lift one leg so that the knee is directly over the hip and the ankle is in line with the knee. Choose to do your weaker leg first. This will help you establish a reasonable goal for the number of repetitions on each side.
  9. Either flex, point, or floint your foot at the ankle. (When you floint, your foot looks like it’s wearing an invisible high heeled shoe. This is a great option for those who get foot cramps.)
  10. Inhale as you hinge your lifted leg away from you. If you feel your pelvis start to move, you’ve gone too far.
  11. Exhale to bring your leg back to table top.
  12. Do 5-10 repetitions on this side.
  13. When you are finished, lower the foot to the floor. As the muscles in your working leg relax, you should notice that your pelvis does not rock back to center. (This means it should have stayed centered the whole time.)
  14. Do the other side.

Leg Lift Modification

You can work the legs individually, completing all the reps on each side before switching, or you can do alternating or reciprocal leg movement. With alternating legs, you would, for example, lift the right leg, lower it, then lift the left leg, and lower it.

Reciprocal leg movement means that you lift your right leg and, as your right leg lowers, your left leg lifts. Then, as your left leg lowers, your right leg lifts. This way, your legs are constantly in motion. I find this to be the most challenging version of this exercise.

Leg Lift Video

For visual learners, here is a video.

What do you think of Leg lifts? Let us know in the comments below.

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About Sarah Stockett

Hi, I'm Sarah! I'm a certified Pilates and yoga instructor with a passion for pain relief. I believe you can use simple exercises to relieve your aches + pains. AND, I believe I can teach you how.