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The Pilates Side Leg Series: 5 Simple Exercises to Work Your Legs and Core

The Side Leg Lift Series is a simple way to work your legs and core at the same time. The Series contains 5 exercises that work the adductors (inner thighs) and abductors (outer thighs). These exercises also challenge your abdominals to isometrically hold your spine in a stable, neutral position.

Side Leg Lift Series

This is the setup for all the exercises in this series.

  1. Align yourself along the back edge of your mat. This will ensure that you’re perfectly straight.
  2. Flex your feet at the ankles, and stack them. Your toes should be facing forward.
  3. Let your bottom arm bend, and rest your head on top of your arm. To increase the difficulty of these exercises, lift your upper body, and use your elbow as a prop. The tips of your fingers go behind the back of your ear. Make sure to keep your abdominals working throughout the exercise so that your rib cage doesn’t drop. If your ribs drop, you will be putting stress on your spine. Another way to increase the challenge of these exercises is to reach the top arm toward the ceiling. This will ensure that your spine stays stable, and it will challenge the core muscles that help you balance. The choice of arm placement is only applicable for the first four exercises.
  4. We will use Pilates breathing.
  5. Engage the abdominals so that you maintain a neutral spine.

1. Top Leg Abduction

  1. top leg abductionPoint the foot of the top leg.
  2. Inhale and raise the top leg higher than hip level. Only raise the leg as high as it can go while keeping the pelvis and spine stable. Make sure that you lead with the outside edge of your foot so that your leg stays in neutral the whole time.
  3. When you get to the top of your range of motion, flex the foot. The outside edge of the foot should be level enough that you could balance a tray on it.
  4. Exhale and lower the leg to starting position.
  5. Complete 5-10 repetitions on this side before moving immediately into the next exercise.
  6. When you have completed your last repetition, instead of lowering the leg to the starting position, lower the leg to hip level and move immediately onto the next exercise.

2. Top Leg Circles

  1. side lying leg circlesMake sure that your legs stayed in parallel.
  2. Point the foot of the top leg.
  3. Begin drawing inward circles, toward the midline of the body.
  4. Complete 5-10 repetitions this way.
  5. Switch directions, drawing outward circles (away from the midline of the body) the exact same number of times. If you don’t understand inward and outward circles, don’t worry. Just pick a direction, circle, and then go the opposite way.
  6. Make sure the leg stayed parallel throughout the exercise.
  7. Hold the top leg stable at hip level, and move immediately onto the next exercise.

3. Staggered Legs

  1. staggered legsMake sure you are still pointing your top leg’s foot.
  2. Inhale here.
  3. Exhale, point the foot on the bottom leg, and lift the bottom leg to meet the top.
  4. Inhale here.
  5. Exhale and lower both legs.
  6. Inhale and lift the top leg to hip level.
  7. Exhale and left the bottom leg to meet the top leg.
  8. Inhale here.
  9. Exhale and lower both legs.
  10. Complete 5-10 reps.
  11. Make sure that after the last rep, you end with both legs lowered. Move immediately onto the next exercise.

4. Both Legs Together

  1. Flex your feet at the ankle.
  2. Inhale. Really use your abdominals to stabilize your spine.
  3. Exhale and lift both legs without letting your waist collapse toward the floor.
  4. Inhale to lower and reengage the abdominals.
  5. Exhale to lift.
  6. Complete 5-10 reps.
  7. Make sure to end with both legs lowered. Move immediately onto the next exercise.

5. Lateral Flexion

  1. lateral flexionStraighten your bottom arm, and turn your palm down. This arm will help stabilize you, so make sure that it’s active.
  2. Bring your top arm to the outside of your thigh. Normally, I find the outside seam of my pants with my fingertips.
  3. Inhale and engage the abdominals to prepare.
  4. Exhale and lift your legs and your upper body equally. Your waist should not slam down toward the floor. Check that your feet and your head are lifted to the same approximate height. You should look like a smile.
  5. Inhale and lower.
  6. Complete 5-10 reps.
  7. After completing this exercise, switch sides. Repeat all of these exercises in the same order and with the same number of repetitions as the first side.

Side Leg Lift Series Video

To complete 5 new exercises in a row without verbal instruction is really challenging. I recommend that you follow along with the video the first few times so that you can learn the exercises and the sequence.

In the video, I only do 3 reps for the sake of brevity. Feel free to pause the video as needed so that you can complete the appropriate number of reps for your workout.

What muscles do you feel working when you do the Side Leg Lift Series? Let us know in the comments below.

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About Sarah Stockett

Hi! I'm Sarah, and I'm a certified Pilates and yoga instructor with a passion for pain relief. When I'm not working with clients, I'm researching the best ways to get rid of pain. Do you want to learn how to practice yoga and Pilates safely in your own home? Or, do you want to know all my tips and tricks for pain relief? Join my mailing list and receive free goodies to help you.

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