How to Use the Pilates Side Leg Series as a Form of Do-It-Yourself Hip Therapy

The Pilates Side leg series is more than just 5 exercises to work your legs. When done correctly, these exercises can help relieve hip pain.

When done incorrectly, the Pilates Side leg series can leave you aching and frustrated. Trust me, I’ve been there and done that.

Your bottom hip grinds into the floor. Your top leg feels impossible to lift. And then you feel like you’re writhing on the floor like a dying fish.

It’s probably not the idea Joe had when he created these exercises. But, none the less, it’s how I felt.

Luckily, I learned how to change my bad habits so my body could get the most benefit possible from these five classic Pilates exercises.

Here’s everything you need to know not just to avoid hip pain, but to turn these exercises into some do-it-yourself, pain-relieving hip therapy.

Related: If you’re searching for the perfect do-it-yourself exercises to get rid of hip or back pain, check out Spinal Rejuvenation.

You don’t need to wonder how to relieve your pain. Just click here to receive your free copy of The Secret to Immediate + Lasting Pain Relief.

How to Make These Exercises Pain-Relieving, Not Painful

The whole key to changing these exercises from something that could cause pain to something that could relieve it is your mindfulness and your ability to engage your abdominals.

In the directions below, there will be little tips for where you should be especially mindful and when you should focus on your abdominals.

Related: Everything You Need to Know for Stronger Abdominal Muscles

The 5 Pilates Side Leg Series Exercises

Before you start practicing the Pilates side leg series, this is how you’ll want to set yourself up.

  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, 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. Use Pilates breathing to inhale through the nose and exhale through pursed lips.
  5. Engage the abdominals to maintain a neutral spine.


Technically, there is a more advanced version where you lift your upper body and use your elbow as a prop. Here’s how you would incorporate that into your setup:

  • Lift your upper body, and use your elbow as a prop.
  • The tips of your fingers go behind the back of your ear (or ears if both arms are lifted).
  • Make sure to keep your abdominals working throughout the exercise so your rib cage doesn’t lower toward the mat.
  • If this happens, you will be putting stress on your spine.

Caution: I don’t recommend this modification, particularly if you are trying to use these exercises as a means for hip therapy. Long story short, if you lift yourself up like this, you’ll be bent to the side and your pelvis won’t get good practice strengthening the muscles to move your leg and pelvis in the right way.

You decide what’s best for you.

Get into your starting position and enjoy the following Pilates Side leg series exercises.

1. Top Leg Abduction (Lift Your Top Leg)

Pay attention: As your leg moves, make sure to keep your waist lifted away from the mat and keep your pelvis stable. If you feel like you’re rocking, you’ve lost control of your abdominals.

  1. Point 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 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

Pay attention: Make sure your leg is moving in small circles in the hip socket. This shouldn’t be a big movement, and you shouldn’t feel any rocking or shifting from front to back.

  1. Make sure that your legs stayed in parallel.
  2. Point the foot of the top leg.
  3. Begin drawing circles in one direction.
  4. Complete 5-10 repetitions this way.
  5. Switch directions.
  6. Complete 5-10 repetitions this way.
  7. Make sure the leg stayed parallel throughout the exercise.
  8. Hold the top leg stable at hip level, and move immediately onto the next exercise.

3. Staggered Legs (Lift the Top Leg, Then the Bottom)

Pay attention: It’s very tempting to let your waist lower toward the mat when your bottom leg lifts. Do your very best to keep that small space between you and the mat.

  1. Make 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 (Lift Both Legs)

Pay attention: It’s very tempting to let your waist lower toward the floor as your legs lift. Instead, try to keep a small hole between your waist and your mat.

Also, make sure your legs lift in a straight line. Sometimes, they will start to creep in front of your body as your hip flexors take over and try to work.

  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 (Lift Your Legs and Your Upper Body)

Pay attention: Your waist has to lower to the mat here. It’s okay. Just make sure you hug your abdominals toward your spine so your belly doesn’t pooch as you move.

  1. Straighten your bottom arm, and turn your palm down. This arm will help stabilize you, so make sure that it’s actively working.
  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 will lower toward the floor, but it shouldn’t slam down. 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.

Are You a Visual Learner?

If you’re a visual learner, this video about how to do the Pilate Side leg series should help. To complete 5 new exercises in a row without verbal instruction is really challenging, so this video should help out.

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.

Before You Practice the Pilates Side Leg Series, Remember…

Before you practice these side-lying Pilates exercises, remember to pay attention to your form and how you feel the entire time you’re doing these exercises. You should feel challenged but not in pain.

If you feel pain, you need to stop what you’re doing.

Also, if you feel like your bottom hip grinds into the floor as you lift, you should double up your mat under your hip to provide some extra cushion. If that still doesn’t help, you should stop doing this exercise series.

Pilates exercises were created to be helpful in the self-rehabilitation process. The Pilates Side leg series strengthens important muscles in the legs and hips to help increase mobility and relieve hip pain. For an additional exercise to really boost your hip therapy, try Side-lying kick.

Related: Pilates Side Kick: A Sneaky Hip Therapy Exercise

You don’t need to wonder how to relieve your pain. Just click here to receive your free copy of The Secret to Immediate + Lasting Pain Relief.

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.