No doubt about it: Pilates exercises offer incredible benefits for the core. But when it comes to the best leg exercises, Pilates can also provide a major boost, according to Andrea Rogers, founder of Xtend Barre and XB Pilates. Best of all, the practice uses compound moves, so you’ll feel those Pilates “leg” exercises working other areas of your body, too.
Pilates can help improve posture, lift your rear, and build strength from head to toe, she says. “Even when you’re doing moves that are focused on the lower body, you’re building strength, mobility, and functionality in the body as a whole.”
Here are seven of her favorite Pilates leg exercises. At home, work your way through these moves if you’re considering giving the XB Pilates program a try.
Engage your core on this one, and it will make your legs fire up more, Rogers says.
- Lie on your left side with your shoulders, hips, knees, and ankles in one straight line. Rest your left forearm on the floor and use the strength of your arm to keep your torso lifted off the floor. (If you feel unstable, bend the knee of your lower leg slightly, for more of an anchor.)
- Engage your abs, then slowly lift your top leg as you inhale (try not to go past a 45-degree angle). Keep your foot facing forward so you do not externally rotate as you lift it.
- Exhale as you lower your leg.
- Repeat for 10 to 15 reps, then switch sides, and perform the same number of reps.
2. First Position Leg Lifts
This barre-inspired move works your adductor muscles on the inner thighs, and this position also helps recruit your glutes and core, Rogers says.
- Stand with your heels together, toes pointed out, and place your hands on your hips or on an elevated surface like a barre or high chair.
- Reach your right leg straight out in front of you, still pointing your toes so they’re lightly resting on the floor.
- Keeping your core tight and your left leg engaged, lift your right leg up as high as possible, then lower it slowly back down to tap your toes on the ground.
- Repeat and do 10 to 15 reps on both sides.
3. Pilates Leg Kick
The Pilates leg kick creates strength in your back while engaging your hamstrings, says Rogers. You’ll also be training your core to engage as it’s pressed against the mat.
- Lie in a prone position (belly-down) on a mat. Turn your head to one side and interlace your fingers behind your lower back. Alternatively, you can lift your torso up and rest your forearms on the mat, with your hands directly under your shoulders and your fists pressed together.
- Draw your bellybutton into your spine, press your pelvis into the mat, and keep your legs and feet parallel.
- From this position, inhale as you point your toes and bend your knees to a 90-degree angle.
- Kick your heels toward your glutes three times, forcefully exhaling with each pulse. Inhale as you lower your legs down to the mat.
- Repeat for 10 to 15 reps.
4. Standing Pulse
This is a move found in both Pilates and barre classes, and it can help with balance, says Rogers.
- Stand with your feet and legs together with your knees soft and not locked out. You can have a chair or barre in front of you for balance, with your hands resting on it gently.
- Bend your knees as if you’re about to sit in a chair, keeping your pelvis level and your spine neutral.
- Lift your heels and press into the balls of your feet.
- Keeping your heels lifted, pulse your body down an inch and back up for 30 seconds.
- Rest, then repeat two to three times.
5. Double Leg Lifts
Although double leg lifts are a big-time core burner, they also work your legs, says Rogers. Focus on engaging your quads and hamstrings throughout the movement.
- Lie on your back and extend your legs up to the ceiling with your toes pointed and heels together. Place your hands behind your head and keep your elbows wide. Engage your abs to press your lower back into the floor. Lift your chest up to bring your shoulders off the floor.
- Inhale and lower your legs down with control. Only lower your legs as far as you’re able to without letting your lower back lift off the floor, or your abdomen popping up. Avoid straining your neck; the curl of your upper body should come more from your abs and not from jutting your head forward.
- Once you’ve reached your end range of motion, exhale and lift your legs back to starting position with control. Repeat for all reps in the set. Start with 10 to 15 reps.
6. Single-Leg Circle
Move slowly through this sequence to really focus on building leg strength, Rogers says.
- Lie flat on your back with your arms extended long by your sides.
- Draw your right knee into your chest and give it a stretch, then extend your right leg straight toward the ceiling with your toes pointed. (If you feel too much of a stretch, gently bend the knee.)
- Keeping your hips stable, your leg straight, and your back flat on the floor, drop your right leg toward the left side of your body. Sweep your right leg down toward your left leg, out to the right side, and then back up to the starting position, as if you’re drawing a circle in the air with your toe.
- Complete 8 reps and then reverse directions.
- Repeat with the other leg, and complete the same number of reps with the other leg.
7. Scissor Kicks
With scissor kicks, just like the double leg lifts, pay attention to engaging your leg muscles rather than asking your core to do all the work, Rogers suggests.
- Lie on your back with your arms by your sides.
- Lift both legs off the ground a few inches and separate them into a slight “V” shape. Engage your core, and press your lower back into the floor (keep pressing it down throughout the exercise).
- Keeping your legs straight, bring your legs together, crossing your right leg over your left.
- Return to the “V” shape and repeat on the other side, bringing your legs together and crossing your left leg over your right.
- Continue alternating until you’ve completed all reps. Start with 10 to 15 reps.
Loving these Pilates moves and looking for more? Check out XB Pilates for sequences that will help you tone up without bulking up, lift your booty, and sculpt a beautiful physique.