Pilates: Mastering the Side Leg Series


The side leg series in pilates works the glutes, hips, and thighs, but the most important part (and most overlooked) is to stabilize your core while performing these exercises.

You don’t want your upper body wobbling all over the place, while you are performing the movements with your leg.  To do it the right way, your set up is the same for most of the exercises below:

  1. Lie on your side with your legs and feet slightly in front of you.
  2. Pull your abdominals in (right below the belly button).
  3. Lift your chest.
  4. Roll your shoulders back and down.
  5. Press your shoulder blades down towards your hips.
  6. Your head can be down or resting on your hand (shown), but lengthen your neck.
  7. Lengthen your legs as long as you can (reach your feet away from you).

Once you are in this position, your upper body DOES NOT MOVE AT ALL!  You constantly need to remind yourself of the above 7 steps while executing these exercises.  Do 5-12 repetitions of the 6 exercises on one leg before switching to the opposite leg.  If it’s too challenging to do all 6, just perform the first 3 and switch sides.

Side Kicks: Forward & Back

  • How far forward can you slowly kick without rounding your spine?
  • How far back can you slowly swing the leg without arching your spine?
  • Keep reaching your top leg out as long as you can.
  • Once you do a few reps with a smooth swing, you can add a small double beat (pulse) kick at the front for two, then behind for two.
  • No upper body movement!


Double Leg Beat

  • With the toe pointing up, lift the top leg as high as you can (keep your chest open).
  • Lower the top leg, longer than the bottom leg.
  • After you do a few slow reps, speed up the move and add a double beat (pulse) down into the lower leg.
  • As you speed up, you stay controlled through the movement.


Leg Circles

  • Lift top leg a few inches off of the bottom leg and trace circles forward and backward.
  • Take your leg back a little bit (shown below) and perform same circles.


Gluteus Medius Leg Lifts

  • With your leg back, do small leg lifts leading with your heel.
  • Only lift and lower the leg to a point where you can keep your hips still and don’t collapse in the ribcage.
  • Picture shown below is at the top of the move.


Hot Potato: Top Leg

  • Dip your toe down in front of your body, then arch your foot behind.
  • Dip toe down behind, then arch back to the front.
  • Try keeping your top hand right on your hip so you focus on keeping that hip down away from your ribcage.

Last picture in this series was just an awesome guy swimming by, with a GoPro attached to his kickboard.  He was recording his swim stroke.  Serious training – love it!


Side Lying Bicycle

  • How big can you make the “pedal stroke” without moving through the upper body?
  • Perform your pedal stroke forward for a few reps, then backwards.
  • Add your arm, to increase core instability.  When your leg is back, move your arm forward and kick the leg to your hand.


If laying on your side is uncomfortable or it is just too challenging, you can perform these exercises from a standing position (reverse bicycle shown below).

  • Try rotating your palms forward to emphasize retracting the shoulder blades.


By the way, guys should do these exercises too!  Many professional athletes incorporate pilates into their fitness regimen, because it increases dynamic flexibility and core stabilization.


5 thoughts on “Pilates: Mastering the Side Leg Series

  1. I did Pilates yesterday at the local gym. We did all of these moves, plus, the bicycle part was done lying on the floor. My piriformis and hamstrings are so tight 24/7 that even the physiotherapist’s help didn’t help it. Will be speaking to my general practitioner in about a week’s time.

  2. Pingback: Pilates Style, L-Swoop Exercise, & More! | Joy, Fitness, & Style

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