Andrea Metcalf by Andrea Metcalf

Pilates is well known for its ability to improve postural alignment and strengthen the core, but you may not realize that a regular Pilates practice can help you develop long lean muscles throughout your body. If you don’t have time to sign up for a Pilates class, try these simple, effective Pilates moves for strong lean legs.

Side-lying Leg Circles

This exercise targets the inner and outer thighs and the glutes.

Begin by lying on your side on the floor, with your elbow under your shoulder and your legs stacked one on top of the other. Keep your rib cage lifted to stabilize your core and raise your top leg a few inches as you circle the foot. Perform small focused circles for 20 repetitions in one direction and then complete 20 reps in the other direction. Flip over onto your other side and repeat with the other leg. Remember to consciously control your breathing throughout the movement.

Progression: As your core stabilizers become stronger, lift the hips into a side elbow plank and perform the leg circles or add a light weight to the ankle.


Plié Slides

This move works the thighs in all directions: quads, inner and outer thighs, and glutes.

Begin standing with feet slightly wider than shoulder-width apart, toes pointing out and the foot under the knee. One foot should be on a stable surface and the other on a sliding disc or paper plate. Slide the foot out to the side, lower your body and pause. Breathe in; as you exhale, slide your feet back to the starting position and stand tall. Complete 15-20 repetitions and then repeat on the other side with the other foot on the slider. Remember to exhale on the return of the movement.

Progression: Progress to a hold the plie for 4 counts and then slide back to starting position. 


Shoulder Hip Bridge 

This exercise is a great backside burner that targets the hamstrings, the inner thighs and obliques.

Begin lying on the floor with knees bent. Lift the hips and tilt the rib cage upward. Place your hands on floor along your sides. Lift the right leg to the ceiling and assume a bridge position on the shoulders. Hold this position while you lower the leg to the side in a half-straddle position and draw back to center. Be sure to keep the pelvis stable without tilting to the side as the leg moves away from the body. Breathe throughout the movement, focusing on exhaling while pulling the leg back to the center. Complete 15-20 repetitions while keeping the hips lifted and then repeat on the other side.

Progression: As you become stronger, move the base foot away from the body to target the lower part of the hamstrings.


Butterfly Lifts 

This move targets the glutes and hamstrings.

Begin lying face down on the floor with the knees slightly open to the sides. Press the heels together with the toes turned outward. Place your hands under your forehead with your elbows out to the sides. Maintain a neutral low-back position as you lift the thighs slightly off the floor. Hold for 3 counts while drawing the heels toward the glutes and then lower back down. Avoid pressing the pelvis into the floor to lift and exhale as you raise the thighs. Perform 12-15 repetitions.

Progression: As you grow stronger, perform this movement over a bench, lowering and raising the thighs through a greater range of motion.


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