While Pilates exercises focus on the core, they work other muscle groups too.
There are two types of Pilates leg kicks. The single leg kick is a starter move, but it’s a great workout for all levels. The double leg kick is an intermediate move.
Here’s how to properly do single and double leg kicks.
The Pilates leg kick is a body weight exercise. To do this move, having a mat on the floor underneath you can make it more comfortable.
Start on your stomach. Extend your legs behind you, keeping them together. Stack your hands on the floor with your fingertips on your opposite wrist. Rest your forehead on your hands.
- Place your forearms on the floor. Keep your elbows slightly in front of your armpits. Your hands can be in fists or flat on the mat.
- Slide your shoulders away from your ears. Keep your spine neutral and look forward.
- Press your pelvic bone into the floor and lift your stomach up.
- Lift your knees slightly off the floor. Point your feet.
- Bend your right leg at the knee. Exhale and pulse your foot twice, moving toward your glutes. Engage your hamstring and keep your pubic bone on the floor.
- Inhale and lower your leg. Repeat with the left leg.
- Repeat 3 to 6 times on each side.
If you’re a beginner, Alessa Caridi, Pilates instructor, functional fitness speaker, and founder of JōbuFIT , suggests starting with three reps on each side.
You can do more reps as you get stronger.
Once you’ve mastered the single leg kick, try the double leg kick. This exercise also stretches your back and shoulders.
- Start on your stomach. Place the left side of your face on the mat.
- Place your hands on your back, in between your shoulder blades. Stack your hands so your fingertips and wrist touch. Relax your elbows on the mat.
- Press your pubic bone into the floor. Engage your core to lift your stomach up.
- Extend your legs behind you and squeeze them together. Lift your knees slightly off the floor. Point your feet.
- Bend both knees with your legs together. Exhale and pulse your feet three times, moving toward your glutes. Engage your hamstrings and keep your pubic bone down.
- Inhale and lift the head, neck, and chest off the floor. Reach your hands past your butt.
- Exhale and lower your upper body and rest the right face cheek down. Return the hands to starting position.
- Repeat the exercise 3 to 6 times on each side.
If it feels good, finish with a Child’s Pose or Cat-Cow Pose.
Pilates exercises include controlled movements and muscle contractions. Each move engages multiple muscles, so it’s important to practice mental awareness during a routine.
“The goal of Pilates movements is to stabilize before you mobilize,” explains Caridi. This involves learning proper body placement so you work the right muscles.
“Single and double leg kicks usually come [halfway] through a Pilates mat class,” says Caridi. You will have just come from Swan and will be in a Child’s Pose.
By this point, you’ll be warmed up and ready to do leg kicks.
If you want to do leg kicks outside of a routine, Caridi recommends starting with the Hundred movement to warm up the core. Lightly stretch the lower limbs and practice proper body placement of leg kicks.
This warmup will put you in a good place to try single and double leg kicks.
Tips for proper positioning
During Pilates leg kicks, it’s important to always keep your hips down. This will stabilize your torso and work the appropriate muscles.
After each set of pulses, re-engage your pubic bone and press it into the floor.
If you have trouble keeping your hips still, try this trick from Caridi: Imagine a pocket of air just below your belly button. Pretend there is an egg in this pocket. As you kick, try not to crack the imaginary egg.
When your hips are properly engaged, you’ll feel your hamstring stretch with each kick.
Adjustments and modifications
If you feel discomfort or “crunching” in your lower back, think of elongating your spine.
“You can do this by imagining your tailbone reaching toward your heels,” says Caridi. “If that doesn’t help, lower the chest toward the floor.” Also, make sure your legs are extended behind you.
You can skip the pulses if you have knee pain or discomfort. Instead, slowly bring your leg up until you feel a stretch.
If you have foot pain, Caridi recommends more gentle kicking. “You can also work within your range of motion,” she says. “If flexed feet feel better, [then] don’t point your feet — and vice versa.”
The Pilates leg kick works your core, glutes, and hamstrings. It also stretches your quadriceps.
Start with the single leg kick if you’re a beginner. As you get stronger, you can try the double leg kick.
When you do this exercise, make sure your hips are pressed into the floor. This will stabilize your body and engage the appropriate muscles.
To keep working your legs, try side kicks, single leg circles, and inner thigh lifts. Like Pilates leg kicks, these workouts will tone and strengthen your leg muscles.