How to Do the Double Leg Kick in Pilates

Proper Form, Variations, and Common Mistakes

Pilates Double-Leg Kick
Verywell / Ben Goldstein

Targets: Back extensors, hamstrings, core

Level: Intermediate

The double leg kick is a classical Pilates mat exercise. This powerful move targets the back extensors and hamstrings, but it requires support from the whole body. Work on to double leg kick by practicing single leg kick and some of the other back extension mat exercises such as swan and swimming.

Since the double leg kick is such a powerful extension exercise, it is a good idea to follow up with a counter stretch from a forward flexion exercise like spine stretch or single straight leg stretch.

Benefits

The double leg kick stretches the chest, abdominals, and hip flexors. It is a countermove to flexion (forward bend) exercises as well as activities in daily life such as sitting and driving. Back extension can improve the flexibility of your back, which can help prevent injury, and help you maintain good posture.

When you want to tone your butt muscles, the double leg kick works on them from both ends—the back and the hamstrings.

Step-by-Step Instructions

Begin on an exercise mat, laying face down with your head turned to one side. Keep your legs together:

  1. Clasp your hands together behind your back, placing them as high up on the back as possible. Interlocking the thumbs will help keep your hands together when you move. Let your elbows fall toward the floor.

  2. Inhale and pull your abs in, lifting your belly away from the mat. As you do, lengthen your spine, anchor your pubic bone down to the mat, and create as much space as possible along the front of the hips. Extend the feeling of length through your body, lifting your legs slightly off the floor.

  3. Keep your legs together, and on a three-part exhale, kick your heels toward your hips in a three-part pulse-kick (each pulse is part of the exhale). To kick, emphasize using your hamstrings to pull your heels as close as you can to your sit bones.

  4. Inhale: Keep your hands clasped and extend your arms behind you, lifting your upper body high off the mat. At the same time, stretch your legs out straight, just above the mat. Protect your lower back by keeping your spine long and pubic bone anchored into the mat. This part of the move is an excellent stretch for the chest and shoulders, but move slowly and use control as it can be intense.

  5. Exhale and return to the starting position with your head turned to the opposite side.

  6. Repeat: Do this exercise twice on each side.

Common Mistakes

This is a challenging exercise and proper form is essential. Watch out for these errors.

Lifting Hips Off Mat

As you kick, your hips should stay on the mat. It is tempting to allow the hips to lift up and away from the mat.

Rocking Forward and Back

During the pulse-kick, your whole body may begin to rock back and forth. Try to keep it stable and limit the movement to your legs.

Modifications and Variations

The double leg kick can be altered to better suit your needs.

Need a Modification?

If you experience knee pain or difficulty keeping your form (if your hips pop up, for example), try developing the kick with the alternate kick pattern.

Traditionally, the double leg kick is taught as above, where all three pulse-kicks come as close to the buttocks as possible. An alternative is to develop the kick in three levels: low, medium, high. This is a helpful technique for learning to engage the hamstrings to pull the legs in and for keeping proper alignment throughout the exercise.

Up for a Challenge?

Repeat the double leg kick more than twice on each side. Consider trying an advanced Pilates class (mat or reformer).

Safety and Precautions

Since double leg kick is such a powerful extension exercise, it is a good idea to follow up with a counter stretch—a forward flexion exercise like spine stretch or single straight leg stretch.

Be sure to breathe during the exercise and to engage your abdominal muscles, since they and the back muscles support each other. While the move is challenging and you should feel your muscles working, it should not be painful.

If you have a spinal injury or condition, talk to your doctor or physical therapist before attempting this exercise.

Try It Out

Incorporate this move and similar ones, including the double straight leg lift, into one of these popular workouts:

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