How to Perform the Pilates Single Leg Circle

One Leg Circle
Ben Goldstein

The Single Leg Circle is one of the best Pilates exercises for challenging your core strength and pelvic stability. The abdominal muscles must work hard to keep the entire torso controlled despite the circular movement of the leg in the hip socket. The Single Leg Circle also strengthens the quads and hamstrings at the same time as it promotes a healthy hip joint.

This is a key focus exercise from the traditional Pilates mat created by Joseph Pilates. This means it's a great opportunity to work the abdominals while keeping the Pilates principles of centering, concentration, control, precision, breath, and flow in mind.


Watch Now: How to Do a Pilates Single Leg Circle

Difficulty: Easy to do, but hard to do right.

Time Required: 5 minutes

What You Need: Exercise Mat

Performing the Pilates Single Leg Circle, Step-By-Step

  1. Prepare
    1. Lie on your back with legs extended on the floor, arms by your sides. Take a moment to feel the weight of your body on the floor and activate every body part. The legs are taut and held together. The arms press into the floor energetically. The abdominals are pulled inward and upward.
    2. Try to balance the weight of the shoulders and the hips on each side.
    3. You may want to do some sequential breathing to help drop the breath into the body and encourage the weight of the ribs to rest on the floor.
  2. Engage Your Abdominals
    1. Pull your abdominals in, anchoring the pelvis and shoulders. Draw one knee in towards the chest and then extend it straight toward the ceiling.
    2. If your hamstrings are flexible, go ahead and lengthen the leg directly up toward the ceiling. Do not lift your hip in the process. If it doesn't go up that high simply lower the leg and do your best.
    3. You may leave the knee slightly bent if your hamstrings are tight. It is more important that your hips stay stable and grounded on the mat than it is for your leg to be straight. If you do bend the knee, periodically try to straighten it so you continue to work your flexibility.
  1. Do the Leg Circles
    1. Inhale: Cross the extended leg up and across the body. It angles up toward the opposite shoulder and over the outstretched leg.
    2. Exhale: Begin to lower the leg down towards the center line in a circling motion. Use control as you carry the open the leg out to the side and then sweep it around back to center at your starting position.
    3. Be sure to keep your shoulders and pelvis level. This is more important than extending the leg fully or making big circles. It is in keeping the pelvis stable that your abdominals get their workout. No Rockin' or Rollin'!
  2. Perfect the Breath and Movement Pattern
    1. Do five to eight circles in each direction with each leg. Before you switch legs, finish with a stretch, climbing the hands up the outstretched leg to hold the ankle. Hold the position for three full breath cycles gently pulling the leg closer and closer to you.
    2. For the first set of 5: Inhale to cross the body and circle down and exhale to open the leg and circle up.
    3. For the second set of 5: Exhale to open the leg and circle down, and inhale to cross the body and circle and up.

    Tips and Tricks for the Pilates Single-Leg Circle

    1. Modify this exercise by keeping the non-working leg bent with the foot flat on the floor. This will provide more stability for the pelvis.
    2. As your core strength increases, you will be able to increase the size of the circle you make with your leg. Start small and work up.
    3. If you have an exercise band you may want to try incorporating it into this exercise.

    The single leg circle is a great foundation move that helps set up many other more advanced moves. Like most Pilates moves, this exercise combines stretching and strengthening of major muscle groups on both sides of the body and promotes balance and improved overall function in your hips.

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