How to Do Single Leg Circle in Pilates

Proper Form, Variations, and Common Mistakes

Verywell / Ben Goldstein

Also Known As: One leg circle

Targets: Abdominal muscles, quads, hamstrings

Equipment Needed: Mat

Level: Beginner

The single leg circle is a classical Pilates mat exercise, and one of the best 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.


Along with the core, single leg circle strengthens the quadriceps and hamstrings. It also promotes a healthy hip joint. It's a great opportunity to work the abdominals while keeping the Pilates principles of centering, concentration, control, precision, breath, and flow in mind. 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.


Watch Now: How to Do a Pilates Single Leg Circle

Step-by-Step Instructions

Start on your back with your 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. Try to balance the weight of the shoulders and the hips on each side. 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.

  1. Engage your core. Pull your abdominal muscles in, anchoring the pelvis and shoulders. Draw one knee in towards the chest and then extend it straight toward the ceiling.
  2. Inhale and cross the extended leg up and over the body. It angles up toward the opposite shoulder and over the outstretched leg.
  3. Exhale and 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.
  4. Do five to eight circles in this direction, then reverse, starting your circle by exhaling and then reaching your extended leg out to the side and then circling back toward and over the body.
  5. Stretch, before switching legs, by 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. Then repeat steps 1 to 4 on the opposite leg and finish with another stretch.

Common Mistakes

This exercise is easy to do, but hard to do well.

Lifting the Pelvis or Shoulders

Be sure to keep your shoulders and pelvis level during your single leg circles. This is more important than extending the leg fully or making big circles. It is in keeping the pelvis stable that your abdominal muscles get their workout. No rocking or rolling allowed!

Modifications and Variations

Make adjustments as needed to keep your form and alignment correct.

Need a Modification?

Keep the non-working leg bent with the foot flat on the floor. This will provide more stability for the pelvis.

If your hamstrings are tight, do not extend the leg fully up toward the ceiling. Leave the knee slightly bent. 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.

Up for a Challenge?

The single leg circle is a great foundation move that helps set up many other more advanced moves. 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. If you have an exercise band, you can try incorporating it into this exercise.

You can also vary the position of your arms. This will require more effort from your abs. Lift your arms slightly off the mat (as in the hundred) or straight into the air.

Safety and Precautions

If you have a back injury or condition, be cautious. Talk to a doctor or physical therapist about exercises that are safe for you to do while you recover. Avoid this exercise (and others that require you to lay on your back) in the second and third trimester of pregnancy.

Try It Out

Incorporate this move and similar ones, like the side-lying leg press with a magic circle, into one of these popular workouts:

By Marguerite Ogle MS, RYT
Marguerite Ogle is a freelance writer and experienced natural wellness and life coach, who has been teaching Pilates for more than 35 years.