How to Do Pilates Single Leg Kick

Four women exercising in gym
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The single leg kick Pilates exercise focuses on the hamstrings, the muscles at the back of your thighs. The hamstrings extend the hip and flex the knee in activities such as walking and running in daily life. The single leg kick exercise is also a great way to work your powerhouse, practice keeping your abdominals lifted, chest open, and shoulders stable. This is an exercise suitable for beginners as well as being valuable for advanced exercisers.

What You Need

The single leg kick can be performed at home or at the studio. All you need is a Pilates exercise mat.

  • Difficulty: Easy, this exercise is suitable for beginners
  • Time Required: 5 minutes

How to Perform the Exercise

Let's take a look at how to do the single leg kick step by step:

  1. Lie on your stomach with both legs together, extended behind you. Activate (tighten) your inner thighs and hamstrings to keep your legs from splaying out.
  2. Lift your upper body so that you are supported on your forearms.
    1. Checkpoints:
      • Keep your shoulders and scapula (the bony wings of your back or "shoulder blades") down, and keep your chest broad.
  3. Your elbows will be directly under your shoulders.
  4. Hands can be clasped together on the floor in front of you or fisted as pictured.
  5. Gaze down or slightly forward so that your neck is a long extension of your spine 
  6. This third step is very important for the safety of your back: Send your tailbone down toward the floor as you pull your abdominals up away from the mat. Sending the tailbone toward the floor will lengthen and protect your lower back. Also, doing this exercise with your abs well pulled in adds stability and makes it a better workout for your core.
  7. Inhale. Exhale and bend your right leg to a 90-degree angle. Then, pulse it twice toward your butt with the foot lightly pointed. Use two sharp exhales to pulse the leg. Protect your knees by keeping the hamstrings engaged and not kicking too hard.
  1. Inhale to switch legs, extending the right leg as you bend the left.
  2. Exhale, performing two pulses with the left leg.
  3. Repeat six to eight times.


Along with following the step-by-step instructions above, a few modifications may be helpful:

  1. If you are strong through your center and your lower back is lengthened, not crunched, try this exercise with both legs lifted off the floor slightly when they are extended. This is a lengthening and lifting of the legs out from the hip. Keep your tailbone moving down toward the floor.
  2. Some people do this exercise alternating the position of the foot; they may do a flex kick and then do a point kick.
  3. Single straight leg stretch will be a nice counter exercise for single leg kick. It is an intermediate-level exercise that stretches the hamstring muscles you have just exercised.
  4. If you have difficulty due to foot pain during this exercise, especially from a bunion, ask your Pilates instructor for a modification or substitution exercise. That's the advantage of having an instructor.

Wrapping Up

The Pilates single leg lick is a versatile exercise which can be performed by anyone from a beginner to an advanced exerciser. In addition to working on your hamstrings, this exercise is also a great way to work your powerhouse.

Proper technique, by carefully following these step-by-step instructions, is important not only for getting the most out of the exercise but for preventing injury. For those who have foot pain or are simply interested in adding a little variety, a few modifications or substitutions may be tried. The single straight leg stretch makes great counter exercise for the single leg kick.

Whether you are a beginner, just getting started with Pilates, or an advanced student, working with an instructor can help ensure you are doing these exercises properly and safely.

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