How to Do Single Leg Kick in Pilates

Proper Form, Variations, and Common Mistakes

Four women exercising in gym
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Also Known As: One leg kick

Targets: Hamstrings

Equipment Needed: Mat

Level: Beginner

The single leg kick Pilates mat exercise focuses on the hamstrings, the muscles at the back of your thighs. This is an exercise suitable for beginners, but it is still valuable for advanced exercisers.


The hamstrings extend the hip and flex the knee in activities such as walking and running in daily life, so it's important to keep them strong. The single leg kick exercise also works your powerhouse and helps you practice keeping your abdominals lifted, chest open, and shoulders stable.

Step-by-Step Instructions

Start on your stomach with both legs together, extended behind you. Engage your inner thighs and hamstrings to keep your legs from splaying out.

  1. Lift your upper body so that you are supported on your forearms. Keep your shoulders and shoulder blades down and your chest broad. Your elbows will be directly under your shoulders. Hands can be clasped together on the floor in front of you or flat.
  2. Gaze down or slightly forward so that your neck is a long extension of your spine.
  3. Send your tailbone down toward the floor as you pull your abdominals up away from the mat. Also, doing this exercise with your abs well pulled in adds stability and makes it a better workout for your core.
  4. 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.
  5. Inhale to switch legs, extending the right leg as you bend the left.
  6. Exhale, performing two pulses with the left leg.
  7. Repeat six to eight times.

Common Mistakes

As with all Pilates exercises, proper form is important and can be challenging to achieve, so watch out for these issues.

Not Engaging the Abs

This step is important for the safety of your back. Before you kick, be sure to pull your abs up and in (you will feel your tailbone move toward the floor). This will lengthen and protect your lower back. Similarly, keep your torso still while you kick. Isolate the movement to the legs.

Legs Falling to the Side

Keep pulling your inner thighs inward so that your legs and knees stay close together. This helps make sure you are using your hamstrings.

Craning Your Neck

Your head is lifted, but you are not looking too high up. Doing so can strain your neck. Also avoid slouching your shoulders or letting your head drop too low.

Modifications and Variations

Adapt this exercise to make it work for you, whether you are new to it or have become proficient.

Need a Modification?

If you have difficulty due to foot pain during this exercise, especially from a bunion, ask your Pilates instructor for a modification or substitution. If extending your back is uncomfortable, keep your head low (fold your hands in front of you and rest your forehead on them).

Up for a Challenge?

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.

For another variation, alternate the position of the foot from flex kick to point kick and back.

Safety and Precautions

Proper technique, by carefully following these instructions, is important not only for getting the most out of the exercise but for preventing injury. If you have foot pain or injury or a lower back injury or condition, speak with a doctor, physical therapist, or Pilates instructor about the safest and most effective options for you.

Try It Out

Incorporate this move and similar ones into one of these popular workouts:

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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.