How to Do Side Leg Lifts

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Side leg lifts work the abs, especially the hard to get at obliques, as well as the inner thighs. Lifting the legs together keeps the inner thighs and buttocks engaged as the abdominals pulled in and up, developing core strength and balance.

  • Difficulty: Side leg lifts are of average difficulty.
  • Time Required: 5 minutes are needed for this exercise.

What You Need 

This is a mat exercise that can be performed at home or at the studio. You will need a Pilates exercise mat to lie on for this exercise.

How to Do Side Leg Lifts

1. Prepare: Lie on your side with all body parts lined up so that your ankles, knees, hips, shoulders, and ears are in one line. 

  • Now move your legs slightly in front so that you are in a banana shape. This helps with balance and protects the lower back.
  • You can prop your head upon your hand, or stretch the bottom arm out long and lay your head down. If you prop your head up, you must support your alignment by lifting your rib cage away from the mat.
  • Make sure that your abdominals are pulled in. This is your key to using the abs for strength and stability.

2. Inhale: The breath moves down the full length of your spine, making your entire body very long from tip to toe.

3. Exhale: Use your abdominals and the engagement of your legs to bring both legs up a few inches off your mat.

  • Focus on keeping your inner legs together, all the way from your sit bones to your heels.

4. Inhale: Get longer still as you slowly lower your legs back down on the mat. Use control.

Repetitions: Do this exercise 5 - 8 times. Turn over on your other side and repeat.


  1. You can modify this exercise by leaving your head down on an outstretched arm.
  2. The front arm is just for balance. Use your core rather than the front arm.
  3. Increase the challenge by pausing at the top of your lift for several breaths. That little extra time at the top can make a difference you will feel.

More Pilates Mat Exercises

This exercise is part of the Side Kick Series. While you are on the mat, you may want to try other exercises in the same group such as:

  • Side Kick Front/Back: This exercise is done with one leg at a time, forwards and back while lying on the mat.
  • Side Kick Up Down: You will also exercise one leg at a time, up and down while lying on the mat. This exercise works the hips, buttocks and outer thighs as well as the core.
  • Inner Thigh Lifts: While some of the other kicks target the outer thighs, this one works the inner thigh muscles of the groin area.
  • Pilates Side Scissors: For a further challenge for your core, back, leg and hip muscles, try this more advanced exercise.
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