Basic Leg and Hip Alignment for Posture and Exercise

Woman standing on a yoga mat
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The most basic alignment for legs is parallel, and hip-distance apart. This is a fundamental position for maintaining good posture and performing many exercises properly. In Pilates and other fitness classes, you will often hear this position asked for when performing sitting, lying, and standing exercises.

Achieving Basic Leg and Hip Position

When fitness instructors say, "Legs parallel and hip-distance apart," what they want for their students to achieve is a good line from the hip all the way through the knee, ankle, and foot.

People display a variety of interpretations of "hip-distance apart" and apply "parallel" to some parts and not others. Let's break this position down so that you will know exactly how to align your legs.

Parallel Legs and Feet

In parallel position, your legs will be side by side with both knees and feet pointing forward. Both of your legs and feet should match all the way down.

Sometimes people will have their legs straight with knees facing forward, but their feet will point outward in different directions, so watch out for that. Your feet should be completely parallel in order to achieve proper alignment. This positioning helps to train your muscles so that you can stand and walk properly.

Hip-Distance Apart

Knowing how to find the exact spacing of your legs and feet to achieve hip-distance apart can be a little tricky. People sometimes interpret the distance as the width of the flesh of their hips, on the outside of their body. That interpretation actually creates a stance that is too wide.

What you really want is a leg alignment that comes straight down out of the middle of the hip joint, and the hip joint is much closer to the midline of the body than most of us realize. The hip joint is deep inside the body—inside the crest of the hip bone. This means that your feet should be placed directly underneath the middle of your hip joint.

An Exercise for Proper Alignment

The following exercise will help you find the parallel, hip-distance apart alignment for your legs:

  1. Stand with your feet directly under you, a few inches apart. Point your toes and knees forward.
  2. Find the bony part of your hip bone that sticks out in front. Move your fingers an inch or two inside of that (this will depend a little on how much your hip bones flare open) and imagine a straight line drawn from there down through both knees, your ankles, and feet.
  3. Adjust your feet until you feel a place where the legs feel balanced, and you have a sense that your weight is falling directly down through your legs into the floor. Refine this position by shifting your weight slightly forward and back and side to side. Don't lock your knees, but let them be a little bit soft.

When you get into this position, you'll likely feel a sense of balance. Your feet will not be touching, but you also won't have a stance as wide as the flesh of your hips.

Using This Position During Exercise

Legs parallel, hip-distance apart is an excellent place to start finding your ideal leg alignment for exercise, and good posture in general. It is your basic, neutral leg and hip position, as well as a position where many exercise movements originate from.

From this position, you might shift into a wider stance that will give you a broader base of support for certain kinds of exercise, or you might go narrower, as is often the case in Pilates. But this neutral positioning is the place to come back to in order to maintain proper alignment and posture.

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3 Sources
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  1. Ashtiani MN, Azghani MR, Parnianpour M. Initial balance in human standing postures: Roles of the joint mechanisms. Proc Inst Mech Eng H. 2018;232(12):1255-1260. doi:10.1177/0954411918811858

  2. Bruijn SM, van Dieën JH. Control of human gait stability through foot placement. J R Soc Interface. 2018;15(143). doi:10.1098/rsif.2017.0816

  3. American Chiropractic Association. Maintaining good posture. Updated 2020.