Pilates Side Kick Series for Toning the Thighs

The exercises in this series are wonderful for toning and strengthening the hips and thighs and abs. They emphasize length and using the powerhouse core muscles to stabilize the trunk as the lower body moves independently. 


Watch Now: 4 Pilates Side Kicks to Tone Your Thighs & Core


Side Kick Series Intro and Set Up

The set up for the side kick series is basically the same for all of the exercises. Setting good alignment and maintaining it throughout the exercises is the key to making them effective. See the setup instructions below.

The exercise instructions in this series have cues for doing the exercise, and a link to more extensive instructions. Please do go through the full instructions if you haven't seen them before as doing the exercises precisely will yield the best results.

Side Kick Series Set Up

  • Lie on your side and line up your ears, shoulders, hips, knees and ankles.
  • Prop your head on your hand, making sure to lift the ribs away from the mat so that your back and neck stay in alignment. You can modify this position by reaching your bottom arm straight out along the mat above your head and resting your head on it.
  • The front hand rests firmly, palm down, on the mat in front of your chest. Use this hand to help stabilize, but don't depend on it -- depend on your abs.
  • Move your legs slightly forward of your hips. This will help your balance and protect your lower back.
  • Rotate the legs out slightly from the hips, in Pilates stance.
  • Double check your line up. The shoulders should be stacked one on top of the other, as should the hips. The ears, shoulders, and hips are in a line, with the knees and ankles a little in front.

Side Kick Front/Back

Kick Front

  • Lift the top leg a few inches. Flex the foot and send energy out through the heel.
  • With the foot flexed, swing the top leg to the front. At the full length of your kick, do a small pulse kick.

Lengthen Back

  • Keeping length in your leg and through the whole body, point your toe and sweep the top leg to the back. Pause, but do not do a second kick.
    Important: Only reach as far back as you can go without crunching the low back or moving the pelvis. Again, a big part of the challenge of the exercise is to use the core muscles to keep the entire trunk of the body stable.
  • Flex the foot and kick to the front.
  • Repeat this exercise 5 to 10 times.

Kneeling side kick takes the challenge of this exercise a step further. Be sure to try it once you are comfortable with the one.


Side Kick Up/Down

pilates exercise picture
Lara Kolesar, by Peter Kramer, courtesy of Kolesar Studios

Kick Up

  • Double check your line up. Your shoulders should be stacked one on top of the other, as should the hips. Also, your shoulders and hips are in a line with the knees and ankles a little in front.
  • Make sure that your abdominal muscles are pulled in and up.
  • Now, lengthening even more through the top leg, kick up toward the ceiling (smoothly, use your abs for control).
  • Keep the hip bones stacked. Make sure that the pelvis does not tilt back to let the leg go up.

Control Down


Side Leg Lifts

Pilates picture
Peter Kramer, courtesy of Kolesar Studios

While this exercise is not really a kick, the challenge it presents is similar to the other exercises in this series.

Bring your breath down the length of your spine, making your entire body very long from tip to toe.

Use your abdominals to bring both legs up a few inches off your mat. Focus on keeping your inner legs together, all the way from the sit bones to the heels.

Lengthen your legs back down on the mat. Use control.

Do this exercise 5 to 8 times.
See the full instructions for side leg lifts for more information, links and tips. The side-lying leg press with a magic circle is an alternative.


Inner Thigh Lifts

pilates exercise picture
Lare Kolesar, by Peter Kramer, courtesy of Kolesar Studios

For inner thigh lifts, the top arm and leg are in new positions, but the initial set up is the same as it was for the other exercises in this series.
Bring the foot of your top leg up to rest in front of your hips.
Thread your top hand behind the calf and grasp the outside of your ankle. For more stability, modify it so the foot rests in front of your thigh, and the top hand is flat on the floor in front of your chest.

Keeping the bottom leg straight, use your inner thigh to raise it a few inches off the floor. The feeling is that you extend the leg so long that it raises up off the floor.

Maintain that sense of length as you slowly lower the leg to the floor.
Do 5 to 8 sets on each side.

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