Pilates Side Kick Series for Toning the Thighs

The exercises in this Pilates series are wonderful for toning and strengthening your hips, thighs, and abs. They emphasize length and use the powerhouse core muscles—which includes your low back, pelvic floor, and glutes (butt)—to stabilize your trunk. 

Each individual movement includes cues for doing the exercise and provides a link to more extensive instructions, if available. Go through the full instructions if you haven't seen the exercise before, as doing it correctly will yield the best results.


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

Side Kick Series Basics and Setup

Before we get into the side kick series, it's important to understand proper form. The setup for this series is almost the same for all of the exercises. Focus on maintaining your alignment throughout each one to make them as safe and effective as possible.

To get in proper form:

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

Now that you are in proper alignment, you are ready to begin this Pilates side kick series.


Side Kick Front/Back

To do the side kick front and back:

  • Lift your top leg a few inches, flexing your foot towards your shin.
  • Keeping your foot flexed, swing your top leg to the front.
  • At the full length of your kick, do a small pulse kick.
  • Keeping length in your leg (and through your whole body), point your toe and sweep your top leg to the back. Only reach as far back as you can go without crunching your low back or moving your pelvis.
  • Pause, but do not do a second kick.
  • Flex your foot again and kick to the front.
  • Repeat this exercise five to 10 times.

A big part of the challenge with this exercise is to use your core muscles to keep your entire trunk stable. If you want to increase the level of difficulty, you can do these kicks while kneeling. Try those once this move feels too easy.


Side Kick Up/Down

pilates exercise picture

Lara Kolesar / Peter Kramer / Kolesar Studios

Before beginning this exercise, double check your lineup to ensure that your shoulders are still stacked one on top of the other, as are the hips. Your shoulders and hips are in line with your knees and ankles, with your legs a little in front.

To do the side kick up and down:

  • Engage your abdominal muscles so they are pulled in and up.
  • Lengthening even more through the top leg, kick up toward the ceiling smoothly. Use your abs for better control.
  • Keep your hip bones stacked, making sure the pelvis does not tilt to the back in order to let your leg raise up.
  • Pull your abdominals up as you control the lowering of your leg.

Side Leg Lifts

Pilates picture

Peter Kramer / Kolesar Studios

While this exercise is not really a kick, the challenge it presents is similar to the other exercises in this series. To do side leg lifts:

  • Inhale. Bring your breath down the length of your spine, making your entire body as long as you can from tip to toe.
  • Exhale. Use your abdominals to bring both legs up a few inches off your mat. Focus on keeping your legs together, all the way from your sit bones to your heels.
  • Inhale. Lower your legs back down to the mat, using control.
  • Do this exercise five to eight times.

Once you master this exercise, you may want to change it up a bit to keep challenging your lower body. The side-lying leg press with a magic circle is one option to consider. As with the other moves, keep proper form.


Inner Thigh Lifts

pilates exercise picture

Lara Kolesar / Peter Kramer / Kolesar Studios

For inner thigh lifts, the top arm and leg are in new positions, but the initial setup is the same as for the other exercises in this series. To do these lifts:

  • Bring the foot of your top leg up to rest in front of your hips, the bottom of the foot on the mat.
  • Thread your top hand behind the calf of that leg and grasp the outside of your ankle. For more stability, you can modify this position so that your foot rests in front of your thigh and your top hand is flat on the floor, in front of your chest.
  • Inhale. Keeping your bottom leg straight, use your inner thigh muscle to raise the bottom leg a few inches off the floor.
  • Exhale and, while maintaining the sense that your leg is extended so long that it raises off the floor, slowly lower that leg back down.
  • Do five to eight lifts on each side.

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.