How to Do Side-Lying Leg Press With Magic Circle in Pilates

Proper Form, Variations, and Common Mistakes

Verywell / Ben Goldstein

Targets: Core, inner thighs, glutes

Equipment Needed: Pilates magic circle

Level: Intermediate

The side-lying leg press is a mat exercise done with the Pilates magic circle. It is a great thigh exercise that focuses the workout on the inner thighs. It also tones the glutes (butt muscles) quite well. The whole Pilates powerhouse is engaged for length and stability. This exercise builds on skills learned in the side-lying Pilates mat exercises and is similar to the standing leg press. You may want to try those before adding the magic circle.


Side-lying Pilates exercises emphasize length and using the powerhouse core muscles to stabilize the trunk as the lower body moves independently. This exercise especially works the adductor muscles which draw your legs together. Strength and flexibility of these muscles are important for athletic performance in many sports that require side-to-side movements. Strong and flexible adductors can also help reduce the risk of knee pain.

Step-by-Step Instructions

Lay out your mat in a location where you can reach full extension.

  1. Lie on your side and place the magic circle just above your ankles. Your shoulders and hips should be in a line and stacked vertically.
  2. Move your legs slightly in front of the line of your body. The legs will remain straight for this exercise.
  3. Raise yourself up on your forearm with your elbow bent and aligned under your shoulder. Be sure to press away from the mat, lifting your ribs so that your spine is in a long line.
  4. Extend your upper arm at shoulder height.
  5. Inhale.
  6. Exhale and pull up through your midline to press the magic circle down, slowly, with control. Your abs and back are stabilizing you, and your glutes and thighs—especially your inner thighs—are working to control the circle.
  7. Inhale and slowly release the circle, with control.
  8. Repeat eight to 10 times. Change sides.

Common Mistakes

Avoid these errors so you will get the most out of this exercise.

Sagging Rib Cage

Your rib cage should be lifted away from the mat, not sagging.


You want to lengthen your body from the center. But also be mindful not to overextend. Keep your shoulders down and don't let them creep up toward your ears.

Modifications and Variations

You can do different variations of this exercise to make it more comfortable or to get more from it.

Need a Modification?

You can do this exercise with your head down and the bottom arm extended along the mat rather than supporting your upper body.

You can place your top hand on the mat in front of you for extra stability rather than raising it.

Up for a Challenge?

You can reverse the breathing pattern. You can also try different degrees of rotation in your top leg.

By raising your legs during this exercise you will work your inner thighs even more and challenge your balance. You may need to put your top hand on the mat in front of your chest for stability. You will draw on skills learned from side leg lifts and inner thigh lifts. Initiate the lift from the lower leg; this will help you keep the Pilates ring in place.

Instructions for legs up variation:

  1. Keep lengthening through your midline and lift both legs off the mat. As in the preceding version of the exercise, move slowly with control.
  2. Exhale: Press the sides of the ring toward each other as you keep both legs raised.
  3. Inhale: Release. Legs stay up.
  4. Do 6-8 presses.
  5. Lower the legs and turn to the other side.

Safety and Precautions

This exercise should be avoided during pregnancy as it could lead to pubic bone pain as hormones relax the pubic symphysis. If you have any pain or injury to your neck or shoulders, do this exercise with your head down and bottom arm extended rather than being supported by your upper arm. If you feel any pain during this exercise, release it and end the exercise.

Try It Out

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

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.