Standing Pilates Legwork Exercises for Balance and Better Posture

Standing Pilates exercises improve balance and stability by working the muscles involved in supporting good posture like the abdominals and back extensors. In fact, research suggests that strengthening Pilates exercises improve balance and coordination among older adults at risk for falls.

The legwork and footwork in many standing Pilates exercises sculpt and tone the legs by challenging the muscles in the feet, calves, inner thighs, hamstrings, and glutes.

The following two-part standing Pilates series is appropriate for beginners, but experienced practitioners will also benefit from this routine. Follow these simple instructions to get the most out of the exercises for improved strength and stability. If you're brand new to Pilates, this 30-Day Guide to a Beginner Pilates Exercise Program is a great way to get started.

Standing Pilates exercises strengthen the stabilizer muscles to improve balance and coordination, which helps reduce the risk of injury and keep us safe from accidental falls as we age.

Set Up for Pilates Legwork Exercises

Before beginning any standing Pilates routine, it's important to practice good posture first. Here, we'll cover the basics to set you up for success.

How to Set Your Posture

  • Stand tall and upright with your ankles, hips, shoulders, and ears stacked in one line.
  • Make sure your feet are facing forward about hips-distance apart with your legs parallel.
  • Maintain a neutral pelvis with your tailbone dropped down and not tucked under.
  • Pull your abs in and up firmly.
  • Stack your ribcage directly over your hips.
  • Think of a tall neutral spine with natural curves.
  • Keep your chest open, shoulders relaxed, and gaze forward.
  • Don't tip your pelvis forward or back or step your feet too wide or narrow.
  • Don't let anything else about your posture change.

Part 1: Standing Pilates Legwork

Ben Goldstein / Verywell

For the first part of this routine, you'll stand in good posture facing a wall. Be far enough away to extend your arms, but close enough to keep your shoulders relaxed and shoulder blades sliding down your back. Rest your fingertips lightly on the wall for extra balance.

  • With your fingertips on the wall, bend your knees so that your knees track over your toes, but not too far beyond them.
  • As you lower, engage your core as you hold your torso upright with a tall spine.
  • Continue to maintain your upright posture as you lift your heels to come to the balls of your feet.
  • You'll feel your inner thighs and hamstrings start to fire as you fully engage the leg muscles running from your heels to your pelvis, not just the thighs.
  • Identify the vertical line through the middle of your body, also known as your midline.
  • Straighten your legs and stay on the balls of your feet, raising straight up through your midline as you send the top of your head toward the ceiling.
  • Keep your core engaged to maintain your balance.
  • Feel the effort in the arches of your feet. Maintain your upright posture without pitching forward or back.
  • Stay tall as you lower your heels to the floor and return to your starting posture, perhaps feeling a little taller.

Repeat this movement pattern 2–3 times before moving on to the next standing Pilates exercise in this series.

Reverse Pilates Legwork

This next standing Pilates exercise is simply a reversal of the movement pattern from the first part of this series.

  • Begin standing facing the wall in good posture.
  • Raise your heels first as you keep your legs straight.
  • Stay on the balls of your feet (but not too high) and bend your knees over your toes.
  • Maintain a tall and upright torso by stabilizing your core muscles.
  • Keeping your legs parallel, activate your inner thigh muscles.
  • Now, bend your knees and then press your heels to the floor.
  • Stand back up using the soles of your feet, keeping your core engaged.
  • Recheck your posture: Are your ankles, knees, hips, shoulders, ​ribcage, and ears in one line? Is your core engaged?

Repeat this sequence 2–3 times and then move on to the second part of this standing Pilates routine.

You'll know you're in a good standing posture when your abdominals are engaged, your chest is open, and your shoulders are relaxed as you hold your head high. The result should leave you feeling light on your feet.

Part 2: Standing Legwork in Pilates Stance

Woman standing on mat in Pilates stance

Ben Goldstein / Verywell

For the second part of this Pilates routine, you will explore similar movement patterns from the first part, except for this round you'll bring your legs together in Pilates stance.

The classic V-shape of the Pilates stance makes the standing Pilates legwork from the first two exercises more challenging by bringing the heels together to test your balance as you lift and lower.

The external rotation in a Pilates stance happens when the tops of the thighbones rotate slightly outward from their respective hip sockets. The heels will be placed together and the toes will come apart a few inches to make the V-shape.

To do standing legwork in a Pilates stance, you can either face away from the wall for an extra challenge, or if you're working on your balance, you can still face the wall or stand sideways to it using your fingertips for additional support.

  • Stand tall in a Pilates stance with your abs pulled in and up.
  • Externally rotate your legs to activate your inner thighs.
  • Bend your knees just enough to track them over your toes.
  • Don't let your ankles roll in or your feet roll out—use the muscles in your ankles and legs to hold you steady.
  • Maintain stillness in your upper body using the strength of your abdominals.
  • Keep your body stable and now lift your heels slightly away from the floor.
  • Stay upright in your torso and hold for a few breaths.
  • Using control, use your inner thigh muscles to bring the heels back to the floor.
  • Straighten your legs and gently squeeze your thighs and glutes together as you return to a Pilates stance.

Repeat this standing move 2–3 times before moving on to the fourth and final exercise in this standing Pilates routine.

The external rotation of the thighbones brings the inner thighs together to activate those muscles. It's important to note the Pilates stance is not the same as first position in ballet, which requires even more external rotation from the thighbones.

Reverse Standing Legwork in Pilates Stance

For this last exercise, you will reverse the standing Pilates sequence you just performed in a Pilates V-stance.

  • Begin in a Pilates stance.
  • This time, lift your heels first and keep your legs straight.
  • Feel the midline of your body as you balance on the balls of your feet (but not too high).
  • Now, bend your knees slightly and track them over your toes as you maintain the external rotation of the thighbones.
  • Maintain an upright torso and use those inner thigh and core muscles for stability.
  • Keep your knees bent, body tall, and then straighten your legs as you lower your heels to the floor.
  • Squeeze your legs and glutes lightly together to return to your Pilates stance.

Now that you have completed this two-part standing Pilates legwork routine, your posture and balance have already begun to improve. Practice these quick strengthening moves anywhere you can sneak them in—at the office, at home, or as warm-ups for other workouts.

Commit to this series of standing Pilates exercises a few times a week, and you will become even stronger and more stable. Keep challenging yourself, and take what you've learned from this routine by applying some of the basic movement principles to more Pilates exercises.

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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.