Standing Pilates Legwork Exercises for Balance and Posture

Standing Pilates exercises are wonderful for developing balance. They challenge all of the good posture muscles like the abdominals and back extensors; and they are good leg shaping exercises that work the feet, thighs, and calves as well. 


Standing Pilates Legwork Exercise

A body weight squat.
Kevin Kozicki/Getty Images

The two standing Pilates legwork patterns you will learn here are appropriate for beginners as well as advanced practitioners. Once you learn these patterns and you can sneak them in anywhere - at the office, at home, or as warm-ups for other workouts. You might recognize these exercises as they often appear in magazines as inner thigh exercises. They are, among other benefits, but read these instructions to make sure you get the most out of them.

Standing Pilates Legwork Part 1

Stand facing a wall. Be far enough away to feel comfortable, but close enough that you can keep your shoulders settled on your back as you rest your fingertips lightly on the wall for extra balance.

Set your posture: Your ankles, hips, shoulders, and ears are in one line. Feet point forward, legs parallel directly under you,  your pelvis is neutral - not tucked or tilted forward. Abs are pulled in and up firmly, rib cage in line with the hips - not popping forward. Long spine with natural curves, chest open, shoulders relaxed, gaze straight ahead.

Standing Pilates Legwork Part 2

Bend your knees so that your knees track over your toes, not beyond. Go straight down with an oppositional feeling of lift through your center. Don't let anything else change. Don't tip forward or back or let your legs lose their alignment.


Standing Pilates Legwork Parts 3 and 4

Standing Pilates Legwork Part 3

Keep your great posture and just lift your heels. Don't change height levels and don't let this move throw you forward or back. The knees still go over the toes.
Your abs are engaged and helping you keep your balance. You might feel your inner thighs and hamstrings kick in and a connection between your heels and sit bones. That is good. This is about getting full engagement of the leg, not just the top of the thigh.

Standing Pilates Legwork Part 4

Connect with a sense of vertical line through the middle of your body, your midline. Straighten your legs and raise straight up your midline sending the top your head toward the ceiling.
Now you are standing tall on the balls of your feet, but not too high. You want to feel the support of the arches of your feet doming under you. You've gone straight up without pitching forward or back.


Standing Pilates Legwork Part 5

Stay very long and tall as you press your heels down to the floor. You should be in the perfect posture you started with, but feel even taller.

Repeat the sequence 2 or 3 more times, then go on to the next section.


Reverse the Legwork Sequence

Now you are going to reverse the sequence you just did:

  • Begin standing
  • Raise your heels, legs straight
  • Stay on the balls of your feet (not too high) and bend your knees over your toes. Keep your torso long and stable. Legs parallel (you need those inner thighs).
  • Knees bent, press your heels to the floor.
  • Stand up perfectly balanced on your feet.
  • Recheck your posture: If you were seen from the side, your ankles, knees, hips, shoulders, ​and ears would be in one line. You would be light on your feet with your abs engaged, your chest open, shoulders relaxed and your head floating lightly on top.

Repeat the sequence 2 or 3 times and move on to the next exercise.


Pilates Stance Standing Legwork Exercise Parts 1 and 2

In this next set, you go through the same patterns you went through with your legs parallel, but this time, they are in Pilates stance. This leg position will make the standing Pilates legwork an even greater balance exercise and increase the inner thigh toning element. We have also turned the exercise away from the wall for an extra challenge. However, you can face the wall, or stand sideways to it, with your fingertips on it for a little balance aid.

Pilates Stance Standing Legwork Part 1

We use the same lifted posture we have been using except we add a slight turnout of the legs. This turnout comes from the top of the leg rotating slightly outward from deep in the hip socket. The toes come apart a few inches. The heels are together. The inner thighs are together.

(this is not a ballet first position which is more turned out. Even if you can do ballet, you should do this in Pilates V. It will challenge your inner thighs and hip rotator muscles differently this way.)

Pilates Stance Standing Legwork Part 2

Stay tall and keep your abs in and lifted as you bend your knees, sending them over your toes. Your legs rotate outward. You will feel your inner thighs working. Don't let this move make your ankles roll in, feet roll out, or any other disorganization - use control.

Your whole upper body is still, but lively.


Pilates Stance Standing Legwork Exercise Parts 3 to 5

Pilates Stance Standing Legwork Part 3

Keep your body stable and lift your heels slightly away from the floor. Do not change your height level. Control your legs and keep your knees in line with your toes.

Pilates Stance Standing Legwork Part 4

Connect to your midline as you reach straight up through the top of your head, bringing your inner thighs together as you straighten your legs with the heels still together. Feel the wrap of your legs spiraling outward as you pull them together and up.

Take advantage of oppositional energy: Press down to go up.

You are on the balls of your feet, but not too high. Feel the support of your foot arches under you.

This is a great moment in which to feel the engagement of your powerhouse - you can use an image of your sit bones coming together because your pelvic floor lifting, your abs lifting, your spine long and you have a long neck reaching for the sky. Your shoulder blades are settled on your back and our shoulders are relaxed, just along for the ride.

Stay up here a moment. Breathe. Smile.

Pilates Stance Standing Legwork Part 5

Stay tall and lifted as you squeeze your inner thighs together and press your heels down to the floor. Imagine you want the top of your head to stay on the ceiling.

Repeat this sequence 2 or 3 times, and then do the next section.


Standing Pilates Legwork in Pilates Stance Routine Overview

Now you are going to reverse the sequence you just did:

  • Begin standing
  • Raise your heels, legs straight. Feel the midline of your body, pull your body in around it, and slide right up it.
  • Stay on the balls of your feet (not too high) and bend your knees over your toes. Keep your torso long and stable. You are rotating the legs outward at the hip so the knees go over the toes. Use those inner thighs.
  • Knees bent, body tall, press your heels to the floor.
  • Squeeze your legs and butt lightly together to come to standing perfectly balanced on your feet.

More Standing Pilates Exercises

Now that you have done this standing Pilates legwork series you are warmed up, your posture and balance are better, and you are ready to apply what you have learned to more exercises!

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