Working the Inner Thighs With Pilates


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If your goal is to tone your inner thighs, the first thing to know is that this area is made up of a set of interconnected muscles. Each one works a little differently, so it's best to take a few different approaches when firming and strengthening the inner thigh muscles. 

Anatomy of the Inner Thigh

The inner thigh refers to a group of muscles on the inside of the upper leg known as adductors. However, some inner thigh muscles sit a little more toward the front of the top of the leg and others wrap around the inner thigh area, from the back to the front.

The five muscles that make up the inner thigh are:

  • Gracilis: the thin, flat inner thigh muscle sitting closest to the skin
  • Adductor magnus: a large, triangle-shaped muscle which sits inside the gracilis
  • Adductor longus: a large, fan-shaped muscle that sits next to the adductor magnus
  • Adductor brevis: a deep inner thigh muscle that sits beneath the adductor longus
  • Pectineus: the muscle that sits more toward the front of the inner thigh

How the Inner Thigh Muscles Work

Each of the muscles in the inner thigh has different actions. The gracilis and the adductor magnus, for example, bring the leg in toward the midline of the body. The adductor longus assists with this too, but it also helps the thigh move from side to side.

Many inner thigh exercises focus on the adductors by squeezing the legs toward each other. But not every inner thigh muscle is an adductor. So, it's important to work the leg at different angles and with different kinds of motion, enabling you to exercise the entire inner thigh.

Adding exercises that work other areas of the upper leg can help too. For example, the quadriceps are a set of powerful muscles used to extend the leg, and some of these muscles, like the vastus medialus, are major players in improving inner thigh tone.

Use Parallel Legs

Poor leg alignment is frequently to blame for lack of muscle tone in the inner thigh. That's why Pilates continuously reinforces correct leg alignment. This helps create balanced muscular development and can be accomplished with parallel legs.

Parallel legs involves walking, running, sitting, and standing with your legs hip-distance apart and your knees and feet pointing forward. This can be difficult at first, especially if your feet typically point inward or to the sides.

Just this one correction can go a long way toward helping you create and maintain a well-balanced leg, which also means better balanced inner thigh muscles. Making small changes to the way you exercise your inner thighs can have a big impact, too.

Work the Midline

When you do inner thigh exercises that ask you to hold your legs together, really squeeze them toward your midline, the imaginary line running down the center of your body. Make those inner thighs work. Don't just push them together at the top and let them loosen as they go down.

If you focus on working the midline, many exercises become inner thigh exercises. A few examples from Pilates would be: 

Even the hundred, the infamous Pilates ab buster, can become an inner thigh exercise by squeezing your legs together, thereby working the midline.

Ensure that your legs are lined up straight for proper alignment. The foot should be in line with the knee. This can make a big difference.

Incorporating Resistance

Once you develop a greater level of strength in your inner thigh muscles, incorporating resistance can challenge these muscles even more. Resistance training helps your muscles continue to get stronger, making them more firm over time.

Squeezing a Pilates ring or a soccer-size ball placed just above the knees or ankles is a technique you can use to add resistance as the leg moves in. Another option is to secure one end of a resistance band and use your inner thigh muscles to move that leg toward your midline.

Adding Eccentric Contractions

The squeeze is only half the exercise. If you resist as you release, the inner thigh muscles work in an eccentric contraction. Eccentric contractions are muscle-lengthening contractions that some studies have found force the muscles to work even harder.

Knowing how to work the eccentric contraction is one of the great secrets of Pilates. It's also what accounts for the long, lean appearance of Pilates practitioners. Reformer legwork gives us a lot of opportunity for improving fitness and tone.

Even if you don't do Pilates, remember to control the release of your inner thigh exercises and you will get much more benefit. This also applies when resisting the release of a leg extension (working those extensor muscles).

Try a Different Angle

Pilates involves plenty of bending and stretching with the legs in various positions like parallel, pulled together, and turned out slightly at the hip in Pilates stance. Turning the leg out brings in the deep six hip muscles opposed by the inner thigh muscles, making them work.

But there is another position you might want to experiment with in some exercises and that is with the working leg turned in a little bit. If you rotate the leg inward from the hip socket only slightly, you might feel a different muscular engagement than when you have the legs in the other positions.

Experiment with internal rotation in exercises like inner thigh liftstanding leg press with ring, and side leg lifts. Inner thigh lift is particularly interesting because the external rotation and bend of the top leg is also an inner thigh opportunity, something most people don't realize.

You can also work the bottom leg in parallel and in the external or internal rotation. You might even try flexing the bottom foot. Don't use inner or outer rotations exclusively, but they can help you challenge inner thigh muscles you can't get to otherwise.

1 Source
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  1. Hody S, Croisier J, Bury T, Rogister B, Leprince P. Eccentric muscle contractions: Risks and benefits. Front Physiol. 2019;10:536. doi:10.3389/fphys.2019.00536

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.