Joseph Pilates began to develop his method of physical conditioning during the First World War -- and it's evolved throughout the years as a comprehensive body-conditioning method. You don't have to haul yourself off to the gym or go to a chic studio to reap the benefits of this exercise system. Pilates strengthens your "powerhouse" -- commonly known as your core -- which includes some of the hip muscles in addition to the muscles of the midsection. Pilates exercises for your iliopsoas, or hip flexors, can flatten your abdominal muscles while trimming your hips, legs and thighs at the same time.
The Pendulum from the classic Side Lying Leg series works your entire lower body including your hips, buttocks and thighs as well as your iliopsoas. To perform, lie on your side, one leg stacked on the other, pillowing your head against your arm. Lift your top leg to only as high as your hip, reach it out forward in front of you, then stretch it back behind you like a pendulum swinging back and forth for one complete repetition. Keep your abdominal muscles pulled in tightly for the entire exercise and aim for 10 kicks total.
Any abdominal work you do with your legs lifted off the floor activates the iliopsoas. The Hundred is a good example. To perform, lie on a mat, starting with your hands at your side. Extend your legs straight out in front of you, lifting them at a 45-degree angle or higher from the floor. Then curl your head, neck and shoulders off of the ground. From this position, hold your straight arms out parallel to the mat and pump them approximately 6 inches up and down 100 times. Then lower your legs to the ground.
Pilates Single Leg Circles
Designed to define the length and shape of the legs while conditioning the abdominal muscles, Pilates leg exercises performed while lying on your back really fire up your hip flexors. For Single Leg Circles, lie on your back with one leg straight in the air and the other stretched out on the floor. Circle the raised leg 10 times clockwise and 10 times counterclockwise, then switch your position and perform the circles with the other leg.
Pilates Leg Pull Front
The Leg Pull Front specifically targets the iliopsoas in addition to being an effective full-body strengthener. Sit on the floor with your legs extended straight out together in front of you. Lean back on your hands, then push your hips high up off the ground until your body is in a strong diagonal line running from your shoulders down to your feet. Kick one straight leg up and down 5 times before switching sides. Complete 5 kicks with the other leg then return your hips to the floor.
- A Guide to Pilates; Louise Thorley
- The Book of Pilates; Joyce Gavin
- Pilates & Yoga; Judy Smith et al.
- Journal of Bodywork and Movement Therapies; Joseph E. Muscolino, Simona Cipriani
Amy Kreger has a Masters degree in health and physical activity and is an adjunct professor instructing anatomy and physiology at the college level. For more than 10 years she has also taught most forms of group exercise, from aerobic dance to group cycling and from kickboxing to yoga.