If you're looking to develop lean and toned muscles, Pilates just might be your answer. The Pilates leg series can provide length and flexibility to the lower body while increasing muscle tone and developing core strength. Done correctly, the leg series works almost every muscle in the lower body and can have you feeling strong, lean, and energized. Check with a local instructor if you're unsure about form or alignment.
Side Lying Series
Lie on your side with your hips lined up and your legs extended slightly out in front of you. Rest your head on your hand and keep your abdominals engaged as you begin to move your top leg. Extend your leg as far out from your hip as you can as you lift it up and down, front to back, or as your perform small and large circles. Begin with 10 to 15 repetitions of each exercises, adding one as you get stronger.
The Pilates bridge series is a combination of exercises performed on your back that can tone and strengthen your hips, hamstrings, and lower back. Begin with traditional bridging by bending your knees so your feet are underneath them and lift your hips off the floor lining up your shoulders, hips and knees. Lower and lift the hips 15 to 20 times or hold the bridge for 30 seconds to one minute. Try adding single leg lifts, leg circles, and leg pulls for variety and difficulty.
Although the prone series in Pilates primarily focuses on the lower back, variations like heel taps target the hamstrings, glutes, and outer hip muscles. Lie on your stomach with your elbows bent so you can lift your chest using your arms for support. Lengthen your legs as you lift them one to two inches off the floor rotating your toes outward. Move your legs out and in to the sides, tapping your heels together as you pull in. Try a large range of motion for 15 to 20 repetitions followed by smaller heel taps 15 to 20 times.
A great way to tone the inner thigh and increase hip flexibility, leg circles are an important component of a Pilates leg series. While on your back, lift one leg straight up and make small circles moving from the hip. Focus on keeping the pelvis still by contracting the abdominals, making the circle bigger as you become stronger. For Pilates corkscrew or double leg circles, engage the core as you think about drawing small circles on the ceiling with your toes.
Vicki Vara has been a fitness professional for more than 15 years, working in health clubs, studios and schools. She is certified as a personal trainer, group fitness instructor, holistic nutrition consultant and Pilates instructor. Vara holds a bachelor's degree in exercise science from the University of Delaware.