Pilates On the Go: Single Leg Circles


Let’s keep the flow going with the third exercise in the Pilates series, Single Leg Circles. The Single Leg Circles exercise works the outer and inner thigh, and stretches and strengthens the leg from the hip joint.

Single Leg CircleAfter you have completed four of the Roll-Ups, lie on your back with your torso anchored to the mat, your knees bent and the soles of your feet on the mat. Feel that your torso is weighted, and your spine is pressing into the mat beneath you. Tuck your chin slightly, so your neck does not begin to arch and the crown of the head does not begin to press into the mat. Press your palms into the mat for stability, without letting your shoulder blades lift off the mat. Inhale and bend your right knee into your chest, exhale and extend your right leg to the ceiling at a 90-degree angle, and slightly turn your leg out from the hip socket so you can see your heel when you start and finish each circle.

Keeping the turn out from the hip socket will ensure that you are working the outer and inner thigh, and less of the quadricep muscle alone. Your left leg remains bent and the sole of your foot is anchored to the mat (no wobbling at all in the leg or hips). Begin your circle with the right leg as you inhale and stretch the leg long and out of the hip socket, across the body, brushing the inside of your left knee, then circling it down, around, and exhale as you bring it back up to the starting position, scooping your navel deeply to your spine.

The accent is on the “upswing,” as you exhale and swing your leg back up, taking a slight pause at the end of each circle, feeling the abdominal muscles at work.

Imagine your leg is a long, heavy lead pole and you are scratching circles on the ceiling with it. As you make your circle, allow your leg to only reach as far forward as you can while keeping your navel scooping deeply to your spine, and your spine and lower back completely anchored to the floor. If your lower back is beginning to arch as you circle your leg, make your circles smaller, focusing on drawing circles on the ceiling with the leg.


Complete three to five repetitions, inhaling as you begin the circle and exhaling as you complete it. Then reverse the circle for three to five repetitions. Keep your hips from wobbling, by using the powerhouse to control your movement. Repeat the circles with the left leg.


  • Remain perfectly still in your upper body, keeping the shoulders relaxed and focusing your effort from the powerhouse.
  • Try not to let the knee turn inward as you circle the leg.
  • Think of leading from the inner thigh.
  • With the leg turned out from the hip socket, think of engaging the buttock muscle of the circling leg, to stop the quadricep muscle from doing all the work, and to prevent clicking or popping in the hip.
  • As your strength increases, gradually increase the size of your circles, maintaining control in your hips.
  • When swinging the leg back up, do not swing the leg too far outside of the hip joint. See that the knee is coming up in line with the hip and shoulder. This will ensure that you are using the powerhouse, and not just the quadricep and hip flexor .
  • Feel that scooping the navel to your spine is swinging your leg back up to the starting position.


Extend the stationary leg long and straight in line with your hip, against the mat. Turn the leg out slightly from the hip socket, and anchor your heel and back of the hip to the mat. Allow your hamstring to sink into the mat, and keep the knee straight, but soft. Begin circling the opposite leg.

Advanced Single Leg Circle

Enjoy yourself! Keep it flowing, and consider the other exercises in our Pilates on the Go series for Athleta. You can incorporate Pilates exercises wherever you go, and you might have to get creative — a quiet conference room, a room with a great view, an oasis along a park trail, a hotel room, or just steps away from your bed. Even if you’re a new mom, your child will be fascinated and intrigued. If there’s a stable floor, you can get started.


November 05, 2009 at 8:26 pm

Great yoga ideas! Thanks for this wonderful article!


April 29, 2010 at 9:31 am

Just getting back into yoga again. I have been an active participant since I was 17 years old, now 55! After many major injuries ie: fractures to both neck, pelvis, and back with the natural progression of age related diseases setting in as arthritis and such I have been considering the introduction of pilates (the malibu pilates machine) as seen on HSN with the beautiful MS. Susan Luchi helping to launch the new machine. I have danced ballet for 10 years in my youth and am currently more out of shape than in the shape I am accustom to being in. Of course a lot of things have changed in that many years, yes? Of course they have. Now I am trying to talk my now truly fabulous boyfriend into the major purchase of one, along with the clothes I so desperately need due to the weight gain. You understand moving from an always sunny and hot climate to the snowy winter I have never,ever experienced I gained 30 unwanted lbs.! Plus I quit smoking! OUCH! Nothing, and I mean nothing fits and not working due to my injuries I refuse to purchase bigger clothes just to grow into. I just need yoga wear and pilates wear. Same, same, yes? Found this lovely place called Athleta. Since I won’t ask my new, fab beau for the work out wear to purchase – I will get it some how myself – after all we can’t make love with one of us fat and that one is me! I have never been a fatty and am over whelmed and embarrassed! So I am currently trying to find bargains and well made clothes I can both work out in and go out in. This place called Athleta looks to be the place for my need and desires. I only wish perhaps we could do a deal with a before and after or simply showing off my great gams I will be achieving due to all of the hard work. What do you all think? Can we make a deal of some sort? PLEASE CONTACT ME AND LET’S SET UP AN APPOINTMENT, CAN WE? Just kidding around, but it certainly is /was worth a try, wasn’t it? I am very artistic and am getting ready to start making my very own real jewelry with real precious and semi-precious stones. I am not kidding where that is concerned. I adore your workout gear and cannot wait until I am able to purchase some.

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