How to perform single leg circles in Pilates

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Pilates Blog

The single-leg circle is a classical Pilates mat exercise. In addition, it is one of the best moves for challenging your core strength as well as pelvic stability. Your abdominal muscles must work hard in order to keep the entire torso under control in spite of the circular motion of the leg in the hip socket.

Along with the core, single-leg circle strengthens the quadriceps as well as hamstrings. This exercise also promotes a healthy hip joint and is a great opportunity to work the abdominals while maintaining the Pilates principles of centring, concentration, control, precision, breath, and flow in mind. Like most Pilates moves, this exercise combines stretching and strengthening of major muscle groups on both sides of the body and promotes balance and improved overall function in your hips.

The emphasis of the single-leg circle is to learn to stabilise the lumbar-pelvic region while moving the legs. It also aids in loosening up the hip flexors and promoting flexibility of the hip muscles and hip flexors.

Starting position

Lie supine on the mat and extend your arms down by your sides with your palms facing down. Your next and shoulders must be in a neutral position.

Inhale and bend one single leg and then gently extend it straight up towards the ceiling.

Exhale and circle one leg over the centre of the body. Make sure that the hips do not rock and the abdominal contraction is evident. Circle five times in one direction and then five times in the opposite direction.

Inhale and bend your leg in order to return to the starting position.

As you perform the exercise you should feel that your ribs are pulling into the mat and you’re your shoulders are pulling on your back. If you have a mat where it is possible for you to press into poles above your head this will help you feel as if you are “reaching” from your mid-back.

This exercise has some rhythm to it as you need to “circle around and up!” The “up” does not imply over your face however it does mean to the ceiling. Watch that you are not hiking up your hip in order to do it. If your hips flexors aren’t flexible, this will be difficult so your “up” may be lower than to the ceiling for a while.

Challenge yourself to maintain your flow and scissor-switch your legs while maintaining the pressure of your body into the mat. This exercise has a minor variation to it. You won’t see it from a birds-eye view however the muscles in your body are creating a small twist and getting you ready for the twists of the lower body which are to come.

Muscles worked

As we mentioned previously in this article, the muscles that the single-leg circles’ work are your:

  • Abdominals
  • Muscles surrounding your hip joint/hip stabilisers
  • Hamstring group.


Keep the next points in mind when performing this exercise:

  • Maintain your pelvis in a level position
  • Avoid rocking your hips
  • Make sure that your abdominals remain engaged throughout the exercise

If you would like to modify this exercise, place a small arc barrel under your lower back or bend your knees. Beginners should place their hands on their hipbones and remember to keep the pelvis stable as they circle out thigh. Continue with a small movement small. Attempt to tighten up your abs while keeping your hips loose.

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