Move of the Week: Pilates Side-Lying Workout

September 25, 2013 5:15 pm Last Updated: December 13, 2013 3:30 pm

Pilates has truly saved my body, and I have hundreds of clients who sing the same tune. I remember after my first Pilates class over 10 years ago, I felt as if I had been placed on my feet correctly for the first time in my life. It was a good feeling, though it’s a little bizarre that I didn’t realize just how lopsided I had become.

I was already working in a gym before I found Pilates and am thankful to a member who was also a chiropractor. He kindly told me that if I didn’t do something about my posture, I would suffer a lot of lower back pain in the future. He suggested I start Pilates to strengthen my stomach and decrease the excessive curve I had in my lower back.

I immediately started doing one to two mat-work classes a week, and the difference in how my body felt was almost miraculous. Being quite tall, I had always slouched. That soon changed.

Some of my friends even asked if I had grown taller. Of course I hadn’t, but thanks to my Pilates classes, I was now standing with great posture and had a stronger core to support my lower back.

I was also noticeably slimmer around my stomach, waist, and thigh area—could it get any better? And all this was accomplished for the most part while lying on a mat. Of course it was challenging, and even intense, but the low-impact, relaxed nature of the classes had me hooked.

I was so impressed with Pilates that I took it one step further and decided to become a teacher of this incredible exercise system so I could share what I had gained with as many people as possible.

This week’s workout is a popular sequence I teach regularly in my mat-work classes. It gets fabulous results for the lower half of your body. I realize this workout looks like a walk in the park (or rather, a “lie down” in the park). But follow the repetitions and variations, and you will get a seriously strong lower body workout.

The three moves shown are designed to strengthen and tone your waist, inner thigh, outer thigh, and side glute. It is a woman’s dream workout, but men will benefit, too.

Double-Leg Lift 

1. Lie on your side with your legs gently squeezed together and positioned slightly in front of your body.
2. Place your hand on your hip and gently push it away from your rib. This will help align your pelvis correctly.
3. Inhale to prepare. Exhale as you float both feet away from the floor. Inhale to lower. Repeat this movement 20 times, plus 20 small pulses at the top range and at least two variations—10 of each.
4. You don’t need to lift your legs too high. Think about stretching your legs away from your body to create length in your muscles. As your legs lower, don’t release them all the way to the floor.
5. Variations: Scissor legs, open and close legs, circle legs forward and back, and reach your arm over your head to work balance.


Inner-Thigh Lift

1. Lie on your side with the bottom leg straight and top leg bent at the knee and resting on the inner ridge of your foot.
2. Exhale as you lift the bottom leg up. Inhale to lower. Repeat 20 times, plus 20 pulses and two variations—20 of each.
3. Variations: Make circles. Work with the leg internally rotated. Work with the leg externally rotated.
4. You can rest the knee of your top leg on a foam block, towel, or shoe if it is more comfortable.

Bottom Circles

1. Lie on your side with both knees bent in front of your body, feet in line with your glutes.
2. Extend the top leg forward at a 45-degree angle to your body.
3. Circle your leg forward 15 times. Circle back 15 times. Lift leg up and down 15 times plus one variation—10 times.
4. Variations: Trace squares, triangles, and the alphabet. Hold leg still.
5. Keep your leg internally rotated the entire time. Imagine your heel is a piece of chalk drawing the shapes on a blackboard.

For all exercises, keep your breath flowing and try to engage your deep core muscle about 80 percent of the time.

Emma-Kate Stampton certifies Pilates instructors and is a certified personal trainer. She is based in Brisbane, Australia.