Leg circles, also known as single or one-legged circles, are a great Pilates mat exercise for strengthening the core, glutes, and hip muscles, and improving pelvic stability. Best of all, it requires absolutely zero equipment. Ready to learn how to do it?
What Are Leg Circles?
Leg circles are performed lying down on your back and, as their name suggests, moving one leg in a circular motion.
“Leg circles look easy, but they are incredibly difficult to do properly,” says Baltimore-based strength coach Erica Suter, C.S.C.S., who incorporates Pilates-style exercises into her cross training, mobility, and core training. Read on below to learn how to execute them correctly so you can get the full benefits of this move.
What Muscles Do Leg Circles Work?
“Leg circles crush the glutes, especially the hip abductors,” Suter says. The hip abductors sit in the outside of the hips, help you move your legs away from the midline of your body, and stabilize your pelvis in everything you do on or off of the mat. This move will also work your hip flexors — the antagonists to your glute muscles — and your abs.
Leg circles also act as an isometric core exercise, requiring you to use your core muscles to support the weight of your raised leg and keep your spine and pelvis in proper alignment.
Leg Circles: Step-by-Step Instructions
- Lie on your back with your legs extended straight out in front of you, and your arms stretched out by your sides, palms flat on the floor. Engage your core to press your low back into the floor. You will maintain this back positioning throughout the entire exercise.
- Extend one leg straight up with your toes pointed up toward the ceiling.
- From here, move your raised leg in large, controlled, clockwise circles, as if you’re tracing circles in the air with your foot. Reverse the circles, moving in a counterclockwise direction for the same number of reps. Keep your core engaged so your back stays connected to the floor.
- Lower your leg to the floor and repeat with the opposite leg.
As you start doing this, you’ll find that the smaller you make the circle, the easier the move is. Start small, and then work your way up to bigger circles as you lock down your form and gain more strength.
Leg Circles Exercise Variations
Listed from the most beginner-friendly to most challenging, these leg circle variations will help you progress your workout and fit your needs.
Side Leg Circles
- Try this variation for more of a glute-centric exercise. Lie on your side, with one leg stacked on top of the other. Extend your bottom arm straight and rest your head on it, while you place your other hand on the floor in front of your body for support.
- Lift the top leg up and perform leg circles. Your core will work less here than they do with traditional leg circles, but your outer hips and glutes will have to work that much harder to fight gravity.
Bent-Knee Leg Circles
- To make the move easier and reduce the amount of stress placed on the core, complete the leg circles exercise (lying on your back) with the non-working leg bent and its foot flat on the floor.
- This will make it easier to stabilize your pelvic and spinal alignment.
Raised Leg Circles
- To make the move harder, try moving both legs at once. Also called double leg circles, this variation requires performing the leg circles exercise with both legs raised from the floor at the same time.
- This will significantly increase the challenge to your core muscles.
Single-Leg Half Bridge Circles
- Lying flat on your back with one foot on the floor, push through your heel and squeeze your glutes to get in a single-leg glute bridge.
- Maintaining this position, extend your raised leg straight up and point your toes toward the ceiling.
- Keeping your hips even and stable, circle your raised leg in a counter clockwise position, and then reverse the direction for an equal number of reps. Repeat with the opposite leg.
Plank Leg Circles
- Flip over and try the leg circles exercise from a plank position.
- Get in a forearm plank, lift one foot off of the floor, and move it in small circles, trying to keep your hips still and even.