April exercise of the month: 1 leg circle
Pilates is full of exercises that work the abdominal and back muscles while stretching the legs, and the Pilates exercise called the “1 Leg Circle” is one of them. It is a wonderful exercise, usually done during the first half of the class, to engage the abdominals while keeping a neutral position in the pelvis, and stretch the hamstrings and hip flexors. Read on to find out more about this exercise.
Why do the 1 leg circle?
The 1 Leg Circle is mainly a hip mobility exercise, where we practice moving the leg in multiple directions by circling it in the hip socket, which stretches and mobilises the deep muscles of the hip. In addition, the exercise provides a deep dynamic stretch of the hamstring muscles (the back of the thigh), which releases tension in the lower back and hip. The exercise also requires abdominal strength and activation of the deep spinal muscle called the multifidus, to maintain the pelvis stable as the leg rotates. And finally, the exercise also requires activation of the muscles around the shoulder blades, to maintain them flat on the mat and hold the ribcage stable. To conclude: need I say more? The 1 Leg Circle is fantastic exercise and this is the reason why I teach it in most of my classes.
How to do a 1 Leg Circle
To do a 1 Leg Circle you need to
1) first lie down on your back with both legs bent and your pelvis in neutral – i.e your lower back is away from the mat and your pelvis is not tilted backwards.
2) Then bring one leg up towards the ceiling, keeping it bent, or stretching it completely if you can.
3) If you can, and here please make sure you hold your neutral position, then stretch the leg that is not up in the air as well, and let it rest on the mat. You are ready to start:
4) rotate the leg that’s up in the air slowly first over your body and then out to the side, drawing 5-10 circles with your foot. The movement should be controlled, you should keep you pelvis neutral and stable – no rocking in the hips!
5) And then rotate the leg the other way, drawing 5-10 circles in the other direction.
6) When you are ready to stop, bend the leg that’s up in the air, let if rest on the floor and switch leg!
Why use bands and balls?
If you have been coming to my classes then you will have noticed that I often ask you to use a band or a ball during the exercise. I use the band when I want this exercise to be one of the lighter, easier exercises in my sequence; and to emphasise the feeling of mobility and freedom in the hip socket this exercise provides. Because it takes some of the weight of the leg, the band makes it easier to relax the muscles of the hip and allows us to focus on the stretching and mobility aspect of the exercise rather than the contracting and strengthening.
I sometimes ask my clients to hold a ball between their hands, with their arms straight in front of them, towards the ceiling during this exercise. This is to increase the challenge for the abdominals and back muscles, that have to work harder to stabilise the pelvis, shoulder blades and ribcage.
And in April, maybe try and pay more attention to how you do this exercise and ask yourself: how is my pelvis? Is it rocking or is it stable? Are my shoulder blades and ribcage stable and relaxed?
And of course… have fun doing the 1 Leg Circle!