23 Pilates Moves That Slim Your Thighs

Your thighs get more action every day than you think. Here's how to tone them properly.

March 14, 2017
Single-leg circles
Beth Bischoff

Because of the way we move on a daily basis, there are thigh muscles that get more action than others. For example, walking, running, and going up and down stairs can all draw from many more muscles than they do.

However, most people predominantly use their quadriceps muscles because that's where it's easiest to default in your thinking.

More: The Dynamic Warmup You Should Do Before Every Workout

Of course, Pilates asks you to widen the scope of your thinking. Thus, when trying the following sequence, make sure to include all the muscles of the thigh—front, back, and sides—so you can work from a place of balance and efficiency.

Plank jacks
1/23 Beth Bischoff
Plank jacks

1. Stand tall, facing the mat at one end.

2. Inhale with control as you bring your arms up, lengthening your waist and squeezing the backs of the upper inner thighs together tightly.

3. Exhale slowly as you bring your head and arms forward, shoulder-width apart, and lower your hands to the
mat by rolling through your spine (not folding at your hips); the abs remain scooped.

4. Place your palms on the mat with your head on your knees (bend your knees only as needed).

5. Walk your hands forward in 3 1/2 giant straight-armed steps until you are in a rigid plank position from head to heels with your shoulders past your wrists and you are balanced on the tips of your toes.

6. Jump your legs open and closed six times, reinforcing your stable, shoulder-past-wrist position with each Jack.

7. From your plank position, lift from your powerhouse muscles and fold your chest toward your thighs, like an upside-down Teaser.

8. Walk your hands back to your feet with straight arms and roll up to standing.

Reps: Repeat the sequence three times, total, finding a controlled rhythm with impeccable form.

Jogging knees up/heels up
2/23 Beth Bischoff
Jogging knees up/heels up

The key to anything even remotely impactful on your joints is a strong set of feet and powerful powerhouse muscles to help with pushoff and lift as well as to control your landing.

1. Stand tall with your chest lifted and your elbows bent to your sides, fists clenched.

2. Begin jogging and lifting your knees up as high as possible into your belly (like an upright Single-Leg Stretch).

3. After 10 knee lifts, keep jogging but this time kick each heel up to your bottom for a total of 10 kicks (like an upright Single-Leg Kick).

4. The chest must stay lifted as high as possible throughout the entire jogging sequence, and the abs are pulled in and up.

More: A Killer Thigh Workout You Can Do at Home

Elephant planks
3/23 Beth Bischoff
Elephant planks

Rolling down into any Pilates-style pushup from above is akin to the Roll-Up, only vertical!

1. Stand tall at the front edge of the mat (facing away) and inhale with control as you bring your arms up, wrapping the thighs together tightly and drawing the abs in and up.

2. Exhale slowly and round forward with control, bringing your palms to the mat. Reach your forehead to your knees.

3. With stiff legs and feet, march your heels backward using just 3 1⁄2 strides to get you down to a rigid plank position ("steel from head to heels").

4. Hold your plank for a count of three, using the time to broaden the chest and press the mat away.

5. Lift from your powerhouse muscles, draw the ribs in, and fold your chest toward your thighs, like an upsidedown Teaser.

6. Lower your heels to the mat and, keeping the knees dead-straight and the feet flexed, walk your feet as far between your hands as possible, scooping your abs to make room for the length of your legs.

7. Roll up to the starting position.

Reps: You get five repetitions to appreciate how hard an elephant works in its abs to manage those stiff legs. 

More: 20 Plank Variations For a Stronger Core

Mountain climbers
4/23 Beth Bischoff
Mountain climbers

1. Mountain climbers are like a sped-up version of the Knee-Ins. Take a strong plank position with your body and draw one knee forward.

2. Instead of holding your knee to your chest, keep your toes lightly on the floor and switch knees rapidly as if running, or climbing, in the horizontal plane.

3. Keep your ribs knit and stay light on your feet and hands.

Reps: Complete eight to ten sets of Mountain Climbers before resetting your heels together and cycling through your pushup ending (that is, folding your chest to your thighs and walking back to your feet to roll up and stand).

Squat thrusts
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Squat thrusts

1. Start by standing tall with your arms in the air.

2. Squat and place your palms on the mat in front of you, slightly wider than shoulder-width apart.

3. While holding your upper body in place, thrust your legs back and land on the balls of your feet in a rigid plank, your navel pulled firmly to your spine. (Do not let your hips drop.)

4. Keeping your upper body in place, using a deep scoop of your abs, jump your feet forward to the original squat position and rise up to standing.

Reps: Try six to ten controlled Squat-Thrusts, emphasizing the balance element midjump when stable arms and strong abs rule the roost.

Lowering down to the mat
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Lowering down to the mat

Warning: If you are suffering from a knee injury, this move is not for you.

1. Stand toward one end of the mat, facing away from the center.

2. Cross one ankle over the other and fold your arms, like a genie, in front of your shoulders.

3. Now switch ankles and switch your arm fold so you use your less comfortable pairing. (Hey, we're here to break habits!)

4. Exhale completely, emptying your lungs by drawing your ribs together, and then inhale slowly as you lower your bottom to the mat with control. As you lower down, your abs are pulling farther in and up in opposition to the mat.

More: How to Injury-Proof Your Knees

The hundred pilates
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The hundred

1. Lie flat with your legs squeezed together and long, strong arms by your sides.

2. Lift both legs a few inches off the mat, squeeze your buttocks, and scoop your abs.

3. Lift your head and look to your toes.

4. Raise your arms over your thighs and pump your arms up and down with energy.

5. Take a long, steady inhale for five pumps and a long, steady exhale for five pumps.

Reps: Complete two to five sets (one set is 10 pumps) and work up to 100 pumps.

Roll-up
8/23 Beth Bischoff
Roll-up

1. Lie flat with your legs squeezed together, your feet flexed at the ankles, and your arms reaching back close to your ears.

2. Inhale with control as you bring your arms forward, shoulder-width apart, and plant the backs of your shoulders on the mat. the back is flat.

3. Continue inhaling as you lift your head through your arms and begin rolling up and forward, one vertebra at a time.

4. Exhale with control as you continue forward, reaching your arms across the room and trying to touch your forehead to your knees.

5. Reverse the movements as you inhale with control back to position A.

Reps: Complete three to five roll-ups. 

More: 5 Ab Toning Moves That Aren't Crunches

Single-leg circles
9/23 Beth Bischoff
Single-leg circles

1. Lie flat with your legs squeezed together and long, sturdy arms by your sides. (The backs of your shoulders are anchored to the mat.)

2. Stretch one leg up to the ceiling as straight and as close to perpendicular as possible.

3. Draw circles in the air with your leg, beginning across your body, then down toward the ankle, out, around, and back up. Keep your movements controlled.

Reps: Complete five circles in each direction and then switch legs. 

More: The Lower Body Workout That'll Change The Way You Look at 'Leg Day'

Shoulder bridge
10/23 Beth Bischoff
Shoulder bridge

1. Lie back with your knees bent and your feet flat on the floor and long, strong arms by your sides.

2. Roll your pelvis up off the mat and position your hands under your pelvis with the fingers facing away from one another.

3. Inhale with control as you straighten and lift your right leg to a right angle with the body.

4. Exhale with control as you reach your right leg away from you, lifting your chest back in opposition and levering the weight of your hips up off of your hands.

Reps: Repeat three times with each leg, increasing the lift of the hips with each levered movement of the thigh. 

More: A Simple Workout Plan to Strengthen Your Core

Spine twist
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Spine twist

1. Sit tall with your legs straight out on the mat at a 90-degree angle to your body and squeezing together tightly.

2. Lift in your waist and open your arms straight out to your sides at shoulder-height; "crack a walnut" between your shoulders blades.

3. Exhale slowly as you rotate your torso to the right, as far as you can without allowing the heels to separate or the hips to shift.

4. From your farthest point of twist-i-tude, you now have two more chances to twist further, deepening your exhalation and trying to touch your chin to your right shoulder.

5. Keep your arms pressing back and the blades stable on your back.

6. Imagine you have tightened the coils of a spring and as you allow your inhale to happen, simply follow the uncoiling in your spine to return your torso to center.

7. Repeat on the other side, working to stay long in your spine and lifted out through the crown of your head.

Reps: You get two or three chances to twist on each side, progressively deepening your exhalations (and therefore your inhalations) with each go.

More: The 15-Minute Core Workout That'll Fire Up Your Abs

Side kicks single leg lifts
12/23 Beth Bischoff
Side kicks: single leg lifts

1. With your body in a straight line from the crown of your head through the spine, hips, and heels, lay your head down on your arm—or a small pillow—and stretch your body in opposition from fingertips to toe tips.

2. Cross your top foot in front of your bottom thigh or knee with your toes pointed toward the bottom foot.

3. Inhale with control as you lift your bottom leg off of the mat, exhale slowly as you lower it.

Reps: Lift and lower six times, lengthening the underside of your body more and more with each movement.

Rolling like a cannonball
13/23 Beth Bischoff
Rolling like a cannonball

1. Sit on the mat with your knees bent to your chest and your hands wrapped tightly around the fronts of your ankles.

2. Tuck your head down between your knees and pull your abs in and up away from the thighs.

3. Roll onto your upper back (never allowing the weight of your body to rest on your cervical vertebrae) and roll back up to balance on your tail—but this time, whenever you roll forward, press your knees and feet tightly together, release your hands, and jump up into the air.

4. Land softly and reverse the movements back to the mat.

Reps: Roll back and cannonball up four to six times, finding full expansion in your cannon blast and full contraction in your ball.

More: 5 Yoga Moves to Improve Digestion

Double straight-leg stretch prep
14/23 Beth Bischoff
Double straight-leg stretch prep

1. Lie on your back with your head lifted and the ribs drawn in.

2. Create a "wedge" under your pelvis for stability (see detail).

3. Exhale slowly as you simultaneously stretch your legs away and pull the abs in and up to create oppositional pull.

4. Lower your legs as far as possible while keeping the lower back firmly connected to the mat.

5. Inhale with control as you bring your legs back to a 90-degree angle, making sure they remain resolutely straight.

Reps: Repeat six times, deepening your bottom ribs and using each stretch as an opportunity to further lengthen your waist. See how much of your upper body you can keep pinned to the mat as you go.

Single-leg kicks
15/23 Beth Bischoff
Single-leg kicks

1. Lie facedown with your upper body propped up on your elbows and with tight fists.

2. Your arms are shoulder-width apart and your elbows are aligned directly under, or slightly forward of, the shoulders.

3. Your chest is lifted high, the pubic bone is anchored to the mat, and the inner thighs are pressed tightly together as if they were one.

4. Maintaining this position, lift both knees 2 inches up off the mat and alternately kick your bottom with your heels.

5. Switch legs, repeatedly sustaining the stretch of abs up through the chest and out the chin.

Reps: Complete six sets of kicks with the goal of incrementally increasing the front-of-body stretch from the tops of the toes to the hips and from the front of the pelvis through the crown of the head.

More: 5 Yoga Poses to Cure Your Hangover

Bicycle
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Bicycle

1. From the lifted position of the Scissors, balanced evenly on the backs of your shoulders, inhale with control as you reach your left leg forward on a high diagonal and your right leg back in opposition.

2. Stabilizing your left thigh, bend your left knee and exhale with control as you try to kick your bottom with your heel (like the Single-Leg Kick).

3. Inhale slowly as you draw your bent knee toward you and then straighten it back on a high diagonal overhead as you simultaneously reach your right leg forward and repeat the sequence.

Reps: Bicycle six times, maintaining the lightness in your hips (do not allow the weight of your body to fall into your wrists) and trying with each opportunity to get your heel to your bottom.

More: 3 Stretches That Un-Slouch Your Back—All You Need Is A Doorway

Hip twist
17/23 Beth Bischoff
Hip twist

1. Sit tall with straight legs and squeeze them together tightly.

2. Lift in your waist and place your hands, palms down, on the mat behind you for light support. Chest wide.

3. Inhale with control as you bring your legs toward your head, without changing form.

4. Without moving anything above your waist, inhale slowly, swinging your legs to the right.

5. Continue the swing down toward the mat.

6. Exhale slowly as you swing your legs to the left and back to center.

Reps: Complete three sets (right and left) of circles bringing the legs closer and closer to your head with each circle.

Leg pull front
18/23 Beth Bischoff
Leg pull front

1. Stretch out into a plank position with your navel buttoned to your spine and a tight seat.

2. Without allowing your hips to move, kick one leg up off the mat with a pulse at the top (like a double beat).

3. Replace the foot on the mat and repeat with your other leg.

Reps: Complete two sets of kicks with the pulsing action, working to stabilize your pelvis more with each kick.

More: 5 Questions That'll Help You Find the Best Workout for You

Leg pull
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Leg pull

1. Sit tall with straight legs extended and squeeze them together tightly. Your feet are pointed.

2. Place your hands, palms down, on the edges of the mat behind you, with fingers pointed inward.

3. Press into your hands and elevate your hips until your body is in a long diagonal line from head to heels.

4. Inhale slowly as you lift your right leg up as high as it will go without shifting from side to side or dropping your bottom.

5. Exhale with control as you return your foot to the mat. Chest wide. Switch legs and repeat.

Reps: You get six chances to lift your legs and hips higher and higher with each round.

Kneeling side kicks
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Kneeling side kicks

These kicks are akin to the Leg Pull Front and the Leg Pull, only you are kneeling on your side.

1. Kneel in the middle of the mat with a long waist.

2. Put your right hand, palm down, on the mat while extending your left leg out to the side in line with your hip.

3. The left hand is behind the head, the hip over the knee, and the shoulder over the wrist.

4. On a swift inhale, swing your right leg back powerfully without shifting your hips forward of your knee or disturbing your upper- body position.

5. Exhale forcibly as you kick your leg forward without shifting back in your hips or changing your chest and elbow.

Reps: Kick front and back six more times (eight kicks total) and then switch sides, using swinging back to open the front body, and all eight opportunities of kicking front to deepen your scoop.

More: A 30-Minute Total-Body Basic Workout to Get Your Heart Pumping

Single leg pushup
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Single leg pushup

1. Stand tall, facing the mat at one end.

2. Inhale with control as you bring your arms up and lift one firm leg backward, stretching the front of your body on that side.

3. Exhale slowly as you pivot in one piece around the head of your standing leg, bringing your arms and torso forward and your leg up simultaneously; the abs remain lifted in and up to control the movement.

4. Place your palms on the mat with your forehead on your knee and your back leg lifted as high as is healthy for your body.

5. Walk your hands forward to plank position with the hips square and back leg lifted (like the Leg Pull Front).

6. Perform one Pilates Pushup with the leg lifted and initiate your fold by lifting your leg even higher (as if it were being pulled up and backward) as you press your palms away in opposition.

7. Lower your standing heel and walk your hands (with straight arms) back to your feet in 3 1.2 giant steps.

8. Reverse the pivot to the mat and come back up to standing tall on both legs with your arms and waist lifted.

Reps: Complete one Single-Leg Pushup on each side, working for precision and balance with each opportunity.

Wall squats
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Wall squats

1. Open your feet hip-width apart and walk them forward to where, when your hips and thighs are at right angles, your knees will be over your ankles (shins perpendicular to the floor).

2. Inhale with control as you slide down the wall until your thighs are parallel to the floor. (If this is too great a strain in your knees, simply slide only halfway down to start and graduate each time you practice.)

3. Hold this position and hold your breath for a slow count of three.

4. Exhale steadily as you slide back up to the starting position.

5. Press your ribs deeply toward the wall and exhale completely, emptying all the air from your lungs.

Reps: Try five more squats, increasing the length of time you hold your breath by one count each time.

More: 10 Secrets to the Perfect Bodyweight Squat

Pelvic lifts
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Pelvic lifts: drive you up a wall

1. Lie on your back with the bare soles of your feet flat on the wall, knees hip-width, and long arms by your sides.

2. Your fingertips should just touch the base of the wall.

3. Walk your feet up the wall until your knees are three-quarters straight.

4. Opening your chest wide and pressing the backs of your arms firmly into the mat, curl your bottom and roll up until your shins are perpendicular to the wall and you are propped on your upper back.

5. Backs of arms pressing actively into mat/floor.

6. Exhale with control as you roll back down to the starting position, articulating your spine one vertebra at a time.

Reps: Drive up the wall five times, holding at the top for three counts each time.

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