Tag Archives: hip and legs

Why turning out the legs builds core strength

Joseph Pilates in "Pilates Position" working on strong, balanced posture.

Pilates position, Pilates stance, Pilates “V”,  – all these refer to the positioning of the legs in Pilates exercise –  a 30 degree turnout of the legs from the hip socket with the heels pinched together and feet turned out – roughly 3-4 fingers apart.

Often student look down, turnout their feet, and move on without understanding why. The common assumption is that it’s a “dance thing”. And if only the feet are twisting at the ankle without incorporating the knees and hips, it could lead to knee and leg strain, tightness in the hips, and even low back and neck pain.

It is important to feel that the top of the leg – the femur bone – is rotating outward and stretching away from the trunk to create the turnout in the feet. No movement is forced in the knees or ankles. We extend out from the hip joints without gripping in the buttocks, but wrapping and using the muscles underneath the buttocks and at the top of the thighs.

But why?

This turnout position allows the pelvis to stay neutral, helping us engage and lengthen the “zipping up” sensation of the core muscles – from the pelvic floor through the deep belly and psoas, all the way up to the diaphram and neck muscles.

Remember, Pilates is not just abs, but requires control and understanding of all the muscles and how each affects the other to create overall balance and postural health.

Pilates V position is not so much an extreme ballet turnout, as it is more like a military stance – standing upright with an assertive and famous “chin up, chest out, shoulders back, stomach in”, keeping the heels together, toes apart, with weight balanced forward over the balls of the feet – stable and centered,  the body is standing active and ready for action.

A good time to practice your Pilates position is waiting in line at the grocery store, using the cart handle for balance. Draw your thigh bone outward, heels together and weight over the balls of the feet (but keep your heels on the ground). At the same time lift up through the crown of the head and draw your core in towards the spine (like you are putting on a pair of tight jeans). Your entire body should be in lengthening and working at the same time. Now try to take your hands off the cart handle…just don’t fall into the candy and magazine racks.

Hip and Leg Strain in Pilates


So you’ve been doing pilates tapes and/or classes for awhile and are at a point where all you feel in many of the exercises are the legs and hips. You might get popping or snapping in the hips. Your lower back might be straining too. Why?

One reason might be that in a traditional pilates mat sequence the beginning exercises are mostly lying supine (on your back) with your legs in the air.

Most people start pilates because they have a weak set of core muscles they want to strengthen.

It is imperative to understand the core is NOT the belly. You cannot look down right now and see your core.

Yes. Your abdominals are part of the muscles that make up your body’s core, but so are many muscles of the torso, including overstretched back muscles, the shoulder stabilizing muscles, and even the back of the thighs, just below the buttocks. The core is more like a long corset wrapped around your entire midsection. Some of these muscles are over-developed, some are under-utilized. Pilates helps find core balance.

Your Core includes many muscles

There is no one perfect exercise that strengthens and stretches all of the core muscles at once.  We need to mix it up. The positioning should be moved around also. If you do all of your core exercises lying on the back with the legs extended upward, ultimately, your core will not be getting stronger. Your hip flexors, the muscles that lift the legs, will, however. If you have strained or tensed hip flexors and quads ( the front of the thighs), they will take over the movement and not allow your core to perform correctly. (The same is true for tense shoulders and neck muscles as well.) Tight hip flexors and gripping in the buttocks go hand in hand…as it were…and overtime can actually compress the low back vertebre and cause low back pain.

Here are a few ideas for finding your own core balance and getting out of leg straining:

#1. If you are feeling leg, hip and back tension in the first part of the traditional pilates mat exercises. SKIP THOSE EXERCISES. Not forever. Just for a few weeks. Focus on some of the countless other exercises that work your core more effectively for you.

Some alternative exercises for overall core strength can be done in their place, such as; forearm planks on a fit ball, careful back extensions, and roll downs against the wall.

#2. If you do the exercises that sometimes strain your legs and hips, keep to the modified versions with the knees bent. Focus on release of the buttocks and thigh tension. (tense and release those muscles a couple of times and they will relax much more easily).

#3. As your center becomes stronger, learn to lengthen and stretch the legs away from your core in the movements. This will release tension as well.

#4. When the legs are outstretched, work on turning out the thighs. This will help you engage the back of the thighs, which help you contract the pelvic floor, which helps you get out of the hip flexor tension…see how it’s a chain reaction!

#5. If you feel popping in the hip socket on some of these back lying exercises, you have 2 options for getting it to stop. (1) Make the movements much smaller and focus on length in the leg rather than width of movement. (2) Squeeze the muscles around the hip to help hold things in place. The hip snapping often occurs in active women who have hip flexor imbalances…too much stretch on one end, too much tension in the other. This can get better if you work bit by bit.

Your ultimate goal is to create tension free, balanced movement. There should be no strain. It take a lot of practice, patience and concentration to move with ease in most areas of life. Slow down, relax and practice. Good luck!

Alternating arm and leg plank

Alternating arm and leg plank