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Pilates teachers (and yoga teachers) let’s make the simple leg circle a more effective, more interesting, more creative exercise!

 
Can we do that? Leg circles are such a seemingly simple exercise, no? Stick your leg out and start making circles. Boom. Done.
 
And yet we can make it so much more interesting, depending on how we describe it, what options we give our students and how we define the WHY!
 
This week’s movement video was a 10 minute set of leg circles (supine with and without strap, side lying internally and externally rotated and quadruped).
 
My goal was to get through a variety of positions, gravitational loads and muscle groups while shifting and changing the way the abdominals work to provide stability. I wasn’t diving deep into somatics, I was actually counting reps. 😄 I hardly ever count reps! And I wanted a reasonably short video, not a half hour mini-class, so I didn’t have time for lots of cueing options.
 
I stuck with mostly basic anatomical descriptions (circle your leg in your hip socket), a couple of environmental cues (turn your leg in so your knee and toes point towards the floor) and a couple of images (turn your leg out, really spinning your leg like a barbershop pole). I gave a bunch of options and modifications as we went through and that was that.
 
But let’s look at a couple of deeper WHY’s that I could have used.
 
If you don’t love reading, you can go straight to the video tutorial for how I changed it up.
 
Otherwise you can read on below!
I’m really interested in how often we chunk our lumbar spines together with our hip joints. So often when we lift a leg, we blow past the boundary of isolated hip flexion and add a generous dose of lumbar flexion as well.
 
I could have made my WHY identifying the specific moment when leg movement in the hip joint becomes something else. Since it’s generally such an ingrained movement pattern that we don’t notice when it’s happening, I could really go for the external cues in the strap-supported supine leg circles. External cues help people’s brains to connect to what’s ACTUALLY happening, rather than what they think is happening through habit.
 
(Not sure exactly what external cues are? Grab my free guide to cueing!)
 
That might sound like this:
Feel the weight of your sacrum on the ground. 
Move back and forth until you’re aware of the feeling of your skin meeting your pants, and then how your pants meet the mat. 
 
Slooooowly lift your leg, using the strap to take the weight. Don’t worry about how high your leg goes. Put all your attention to feeling for how and when your sacrum moves. When is the moment your pants shift on the ground? When do you roll towards your waistband, even a little bit? Do your circles there, even if that means your leg is nowhere close to vertical. We’re adding variety to your movement vocabulary by circling in a place that isn’t your habit.
 
What if the WHY was to play with speed, momentum, control and the relationship with the abs in side lying circles? I could use lots of cues! Action, imagery and both internal and external focus cues, asking the clients to observe how their bodies respond to different ways of doing the same motion.
 
That could go something like this:
Start by just circling the way your brain wants you to go. Don’t worry about doing it “right”, just make circles. Notice how that feels and how your body responds.
 
Now go fast. Circle quickly and see what happens. What are your core, leg and hip muscles doing now. How much does your torso rock back and forth? Pay attention to the position of your bottom hip, shoulder and ribs on the floor. Are they staying still or shifting?
 
Now keep your torso totally still. Imagine your whole upper body encased in a supportive wrapping that keeps it heavy and still. Keep equal length between your ribs and hips on both sides. Now circle your leg as fast as you can WITHOUT letting that wrapping unroll, without letting yourself rock back and forth. Now what do your abs do? How much hip work are you getting?
 
Now slow it down. Imagine your leg weighs a thousand pounds and you’re drawing a circle on the wall. You have to reach your leg long to get to the wall and it’s so heavy! How does your torso move? Or not move? What happens when you add your imaginary wrapping back on? Does that change your stability? And how much hip work are you getting now? Is it the same or different as when you moved quickly?
 
Both these versions are way more somatic and experiential than what I made for the YouTube session. And you can see that I totally wouldn’t have met my goal of a 10 minute video! 
 
Cueing to those kinds of WHY’s can be more time consuming, but you could certainly pop a few of those cues in to make any class or private session a bit more nuanced.  
 
Watch your students. Some of them will really benefit from the external focus or environmental cues. The client who just keeps swinging their leg around because they really can’t “feel” what’s happening in their body may respond better to a goal of keeping their hip in exactly the same spot on the floor.
 
A student with joint hyper-laxity may find that a cue to fully wrap their core muscles around their torso like a mummy might find that they suddenly get way more hip work out of their side lying circles.
 
It’s all about your goal for the exercise and the specific needs of individual students. Having a wide range of WHY’s and the language to address them means you’ll have fun teaching, your students will be successful and you can teach the same exercise 15 different ways and make it fresh and interesting every time!
 
Now that you’ve read the cues, maybe check out the video version after all. It’s a bit different because I never do the same thing twice!
 
Play around with your cueing today and see what you think. If there’s a particular exercise that you want to break down, want more cues for, leave a comment and let me know!

Alison Crouch

I’m the owner of Boomerang Pilates and creator of the Move SMART program. I teach teachers how to incorporate sustainable movement and authentic teaching in their classes.

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