Number 4, in the Pilates Classic Mat Program, “Single Leg Circles” are sure to be a definite favorite or a definite non-favorite. Favored among those who are strong in their hip flexors, adductors and abductors and flexible in their hamstrings. The exercise seems easy; raise one leg and circle it toward the ceiling 5 times toward and away from the body and switch legs.
However, as we know, “simple” exercises are rarely simple at all. They become even less simple, when clients (the majority of us) sit at a desk, work at the computer, drive, etc. These common sitting positions effectively tighten the hip flexors (without strengthening them) and lengthen the hamstrings (but not to their full range of flexibility). The result, an imbalance in the leg between front and back.
It is often this imbalance in the legs, that causes the “Single Leg Circles” to be a dreaded beginning exercise. What to do? Of course we have all modified this by bending the knee or using a Theraband. Nothing wrong with these methods, however, attacking the problem from the vantage point of the reformer, is also a good option.
In my reformer classes, I often add “Single Leg Circles” on the reformer (using one leg in one strap at a time; other leg floats between footbar and footplate) as a great warm-up or cool-down. The exercise helps to rebalance the leg and provides additional support to the client who could not as easily perform the exercise on the mat. Unlike simply bending at the knee, the exercise done on the reformer gives the client the feeling of the leg fully extended, so that it may actually, later be realized on the mat.
It is also a good idea to stress that the exercise should primarily focus on “stabilizing” rather than “mobilizing.” Therefore, direct the mind to the pelvic floor muscles, transversus abdominus, obliques, shoulder girdle stabilizers and the multifidus rather than the “circle” the leg is creating itself. Because an extremity always moves better from a stable base, placing focus on the stability portion of the exercise can prove to be particularly rewarding for those clients battling common flexibility issues.