Pilates Matwork Fitness Tips– Advanced One Leg Circle with a Twist

by | Feb 21, 2012 | Pilates, Pilates Exercises, Techniques & Teaching Tips | 2 comments

When doing the Intermediate/Advanced version of the One Leg Circle with a Twist in Pilates Matwork, there are some really important things to pay attention to for maximum benefits, support, and ease of movement to execute this exercise well.  Body awareness, and being able to quickly activate the muscles that twist & untwist the body are key in enjoying a free swinging leg, core strengthening, solid back support, and the added benefit of hip and back stretching that comes with the spiral twist of the pelvis.

There are two distinctly different versions of the Pilates Matwork Exercise – One Leg Circle for you to consider:

  1.  Basic/Intermediate – Keeping the back & pelvis still on the mat and circling the leg only.
  2. Intermediate/AdvancedAdding spine rotation as the leg crosses the body, (and still keeping the back & pelvis still when the leg circles away from the body.

So the questions to ask to determine the appropriate One Leg Circle exercise version for you are:

  1.  What is your level of experience with the Pilates Mat Exercises.
  2. Do you need to focus on Abdominal support & spine/pelvic stabilization? (Pick a Basic version – see post How to Hold the Hips Still On the One Leg Circle
  3. Are you ready to focus on lower back mobility & hip flexibility? (Pick the Int./Advanced version with a twist.)

In the article How to Hold the Hips Still On the One Leg Circle, the important concept of finding one side of the abdominals (Obliques) and the opposite side of the spine (Rotators) to work as a team in stabilizing the back for a free swinging leg was discussed.  Now that you’ve got that concept under your belt and have been practicing, you should notice that your leg is freer on your circle, and the body feels solid against the mat with no wiggles.  So it’s time to progress into a more challenging version of the One Leg Circle as Joseph Pilates intended it to be in his book Return to Life.  If you notice the picture in Return to Life, when the leg is across the body, one hip is lifted – twisting the spine, but when the leg opens, both hips are securely anchored on the mat.  This is the most fabulous exercise ever!

Spine rotation increases mobility for spine flexion, extension, and lateral bending.  Joseph Pilates purposefully put this passive spine twisting One Leg Circle exercise at the beginning of the Matwork series to stretch the lower back and activate the abdominals in preparation for Rolling Like a Ball. ( If you’re not ready yet to do this version, I recommend keeping both feet on the mat and doing some double knee drops side-to-side as a preparatory exercise for Rolling Like a Ball, to give your back a similar stretch/work experience in preparation for the rest of your Matwork.)

As a Pilates mat exercise that is traditionally at the beginning of a workout.  The One Leg Circle with Rotation of the Spine is a passive rotation exercise (the weight of the leg twists the hips and low back to stretch.)  And active un-twisting back to center(the Obliques in the front, and rotators of the spine on the opposite side in the back work as a team to un-twist the body back to square and even on the mat.)

We utilized this team concept for Obliques and Spine Rotators to provide stability for the hips, pelvis, and lower back during the Basic version of the Pilates One Leg Circle exercise.  Now this team is going to assist with the movement of the spiral twist of the pelvis, untwist, and hip stabilization as the leg moves away from center.  More to think about, pay attention to, and coordinate for successful flowing movement during the exercise.  Is your brain ready for the challenge?

How to execute the Intermediate/Advanced Version of One-Leg Circle with a Twist

Again with this more advanced version of the One Leg Circle exercise – focus on a D-shaped circle for the leg movement.

  • Inhale to take the right leg straight across the body, allowing the weight of the leg to twist the hips and spine to the left. (be sure that both arms & shoulders stay anchored to the mat.) The standing left  thigh will go with the pelvis on the twist to lay on the side of the foot along the mat-knee facing the side wall.)
  • Exhale and starting from the upper back on the left-Obliques on the right, untwist from the top to the bottom while the leg circles through the bottom of the D.  As the hips return to the mat, the standing leg goes with the rotation to have the knee to the ceiling & heel flexed, leg pressing down & out on the mat.
  • Continue the exhale and keep the Obliques on the standing leg side (left), and back rotators on the swinging leg side (right)active to keep the pelvis from rotating while circling the leg away from the body.
  • Inhale and lift the leg back up to the ceiling/starting position.

This whole process works in reverse as you change to circle the leg in the opposite direction. 

  • Hips stay still while the right leg opens away from the body. (Obliques on the left, Spine rotators in the back on right active to hold the pelvis still.) 
  • Hips and spine twist as the leg circles down & across the body.  Obliques on the left and spine rotators on the right assist along with the momentum of the swinging leg to twist and spiral.
  • Use Obliques(right)  & spine rotators (left) to actively untwist from the top to the bottom and return the leg to center.

Did you notice that the support & work alternates from one side of the body to the other throughout the exercise?

One Leg Circle with a Twist:  (Right Leg Up)

  • Cross & Twist – Front Abs on the left/back Rotators on the right.
  • Untwist – front Abs on the right/back Rotators on the left.
  • Open Right Leg away from Center –  Front Abs on the left/back Rotators on the right.

Completely coordinated, sequential movement with stabilization riding the breath and alternating the sides of the body that are working depending on where you are and what you’re doing.  And it all has to change quickly during the movement and the swing of the leg.  Lots to do and pay attention to!

Regardless of your level of expertise – I believe that it’s still good to practice both the basic and intermediate/advanced versions.  Maybe not in the same workout, but great  to alternate or occasionally go back to the basic version for some fine-tuning.  Anything we ask the body to do it should be able to accomplish and do well.  If you progress to this more advanced version, but lose all the stabilization that you had with the easier version….time to revisit and shore things up!

Listen to your body, pick the most appropriate version for you, and apply these Pilates technique tips to help you fine-tune your Pilates body.  Increase strength, mobility, and body awareness while maximizing the benefits of your workout.

Happy One-Leg Circling!

Aliesa George: Over the past three decades, Aliesa George has helped assist people with their personal health journeys by sharing, teaching, and developing Pilates, Foot Fitness, and other Mind-Body programs.


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