Developing a Workout Program for a Pilates Client with a High Hip and Short Leg

by | Jul 13, 2009 | Pilates, Pilates Exercises, Techniques & Teaching Tips | 0 comments

In my opinion, everyone who is teaching Pilates should have an opinion on this topic!  And each of our answers (and the exercises we choose to incorporate into a workout program) might be slightly different.  That’s ok, as long as the end result is positive for the client, and enough thought has gone into program development that the Pilates system is being utilized to it’s maximum potential to get great results!

The new teachers who have completed the Centerworks Pilates Teacher-Training Program, occasionally will ask questions, like the ones in this post, as they are faced with the challenge of creating quality Pilates programs.  I am always happy to share my perspective and insights with them, to help develop good teachers with great critical thinking skills.

They, in turn, have been kind enough to allow me to post some of their questions and my replies, so that other Pilates teachers and trainers  might benefit from hearing my thoughts on working with different clients and issues, and perhaps also practice developing  great critical thinking skills to create the best Pilates workout programs possible.

I hope you find my thoughts and information below helpful to continue developing your skills as a well-qualified Pilates professional!

Programming Questions from a Pilates Teacher:

“I have a new client who has a left hip that is higher and therefore a shorter leg so to speak.”

“Also, her left side does very little of the work and the right side compensates for everything.”

“What would you work with her on to help engage and strengthen that left side?”

“We moved from the Short Box to the Ladder Barrel and that seemed to help some.

We worked on some teaser on the chair and we did Going Up Front to engage both sides of the body and work on strengthening that left leg.  We worked on the Springboard with the roll down bar, two handed roll downs, one handed roll downs, side oblique’s…”

“She is strong and knows when that left side gives up…”

“Any advice would be mucho, mucho appreciated.”  ~ K

My Thoughts and Advice on Developing a Pilates Workout Program for this Client:

  1. If she is new to Pilates, I would be working on her basic reformer and mat skills! Just like anybody else. Just striving to work evenly on these exercises will begin to lengthen the short side and strengthen the weak one.
  2. From there I would probably do some of the side lying work over the spine corrector to stretch the torso & hips, then face down on the spine corrector to strengthen the legs with a longer waist.
  3. Leg springs on the Cadillac (lying on her back), and work into the side leg series in Mat.
  4. The leg series over the arc barrel would be a good choice too.
  5. The standing chair exercises are good – but I would choose to get some of the alignment issues addressed in a non-weight bearing position (with exercises on the Reformer & Cadillac) so she can find different muscles to use and support her body. In a seated & standing position right now, she will probably tend to initiate and work mostly with that dominant side. Plus it is more challenging to make corrections for alignment on the chair. Flat on her back – she’ll be able to notice if the weight is even on both hips & shoulders, and with the overhead poles on the Cadillac it will be easy to tell if the legs are uneven on leg springs.
  6. Before running – you might consider going to 2 springs and doing some one leg exercises. (1. on toe – push out and return, 2. push out and stay on a straight leg to lift and lower the heel, 3. Combo – push out, lift & lower the heel, then bend & return.) Start on the weaker leg & do weaker, stronger, weaker. (do this for 1, then, 2, then 3) over time work to doing 1,2,3 on one leg, then the other.
  7. Eve’s lunge might be a good exercise too.
  8. Fundamental hip hikes, circles, and figure 8’s.

You have so many choices!!!

But most important is to see her working evenly with good alignment on her Basic Reformer & Mat exercises. I would focus on this first – knowing that the changes you are looking for will begin to happen by cueing even hips, shoulders, arms, and legs.

You’re job to help change her body will be much easier with less effort – if you take this path to get there, and toss in only a few exercises that you feel are most relevant to the additional stretch, or strength she may need to even things up!

Remember, open the joint space 1st, then the muscles have a chance to fire to move the bones correctly! ~ Aliesa George

More Client Info from the Pilates Teacher:

“She is visiting from another city and has been working with a private trainer.  I left that part out.  Intermediate mat and reformer is her “level.”

“Except with the hip/left side issue, I see the need for more basic exercises like you suggest to get her stronger.”

“Thanks so much!” ~ K


More Thoughts and Advice on Helping Encourage an “Intermediate-level” student to Get Back to Basics:


So you might explain to her, that while she’s progressed with Pilates to an intermediate level and learned lots of exercises, the alignment issue and muscle imbalance have not been completely taken care of along the way.

IF that is something that she would like to focus on as a goal with her program, you would recommend going back to the basics to focus on tweaking her form and alignment to become more aware of how to be both longer and stronger.

Sometimes a shorter leg really is a shorter leg.  But if you can tell that the hip is hiked AND the leg is shorter – there is a good chance that by striving to work in balance and evening up the muscle use – the shorter leg may not really be short!

You also need to inquire as to her daily habits that may be continuing to aggravate the issues. Does she sit on one hip instead of two, does she sit with her legs crossed (and which one is usually on top?) When she stands is she always on one leg.  Becoming aware of these posture habits and consciously changing them – will only help reinforce what you’re doing with your Pilates workouts. ~ Aliesa George

Pilates Workout Plan Ideas from a Pilates Teacher

“Okay, so here is what I’ve come up with from your suggestions.  I only have one more time to work with her, so I want to leave her with some things to take home.” ~ K

30 minutes

  • Start with Fundamentals – hip hikes, figure 8
  • spine corrector – side, prone, legs over
  • legs in springs cadillac
  • one leg work on reformer
  • eve’s lunge

30 minutes

  • Basic mat work

“Thanks so much, Aliesa.  You ROCK as always!  I love helping people!” ~ K

Pilates Workout Plan Feedback from Aliesa George

Now…What you need to do is format these exercises into one well -planned workout – to be sure that you are working the Pilates system.  Spine flexion, extension, side bending rotation, leg work, arm work, strength, and flexibility should all be included in every Pilates workout.

If you do 30 minutes and just to the exercises you’ve listed in the order on your list – you’re doing:  Hips & Back, Hips & legs, Hips & legs, Hips & legs, Hips & legs,… (and this does not a well-balanced Pilates session make!)

Do you have time to think through a sequence & flow for incorporating your Reformer, Mat, Cadillac, & Barrel exercises into the best order that will hit all bases on target?

I’d love to see your plan! ~ Aliesa George

Pilates Workout Outline from a Pilates Teacher:

“This is my area of weakness.  But I’m thinking I’ll start her warming up on the spine corrector with paint a rainbow and roll backs.  Then move into legs – prone and side-lying.”

“Then I thought we’d do some fundamentals of the hip hikes, figure 8 and hip circles.”

“Then we’d start with some Basic mat exercises:

  • 100
  • roll up
  • one leg circles
  • rolling like a ball
  • series of five
  • spine stretch
  • open leg rocker
  • corkscrew
  • saw
  • swan
  • neck pull

then move over to the Cadillac for legs in the springs

then teaser and seal

then one leg work on the reformer and eve’s lunge

if we have time push ups.” ~ K

Pilates Workout Outline – Feedback from Aliesa

Nice Job!  I can see the thought process in the order you have selected.  You have learned well “grasshopper!”  I’m not sure that there is too much I would chose to do differently if these were the exercises I had selected for a session.

Can you see how you have now taken the exercises that you had on your list of 30 Minutes of these, and 30 Minutes of Matwork, and organized them to flow that is consistent with the Pilates system?

Here are my thoughts and suggestions for a few things you might consider doing with some of the exercises you have selected:

  • 100 – Use the leg springs on the Cadillac, so she has support and the spring to open to assist with lengthening both legs and keeping them active throughout the exercise.
  • One Leg Circle – Again, use 1 leg spring on the Cadillac to assist with the strength, and having something to press against to work the leg against the spring, and support the leg as it completes the circle.
  • Series of 5 – Place the legs on a Fit Ball, so the quads can release, backs of the legs work more, and she’ll have more support for lengthening the back, reaching through the legs, and keeping the pelvis even and supported against the mat.
  • Corkscrew – if you’re doing a small circle, go for it!  If you’re planning to lift the hips off the floor – You might break this down and do Knee Drops, and the first part of the Roll Over, then build into the more int.-adv. Corkscrew.
  • Leg Springs on the Cadillac – Since she’s an intermediate level student, I’m going to make the assumption that she is familiar with the leg spring series.  If the answer to that is YES, then you might consider adding the small arc barrel to this series so she can work into a larger range of motion against the spring.
  • After 1 – Leg Work on the Reformer be sure to do Running, so you can integrate what you’ve done back into a whole-body moving exercise.
  • Be sure to have time for Push-Ups! With this workout program, that is your main upper-body exercise for the day.  It is also an important centering exercise, since you would have just finished Eve’s Lunge (one leg at a time.)

Once you get to working with her, you can always make a choice to switch the order of things, or change an exercise based on what direction the session takes, or how the client feels for the day.

This looks great! I think you are well-prepared for your next session.

It’s fun to think through all of your Pilates exercise choices and be creative!  We have too many choices to ever be able to do everything we’d like to accomplish in a one-hour session.  And in my opinion, (especially for newer Pilates teachers) thinking through this on paper, before you ever get to your client’s training session, will have you well-prepared to provide excellent service and a Pilates workout program that will help your clients reach their wellness goals!

As long as you’ve taken the time to think through things and have exercises in your workout plan that move the spine in all directions, as well as exercises for the arms & legs, AND know the reason behind your exercise choices, you will hit your target and have a happy well-satisfied customer.

Thanks for letting me share this process of our discussion on my blog!  I hope that it will help other newer teachers as they are working through a similar process with developing their own client programs! ~ Aliesa George

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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