8 Pilates-inspired moves for trimmer hips, thighs, and glutes, plus Pilates-perfect abs!
Practically everyone knows that Pilates can help you sculpt beautiful abs. But devotees of the ever more popular workout have a secret: It’s also a great way to get sleek thighs, a tight tush, and a totally toned lower body. You don’t have to squander your savings on expensive studio lessons to reap the benefits.
“You can get the same great leg and glute workout on your own as you would on fancy equipment like the Pilates Reformer by changing moves to a standing position and incorporating tools like weights and stability balls,” explains Michele S. Olson, PhD, a professor of exercise science at Auburn University in Montgomery, Alabama. “The added resistance helps target all the muscles of the lower body while strengthening your core and improving your balance.” Olson, who created the following workout (that’s also her modeling the moves!), recommends working up to two sets of 15 to 18 reps using a 9- to 12-pound body bar or barbell. Do these exercises three times a week for eight weeks and you’ll show off enviable legs and an amazing butt to go along with your firmer middle.
Solutions for Stubborn Trouble Zones
The Fix: Traveling squats with resistance band
“To tone your outer thighs, you need to move laterally,” says John Boyd, group fitness director at Chelsea Piers Sports Center in New York City.
- Stand with feet hip-width apart and a band tied around your ankles.
- Step out to left side as far as you can, working against the resistance of the band.
- Bring right foot to meet left, then lift left leg out to side as high as you can, keeping torso upright and toes pointed slightly downward.
- Do 12 to 15 reps per side.
Problem: Saggy Bottom
The Fix: Flutter kicks on the ball
“To lift and firm your butt, you need to work against gravity,” explains Boyd.
- Lie with abs on top of a stability ball, hands on floor under shoulders, legs extended and parallel to floor.
- Keep thighs rotated out slightly, heels pointing in.
- Alternate small flutter kicks with each leg, moving the entire leg from your glutes as you kick.
- Work up to 25 kicks per leg.
Problem: Thick Calves
The Fix: Standing calf raises
“You don’t need more than your own body weight to gain definition in your calves,” says Boyd.
- Stand with balls of feet on a step.
- Lift and lower heels as far as comfortable.
- Do 20 to 25 reps.
Step 1: Modified Sissy Squat
Targets: Quads, Hips, Glutes
- Kneel on floor, sitting back on heels with knees slightly apart, holding bar across upper back with torso erect.
- Lift hips, squeezing glutes as you come up while tilting pelvis and rolling butt underneath hips.
- Hold for 1 count; lower and repeat.
Step 2: Flex and Extend
Targets: Hamstrings, Quads, Calves, Core
- Sit tall on a stability ball facing a wall with knees bent 90 degrees, toes apart and resting on bar placed against the wall, feet turned out toward corners with heels together.
- Extend arms out by thighs, palms facing behind you.
- Squeeze glutes and slowly roll away from the wall, straightening legs.
- Hold for 1 count, then slowly bend knees to roll back to start.
Step 3: Grasshopper on Ball
Targets: Outer Hip, Glutes, Hamstrings
- Lie on ball with palms on floor under shoulders, fingers pointing forward, legs extended and abs pulled in.
- Raise legs to hip level, rotating thighs so toes are pointing toward corners.
- Gaze forward while bending knees and bringing soles of feet together.
- Hold 1 count; straighten legs and lift them slightly higher than parallel to the floor with thighs rotated outward.
Step 4: Side-Kneeling Triangle Lift
Targets: Outer Thighs, Glutes
- Kneel with right knee on floor, right palm aligned under shoulder and thigh perpendicular to floor.
- Place left hand behind head, extending left leg out to side.
- Lift left leg to hip height, inner thigh facing floor, toes pointed, squeezing glutes and drawing in abs.
- Keeping left leg at hip height, continue to squeeze glutes as you pull leg 12 inches behind you (not shown).
- Lower left leg until toes are 3 to 4 inches off the floor.
- Lift leg back to starting position.
- Do all reps with left leg; repeat on opposite side.
Step 5: Thigh Rotator
Targets: Inner and Outer Thighs, Glutes
- Sit with right leg bent 90 degrees on floor in front of you, palms on floor to right of thigh, fingers pointing forward.
- Lift left leg so toes are pointing into the floor with heel lifted and aligned with ball of right foot, knee bent 90 degrees.
- Rotating thigh, place left knee onto floor behind right heel, pointing toes toward ceiling.
- Return to starting position by rotating thigh outward and repeat.
Step 6: Bridge and Scoop
Targets: Glutes, Hamstrings
- Lie faceup on floor with knees bent 90 degrees, feet on floor with bar resting across hips.
- Lift hips, squeezing glutes (not shown).
- Raise right foot several inches, pointing toes with knee bent.
- Slowly kick leg forward and up in an arc until leg is extended; bend knee, lower leg back to start, and repeat.
- Keep hips lifted, squeezing glutes throughout the exercise.
- Do all reps with right leg; lower hips, then repeat with opposite leg.
Step 7: Standing Leg Circles
Targets: Quads, Glutes, Inner and Outer Thighs
- Stand with feet hip-width apart, hands in front with palms in, holding bar in front of thighs.
- Lift left foot 6 to 8 inches off the floor, toes pointed, balancing bar across upper thigh.
- Slowly trace a 12-inch circle with left toes, moving clockwise.
- Keep your shoulders relaxed, contracting glutes and drawing abs in to help upper body stay stable.
- Do all reps with left foot; lower and repeat on opposite side.
Step 8: Toe-Calf Running
Targets: Calves, Core
- Sit tall on a stability ball with knees bent 90 degrees, hands on hips and balls of feet resting on a body bar placed on floor against a wall directly in front of you.
- Drawing abs in, lift and lower heels off the floor, alternating feet.
Our 3 Favorite Pilates Videos
Winsor Pilates Ball Workout
Mari Winsor, pioneer of Pilates for the masses, uses a stability ball as an added challenge for total-body toning (you’ll work hard to keep the ball under control). There are also plenty of soothing stretches between strength moves. ($19.95)
Denise Austin’s Hit the Spot Pilates
Zone in on key trouble areas with video vet Austin’s progressive Pilates workouts. Three ab-intensive segments build toward increasingly more challenging routines; the remaining four sequences hit the hips, thighs, and glutes. ($14.95)
The Quick & Dirty Guide to Pilates
Mix and match dozens of moves to create a Pilates workout that’s customized to your fitness level and target areas. Bonus: Click on the Angle Change button to get a different visual perspective on each featured exercise. ($26.98)
Q&A: “How can I get rid of cellulite on my legs and butt?”
In a word? Exercise. “Cellulite is basically the buildup of fat tissue stored unevenly, which produces its dimply appearance,” says exercise physiologist Michele S. Olson, PhD. To speed fat loss and minimize cellulite, follow a healthy diet and do at least four 45- to 60-minute aerobic workouts each week. In addition, says Olson, do strength moves like the ones here three times a week. “Resistance activities are key to maintaining a toned lower body — you’re sculpting lean muscle mass while burning excess fat.”