A strong core is necessary to support your body through its daily movements and to help you excel at the other sports and activities you participate in. Of course, you also need strong legs to actually execute those activities! Thankfully, pilates works out your whole body, including your legs. In fact, there is a pilates exercise to work out each major muscle group in your legs.
Of course, every pilates exercise works out your whole body, there are no "spot specific" exercises. Every exercise requires all the muscles in your legs and body to work in unison. You can, however, get more out of certain movements if you focus your mind on using on specific muscles.
In this post, I'll focus on the back of the legs, and some interesting ways of using them to get more out of some exercises!
Some exercises use the hamstrings to stabilize the body, as in Shoulder Bridge on the mat and Bridge on the Chair.
There are much more interesting ways to focus on using the back of the legs in other exercises. There is a cool "heel to abdominal connection" that I love, that recruits the back of the legs to move the carriage on the reformer, and in turn brings the feeling of working the center. If you find yourself pulling the carriage in with your thighs during Elephant , think of this instead:
"Pull the heels into your center".
Focus on pushing the heels out, and pulling the heels back in, and the carriage will move freely.
Use the same visual for Knee Stretches . Instead of thrusting the thighs in and out, push and pull the heels to move the mat. Think of pulling the heels into your center, or into your sitz bones.
The hamstrings can be used in opposition to the in and up scoop of the abdominals, as in pressing the pedal down during Leg Pumps on the Chair. As you lift in and up with your mid line and abs, press the hamstrings away, into the chair, to move the pedal.
This same visual can be used during Leg Springs on the tower. Think of leg springs as a flipped over version of Leg Pumps on the Chair. The hamstrings and inner thighs work together to stretch the legs out away from the center.
If you have trouble "feeling" the back of your legs doing any work during leg springs, try this exercise:
-Lay on your back with arches of the feet on the push through bar. The bar should just hang, without a spring. Your knees are bent, because you're about to do a bridge.
-Lift your body into a bridge, using the stability and strength of your hamstrings to keep the bar perfectly still. Do this about 4 times.
-Finally, lift to a bridge again, and keep the torso lifted. While lifted, push the bar in and out, bending and extending the legs. You can get through the agony by focusing on pulling the heels into the sitz bones, again and again. At this point, you should have no trouble feeling your hamstrings, and recruiting them again later for Leg Springs :)