Most of us love side-lying exercises. In pilates, we have a whole series of leg exercises called the Side-Kick Series. When we lay there on our side, with our heads resting on our arm, we almost think of it as a rest period during class! Just kick the leg back and forth, lift it up and down... But did you know that there some very common mistakes, as far as your form is concerned, during side-lying exercises? Here are some common mistakes that you may not even be aware of. Fixing these mistakes will help you feel your WHOLE body working out, and make the leg work even more quality.
The Side-Kick Position Anytime you're laying in a side position, you can either prop your head up on your hand, or rest your head down on your arm. Your top arm is bent, and the top hand is placed on the mat in front of your ribs. Your back is against the back side of your mat, and your feet are at the front side of your mat, so your legs are angled forward in front of your body. You can do all kinds of leg exercises in this position- kicks front and back, circles, leg lifts, etc. You can even add a Magic Circle between your ankles like I have in the photo. Now, onto your form...
Your Legs Sure, you feel your outer thigh burning when you lift your top leg up and down, but what about the bottom leg? It shouldn't just be hanging out, doing nothing. Of course, make sure your bottom leg is straight, not bent. Then, try externally rotating your bottom leg, so your pinky toe is tilted down into the mat and your heel is slightly lifted off the mat. Now your bottom leg works more like a kick-stand and will help your body balance when you try to make circles with the top leg, or kick the top leg forward and back.
With the top leg, lift it about two inches off of the bottom leg, and try to gently lengthen it a bit longer than the bottom leg. This little bit of extra length will actually bring your hips into alignment, or a neutral position, so the top hip is stacked right above the bottom hip. In fact, this bit of extra length should relieve some of the burning you tend to feel in the top leg during these side-lying leg exercises. Be sure to keep your waist lengthened and hips stacked during all leg exercises.
Your Feet Do you get foot cramps when trying to do leg work? Its probably because you're lifting, kicking, and circling from your FOOT, not your leg. Conduct all movements from the upper leg, or try imagining the inner thigh, moving your leg instead of making your little foot, or your toes, do all the work. Think, "neutral toes"!
Your Hips Once you lengthen the top leg a little longer than the bottom leg, your hips will align. Try to do all your leg work in this hip position. Its quite a challenge. Even when you lift your leg up, don't allow the top hip to tilt into your waist. If you see that your top hip does tilt in, shortening your waist, only lift your leg to the height that you can while maintaining length.
Your Abdominals As in every pilates exercise, draw your abdominals in! There is actually ab work during Side-Kick exercises. Anytime you have to kick your top leg back, or when you circle your top leg, your abs should draw in and stablize your torso, not allowing it to rock back and forth or move around.
You can use your abs to stabilize your body, and you can also use the lower leg, the "kick stand", to help!
Your Ribs Your ribs can work in a way similar to your abs. Keep the front ribs inside your body, don't allow them to fall forward or rock back and forth as you move your leg. Drawing the ribs and abs in will give you core work and help keep you stable.
Your Shoulders Your shoulders are going to want to do all kinds of things during side-kicks, in an effort to take some work out of your core. Make sure there is always space the size of an orange between your top shoulder and your ear. Try to keep your collar bones wide and open, north to south, and definitely don't let your top should roll forward. The less weight you put in your front hand on the mat, the more likely your shoulder is stable on your back. Keeping your top shoulder in place, on your back, away from your ear, will again bring more work into your core.
Your Head, Your Upper Back, and Your Gaze Its so tempting to look down at your legs, but if you do, your missing out on a whole lot of length in your upper back. Try to look straight ahead, and feel how just lifting your gaze will also lift and lengthen your upper back and your chest. Imagine your head stretching out and away from your body in one direction, and your legs stretching out and away in the other direction.
And, if you're tempted to prop yourself up like this lovely lady in the picture above, please don't. Your bottom shoulder will end up in your ear, your neck and waist will be crunched, and it just isn't pilates! But it is a funny picture that I couldn't resist using.
Even tweaking your form in just one of these ways should improve your side-kicks! Of course, ideally, you can do all of these things at once, work your legs, work your whole body, and BREATHE!