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Leg strength: supercharge your Pilates with items from your own home

I’m not a big fan of fancy equipment when it comes to exercise. It can often be a barrier to getting started in the first place. And if you do buy something you have the hassle of storing it, maintaining it and fixing it when it breaks.

That’s why I like to keep equipment to a minimum in class. The beauty of mat Pilates is that you only need a mat, or even a thick towel, to get started. I’m also a firm believer that you can achieve a lot of gains through using just your own body weight.

Having said that, variety is important for keeping you motivated and recruiting new muscles. You might be a fan of routine, but for gains you need to mix things up.

If you’re exercising at home there are lots of everyday items you can temporarily repurpose as pieces of exercise equipment to give some variety to your workout. This means you don’t need to invest in anything new.

At the end of this blog I have included three exercises that will strengthen the legs, specifically the inner thighs, using items from your own home.

The importance of strong inner thighs

The inner thigh muscles (adductors) attach to the pelvis and are made up of five different muscles: the pectineus, gracilis, adductor longus, adductor brevis and adductor magnus. They help to support your pelvis. If your outer thighs (abductors) are strong and your inner thighs are weak, then you will have poor side-to-side stabilisation of the pelvis. This can lead to problems in the rest of the body, especially the lower back.

Benefits of strong inner thighs:

  • Increased pelvic support
  • Better hip flexion and extension (lifting your hip and knee towards your torso and away again)
  • Improved stability for your knees, hips, and lower back
  • Better balance (weak inner thighs can often lead to poor core control)

1. Heel raises with a tennis ball

Preparation

Place a tennis ball (or similar) between your ankles, just below the bony bump. Relax your feet into your mat, pointing your toes straight out in front of you. Lengthen your spine. Relax the tops of your shoulders away from the earlobes. Place your arms by your sides with your palms touching the outside of your thighs. Your chin should be level. Lengthen out through the top of your head. Inhale to prepare.

Movement

  1. Exhale as you lift the heels pushing through your big toes. At the same time gently squeeze the tennis ball with your ankles to keep it in place whilst maintaining the alignment of your legs.
  2. Inhale to lower.
  3. Repeat 5-10 times.

2. Bridge with a pillow

Preparation

Lie on your mat with your knees bent. Place a pillow between your knees. Your feet and knees should be hip distance apart (fold the pillow in half if you need to). Lengthen your spine. Relax the tops of your shoulders away from the earlobes. Place your arms by your sides with your palms touching the mat. Your chin should be level. Lengthen out through the top of your head. Inhale to prepare.

Movement

  1. Exhale as you peel the spine away from your mat one vertebra at a time. Lift up until your knees, pelvis and shoulders come into alignment. Keep the pelvis level through the whole movement.
  2. Inhale.
  3. Exhale as you gently squeeze the pillow, feeling the inner thighs contract.
  4. Inhale and release the pillow squeeze.
  5. Exhale as your lower down to your mat.
  6. Inhale.
  7. Repeat 5-10 times.

Modification

You can perform this exercise without lifting and lowering the spine. After your preparation follow steps 3, 4 and 7.

3. Hundred with a pillow

Preparation

Lie on your mat with your knees bent. Place a pillow between your knees. Your feet and knees should be hip distance apart (fold the pillow in half if you need to). Lengthen your spine. Relax the tops of your shoulders away from the earlobes. Place your arms by your sides with your palms touching the mat. Your chin should be level. Lengthen out through the top of your head.

Inhale. Exhale as you tuck your tailbone under so that the lower back touches your mat. Inhale. Exhale and lift up both feet into tabletop position. Your shins should be parallel with the celling of the room and your knees hip distance apart.

Movement

  1. Inhale for a count of 5 (no pillow squeezing).
  2. Exhale for a count of 5 as you gently squeeze the pillow, feeling the inner thighs contract.
  3. Repeat 5-10 times.

Modification

You can squeeze the pillow when you inhale and exhale. Have a try and see which version you prefer.

Breathing

Use Pilates breathing when you perform the exercises above. As you inhale breathe through the nose and down into the lungs, expanding the ribs cage laterally. As you exhale bring the belly button to the spine and contract the pelvic floor muscles at the same time.