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Corkscrew and Hip Circle Exercises

This is an excerpt from Pilates, Second Edition, by Rael Isacowitz.


Lateral flexion

Muscle Focus

  • Abdominal muscles


  • To strengthen the abdominal muscles
  • To develop pelvic - lumbar stabilization

This exercise builds on the principles of the Mat Work: Supine Spine Twist but incorporates a longer lever (the legs), intensifying the hip flexor work and the abdominal work, particularly that of the oblique abdominals. The pendulum motion and circling of the legs demand intricate control of the spine and coordination of the abdominal muscles and hip flexors, which act alternately as movers and stabilizers at various points in the exercise. Note that the pelvis rocks from side to side with the movement of the legs, with one side of the pelvis briefly lifting off the mat as the legs move to the opposite side. However, the pelvis anchors soon afterward, as the legs pass through the center of the arc to the other side. The lower back should imprint into the mat as the legs pass through the center and should leave the mat only momentarily, as the legs go out to the sides before returning to the center.


Visualize drawing a big circle on the ceiling as the legs arc around in one direction and then in the reverse.

  • Keep the legs and feet together and aligned throughout the exercise.
  • Keep the shoulder girdle, neck, and head still and relaxed.
  • Focus the movement in the waist region.
  • Bend the knees to reduce strain on the hip flexors and lower back (if necessary).

Exhale. Lie supine, with the arms in a T position or at the sides of the body, which tends to be a more challenging position as it offers less stability, and the legs at a 90-degree angle to the floor. Imprint the lower back into the mat.

Inhale. Shift the pelvis and both legs to one side, keeping the shoulders stable and relaxed. The top leg must reach out further to stay aligned with the lower leg.

Exhale. Circle the legs downward in an arc through the center and around to the opposite side. As the legs pass through the center, imprint the lower back into the mat. Once the legs reach the opposite side of the arc, bring them back to the start position. Alternate the direction. Use the starting point (12 o’clock) as the reference position that you always return to and pause in.


The pendulum is a corkscrew variation in which the legs move from side to side, rather than in circles. It is less demanding on the hip flexors and abdominals, but there is tremendous focus on the oblique abdominals.

Hip Circle Prep


Lateral flexion


Muscle Focus

  • Abdominal muscles


  • To strengthen the abdominal muscles with an emphasis on the oblique abdominals.
  • To promote pelvic - lumbar and shoulder stabilization
  • To develop trunk rotation

Certain elements of the Mat Work: Corkscrew apply to this exercise; however, the sitting V-position of the body requires a higher level of stabilization, strength, and control. The shoulder girdle must remain stable, and abdominal support must be maintained in order to avoid excessive stress on the lumbar spine as the legs reach out, circle down and around to the other side, and return to center.

The trunk rotation and the power it demands can enhance athletic performance, as well achieving a deeper understanding of the power encapsulated in the powerhouse.


The image of drawing a cone shape from the pelvis out through the feet, with the feet tracing the large part of the cone, describes the movement clearly. The bigger the cone, the more support and stabilization you need.

  • Avoid hyperextending the lumbar spine as the legs circle.
  • Keep the shoulder girdle stable, and the mid- and upper-back extensors engaged.
  • Move the pelvis from side to side as the legs draw a large circle.
  • Keep the legs together as they move with the pelvis as one unit.

Exhale. Sit in a V-position with the arms extended behind you and the hands resting on the floor. Face the fingers away from the body. The arms should support the body only lightly, like training wheels on a bicycle. Bend the knees toward the chest and straighten the legs at approximately a 60-degree angle to the floor, keeping them together.

Inhale. Shift the pelvis and the legs as a unit to one side.

Exhale. The legs circle down and around to the opposite side as the pelvis moves through the center to the opposite side. Return to the start position. Repeat the movement several times to achieve a sense of flow, then change the direction of the circle.


In the advanced version of this exercise, the arms move with the upper body as one unit in one direction, while the legs and pelvis move as one unit in the opposite direction. The arms reach forward together with the legs, then move to one side and circle up and around to the other side; the legs reach to the opposite side, and then circle down and around to meet the arms back in the center. The arms describe one cone and the legs another: one clockwise and the other counterclockwise. Reverse directions after 3-5 repetitions.

Learn more about Pilates, Second Edition.

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