DIGGING DEEPER - Get to Know Your Pilates Exercises: Side Kick Series

Side Kick Series

By Amanda Turner

We are at the beginning of holiday season and I wanted to review an exercise that gives you a lot of payoff for your effort - Side Kick Series. Your Side Kick Series is an intermediate level exercise, but has progressions that can make them quite advanced. I love this series because it’s the foundation for many exercises to come and challenges your balance without risk of injury - and no, I haven’t seen anyone fall off the Cadillac while performing the kicks (knock on wood ;)).
Set Up:
Lie on one side and stack your shoulders and hips against the back edge of the Mat. Hold the base of your skull with the palm of your hand of the bottom arm and slide your toes forward so that they’re hanging off the edge of your Mat or on the Shoulder Blocks if you are on a Wall Unit. You should be in a “lazy” L shape. Note: if you have shoulder issues, you may extend the bottom arm out from the shoulder and rest your head on a small pillow, keeping your neck in line with the rest of your spine. Press the top arm into the Mat, right by your belly button. This action will remind you to scoop as well as give you a little bit of extra stability. If you're ready for a challenge and to advance your kicks, bring the top arm behind your head, hand over hand.  
Let’s Begin!
The first exercise in the Side Kick Series is Forward and Back. Hold your top leg hip height. Kick forward and then kick an extra inch forward (a pulse) and then without letting the leg lower or lift - keeping it hip height - kick back and then kick an extra inch back (a pulse). You’ll repeat this 8-10 times. The trick here is to not let your body rock forward and back, you’ll need to use your powerhouse! This most likely means that your kicks will be smaller than you might like and that you’ll need to engage your muscles instead of using momentum. I also like to think about reaching long through my top leg, making it feel like it’s longer than the bottom leg and reaching out through the crown of my head. Make sure you keep your eyes straight ahead; I know it’s fun, and hypnotizing to watch your leg :). 
The second exercise in this series is Side Up and Down. Starting heel to heel, reaching the top leg longer than your bottom, kick your leg up to the ceiling with a pointed foot and press it back down with a flex. Repeat 4-5x and then reverse, flex kick up and, on the way back down, point. Make sure you squeeze the heels together between each rep to really feel the glutes and inner thighs. Want to feel your glutes really work?? Turn the working leg out EVEN more at the top of your kick and keep it as you lower the leg down, working the external rotation of the leg. You will complete both for a total of 8-10 reps. Again, make sure the hips don’t rock back as you kick up and forward as you return the leg down. Focus on form, not speed, and engaging the scoop.
We always do the two exercises listed above. Once those have been mastered, we begin to add in variations. 

~ Little Circles - 8 in each direction
~Bottom Leg Lifts - 8-10 reps
~Bottom Leg Circles - 8-10 in each direction
~Both Legs lower and Lift - 3-4 reps
~Grand Rond De Jambe - 3-4 reps in each direction
~Bicycle - 3-4 reps in each direction
~ Hot Potato
~ Walks - 8-10 big scissors, 16-20 small scissors 
Pick two to add on.
Before you begin the other side, do the Grasshopper transition: lie on your stomach, hand over hand, forehead on your hands. Keeping your legs straight, lift your legs and beat your heels 10x. Roll over and begin the other side.  

What lets me know you're ready to add side kicks to your repertoire:
Single Leg Stretch and Single Straight Leg Stretch are strong. The powerhouse is stable and the limbs are controlled.
Saw - The hips and legs are stable as you twist and round forward. The hip doesn’t lift off the Mat and the pelvis doesn’t roll right or left.

Leg Circles/Frog - strong, controlled, and smooth circles with a stable, anchored pelvis. 
Short Box Series - Your black strap doesn’t make noise, demonstrating a reach of the leg and access of the glutes. Your hips stay anchored to the box as you move to the series showing stability in the pelvis.

Where do you go from here? The Side Kick Series prepares you for more advanced, side-oriented exercises, such as Side Kicks Kneeling, Mermaid, Side Bend, Twist I, Twist II, and Star.

As always, if you have additional questions regarding this series, reach out to your teacher to see where you can improve. Enjoy kicking!