The double leg lift is a classic Pilates exercise. And like most (if not all) Pilates exercises, it can help you build massive abdominal strength, getting you closer and closer toward sculpting an enviable taught midsection.

But the double leg lift does more than tighten and define your abs — it teaches you valuable skills that transfer to other exercises and activities.

“The double leg lift is a way of teaching you how to control and differentiate movement between the legs and pelvis, which is a movement skill required for walking, deadlifting, etc.,” says Nikki Naab-Levy, B.S., a certified Pilates instructor and fitness educator in Tacoma, Wash.

By training your lower body to work independently of your pelvis, the double leg lift can also help you build pelvic stability, which can help you strengthen and protect your lower back.

Learn how to do the Pilates double leg lift correctly with these step-by-step instructions.

Double Leg Lift Exercise: Step-by-Step Instructions

  • Lie on your back and extend your legs up to the ceiling with your toes pointed and heels together. Place your hands behind your head and keep your elbows wide. Engage your abs to press your lower back into the floor. Lift your chest up to bring your shoulders off the floor.
  • Inhale and lower your legs down with control. Only lower your legs as far as you’re able to without letting your lower back lift off the floor, or your abdomen popping up.
  • Once you’ve reached your end range of motion, exhale and lift your legs back to starting position with control. Repeat for all reps in the set.
  • Throughout the whole move, keep your elbows wide and your lower back pressed into the floor. Avoid craning your neck; the curl of your upper body should come more from your ribs than from jutting the head forward.

Pilates Double Leg Lift Variations

To make it easier: Only lower one leg at a time, or keep one leg on the ground.

To make it harder: Extend your arms straight overhead, squeezing your ears with your arms.

What Muscles Do Double Leg Lifts Work?

Add this move to your routine and watch your strength soar.

1. Core muscles

Double leg lifts strengthen your entire core — from your superficial ab muscles (e.g., the rectus abdominis and obliques) to your deep abdominal muscle (known as the transverse abdominal muscle, or TVA) to your hip flexors (the muscles that bring your legs toward your torso).

2. Supporting cast

You’ll feel your inner thighs and glutes engage during this exercise.

The double leg lifts exercise even works the small stabilizing muscles in the fronts and sides of your neck known as your neck flexors. “Your neck muscles need to engage to hold up the weight of your head,” Naab-Levy says.

Example Graphic | Double Leg Lifts