Classic Barre Single Move | Leg Lift

Classic Barre Single Move | Leg Lift

Recently one of my SBF Facebook Group members (aka, SBFF) asked me what a good barre exercise was that she would do with issues with knees. While this exercise might not be the best for everyone with knee issues, it’s certainly one we use in BarreAmped when clients can’t bend knees or put weight on legs like they would in a lunge or in Parallel Thigh Work. Also, Leg Lifts are powerful for toning quads and inner thighs as well as encouraging good posture with the intention to standing up straight, the external rotation of the arms, and the broadening of the chest. (Think the opposite of sitting hunched over at a computer).

I am going to admit that when I first did Leg Lifts in barre, I didn’t love them because I didn’t understand them. All I felt was gripping in my hip flexors (or the crease at the front of the hips) and my range of motion was so big and jerky that I didn’t maintain the engagement of the leg that was lifting. I am going to give you some great form tips to help you do this barre move well, with or without tentative knees.

Set Up for Leg Lift

Beach Barre-17 copy

Stand face out with arms externally rotated and chest broad.

Bring heel together and toes apart so that legs create a “V” position.

Take left leg straight out making sure it stays “turned out at the hip” and engage the quads to keep the leg straight.

Point the toes (or foot).

Stand tall through the crown of the head and don’t let the left hip drop or sag.


Exhale and raise the straight leg up.

Beach Barre-18 copy

(Here is the first place I lost this exercise in the beginning: I lifted my leg up so I could keep up with my ego and my knee bent because my hamstrings, or the back of my legs, were tight. This meant I did not feel my quads and inner thighs nearly as much because my knee was bent. So all I felt were my hip flexors or those muscles deep in the crease of the hip that flex the knee up to the chest. It’s okay to feel your hip flexors in this exercise within reason. You are doing an exercise that they have to work in. But you also don’t want to disengage the main thigh muscles (quads and inner thighs) by bending the knee. You want all the muscles to work in sync. How can you get this part done? You lower the leg until it is straight then lift up at that height. Over time, as you can flexibility and strength, you will see your height in the legs rising! I promise!).

Now that the leg is straight, we start to move. Because we aren’t afraid to move in BarreAmped. But we have to move with intention and purpose. In the beginning, we’d start out with tiny pulses up.

(Here is the second place I lost this exercise. I heard pulse and I decided to lift and lower my leg a few inches! A pulse is a micro-lift. Micro. It’s smaller than an inch. So is way smaller than a few inches. As I learned to control the “drop” in the leg lift, I started to feel total fatigue in the front of the thighs pretty fast).

You might be wondering how I am going to tie in why this exercise could be good for the knees with so much form talk and I will tell you why. Form is everything in barre and it’s also everything in exercise for me period. If we move well and with good form, we can limit the injuries that could occur and get more out of the exercises we do. The micro-moves of the beginning stages of my method, BarreAmped, and in this exercise, are designed to help you get strong at your joints, understand the exercises, and truly understand and develop good mind-body connection. Understanding this exercise could be particularly good for strengthening the muscles around the knee especially when we start adding in variations like bend presses, resistance (i.e., ankle weights or exercise bands), and even bigger ranges of motion. I know I just told you to keep the movement small and the leg straight, but once you have control of your body and good flexibility, we add in bigger moves and fun variations that require confidence, flexibility, and strength.

The Leg Lift from barre is generally a fantastic exercise for you to do to modify other Thigh Work exercises that might not be great for you if you have knee issues. (like V Position, Knee Dancing, or Lunges). But if you do it wrong, it’s probably going to seem like a nemesis. If you commit to having great form, you will be amazed at how powerful this move is for your legs!

Here is a routine you can do. Warm up first and then find a sturdy ledge, banister, barre, or countertop. (Most are at around three feet in height which is good for the average woman). Use your smartphone or stopwatch to keep time.

Pulse the left leg up for 30 seconds.

Flutter the leg for 30 seconds. (Flutter means to bend the knee so little that you barely see the move but this little firing will really engage the muscles around the knees.

Hold for 10 seconds.

Change sides. Repeat two more times through per side.

Next week I will be posting this full lower body barre workout here on the blog. But I really wanted you to haveĀ a great understanding of this move. Let me know if this helps you! And if you love the background of these photos, it’s Deer Lake State Park in Santa Rosa Beach, Florida. Stay tuned for details of our upcoming SBF Fall Retreat!

Xoxo S


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