As a certified Pilates instructor, I always recommend that my clients work their core with Pilates exercises. In Pilates, the focus is on precision and smaller movements that challenge the core to stay stable. The subtle movements with our arms and legs challenge the core and to force it to engage to keep us from rolling from side to side or using our backs to complete exercises. I am a big fan of abdominal exercises done in this way, especially for beginners who need to train their core to engage.
As a young child, I suffered from severe back pain. For 10 years, I tried massages, stretching and other fitness modalities. It wasn’t until I discovered Pilates that I was finally able to teach my body to turn on my core and learned to strengthen my core properly, alleviating my chronic back pain.
Here are my favorite Pilates exercises that you can do as a routine for a total core and ab workout. I do many of these exercises every day to keep my core tight and trained to engage properly in my daily movements once I get off of the mat, too!
Pilates pelvic tilt
Lying on your back on a mat, bend your knees and place your feet flat on the ground. Make sure your feet are open as wide as your hips. Reach your arms down toward your feet. Take a deep breath. As your stomach rises, feel your low back arch slightly off of the ground. Then exhale as you tilt your pelvis forward and press your low back into the ground. Pull your navel in toward your spine as if you’re zipping into a tight pair of pants. Release and repeat 10 times.
Pilates ab crunch
Come into the pelvic tilt position from the exercise above. From this tilted position with your low back pressed into the ground, place your hands behind your head. Exhale as you curl up with your head, neck and chest. Pretend that you’re holding an egg in between your chin and your chest that you don’t want to crack. Then gently pulse upwards 10 times and rest.
Lie on your back with knees bent and feet flat on the ground. Take a deep breath in, then exhale as you draw your naval in toward your spine, and slowly bring both knees up to a table-top position. Draw your lower ribs down toward your hips and tighten your core as if you were wearing a corset. From here, lower the right leg down to tap the toe on the ground while maintaining the engagement of the core. There should be no movement above the hips, and the back should stay gently pressing into the ground while the abs are pulling in tightly. Exhale as you lower the leg down, and inhale to bring it back up. Repeat on the left leg. Continue alternating, performing 20 taps total.
Double toe tap
Get into the same position you did for toe taps, but this time hug your knees together so that your inner thighs are engaged. Squeeze your legs together and engage your abs. Lower your toes toward the ground, keeping the knees bent. Then come back to center. Repeat 10 times.
To begin, lie on your back with your head resting on the floor. Keep your arms straight at your sides with your palms on the floor and bend your knees so your heels are under your knees. Slowly raise your hips in the direction of the ceiling by curling your low back, middle back, and then upper back off the ground. Once you’re up in the air, take a deep breathe in. Then, exhale as you slowly roll down one vertebra at a time. Lower your hips and repeat the exercise 10 times.
Lie on your back with your knees bent and your feet flat on the floor. Lift your legs up and bring your heels together with your toes apart and your knees as wide as your shoulders. Exhale as you press the legs out at about a 45-degree angle, bringing your inner thighs together. Inhale to come back to center. Repeat 10 times.
Lying on the ground, reach your legs up to a 45-degree angle (or closer to 90 degrees if your low back is sensitive). Curl up using your abs and lift your head, neck and chest off of the ground. Reach your arms along your sides with the palms facing down. Inhale for five counts as you pump your arms up and down, and then exhale for five counts as you keep pumping your arms. Repeat for a total of 100 pumps!
Half roll down
Seated on the ground, bend your knees. (For a more advanced exercise, straighten your legs.) Then, reach your arms out in front of you with the shoulders relaxed. Pull the naval in toward the spine and slowly roll down half way to the floor. Reach the arms up overhead, and then bring the arms back to center and slowly roll back up to the starting position. Repeat this ab exercise 10 times.
Single leg straight stretch
Lying on the ground, reach your legs straight up toward the sky. Lower one leg to 45 degrees and bring the other leg to 90 degrees. Place your hands behind the thigh or calf of the 90-degree leg as you curl up off of the ground with your head, neck and upper back. Then switch legs, lowering the 90-degree leg and bringing the 45-degree leg closer to you, holding onto the back of that leg. Repeat 10 times.