Pilates and Barrecore Instructor & Trainee Nutritionist
Bikini body season is nearly over but having flat abs and a strong core is an accessory that looks and feels good all year round!
Having trained as a dancer for many years and now working as a fitness instructor I love to play around with different abdominal exercises to work mine and my clients whole core!
Pilates exercises: Strengthening the core
We have many layers of abdominals:
✓ The rectus abdominals
✓ Internal and external obliques
✓ Our deepest layer the transverse abdominals.
The typical “crunch” abdominal exercise works mainly the rectus abdominals (the muscles that produce the six-pack look) and the obliques, however many people forget to work their transverse abdominals.
With strong transverse abdominals you gain amazing core strength and these muscles hold in the obliques and outer layer of abdominals, reducing bulk and creating a lovely toned flat stomach.
The following series of abdominal exercises are easy to do wherever you are and need no equipment – except for maybe a mat or towel to lie on to protect your spine. If you do this series of exercises 4-5 times a week you will start to feel and see a much stronger, flatter core within a few weeks!
Exercise #1: Single Leg Lowers
a) Start by lying on your back with your feet on the floor, making sure you have a neutral spine (small pocket of air between the floor and your lower back) place your hands down to the side of your body and keep your head and neck relaxed.
b) Pulling in your lower abdominals float one leg to a table top position and then the other. Both knees should be directly over your hips and toes should be in line with your knees.
c) Inhale and slowly lower one leg away from you as if you are dipping your toe in water hovering the toe just off the floor.
d) Exhale and engage through the lower core to draw the knee back in to the starting position.
e) Repeat alternating legs, ten times on each leg.
Modification: If this pinches in the lower back make the movement smaller only lowering the leg a few inches away.
Exercise #2: Double Leg Lowers
Set up is the same as single leg lowers, start with a neutral spine, engage the lower abdominals and float both legs to a tabletop position.
a) Keep the back in neutral and engage your lower abdominals, exhale and slowly lower both toes towards the floor.
b) Only taking the legs as low as you can without changing the shape of your spine on the floor, inhale then draw both knees back to tabletop position.
c) Repeat 10 times slowly concentrating on breathing with the movement.
Modification: As before in single leg lowers, take the movement smaller if this pinches in the lower back. Alternatively stick with single leg lowers until core strength is improved.
Exercise #3: Single Leg Extension
a) Start by laying on your back feet on the floor, hug your knees into your chest and curl your head neck and shoulders off the floor.
b) Inhale and on the exhale keep hold of one knee with your arms as you extend the other leg away from you as low as you can without touching the floor.
c) Inhale and on the exhale this time switch legs extending the other leg away.
d) Repeat 10 times.
Modification: To make this exercise slightly easier don’t take the extended leg as low to the floor.
Exercise 4: Split Legs
a) Start in the same position as the single leg extension exercise, knees hugged into your chest with your head neck and shoulders off the floor.
b) Inhale and on the exhale extend the left leg away from you a few inches off the floor, extend the right leg straight towards the ceiling. Holding behind the thigh or the calf depending on flexibility (never hold directly behind the knee).
c) Inhale and on the exhale this time while keeping both legs straight switch the legs so the right leg is now hovering off the floor and you are holding the left leg.
d) Repeat this 10 times focusing on the breath through the movement.
Modification: To make this slightly easier, if you have less flexibility or any back problems take the split in the legs smaller or stick with the single leg extension until flexibility and core strength improves.
AB CHALLENGE EXERCISE!
Once you feel comfortable with the above exercises, or feel strong in your core try the ab challenge exercise: the Full Extension.
a) Starting once again in the same position as the single leg extension exercise. Hug your knees into the chest and float your head neck and shoulders off the floor.
b) Inhale and on the exhale strongly engage through the core muscles as you extend both legs low away from you and at the same time extend the arms long behind your head.
c) Make sure you are keeping a neutral spine as you extend the arms and legs away so you aren’t pressing the spine into the floor or arching the lower spine away.
d) Inhale bringing knees and arms back together into the starting position and exhale repeating the extension.
Start by trying a few repetitions and working up to 10!
Take Home Message
I hope you enjoyed the first series of Pilates exercises – whether you’re a beginner or you’ve touched on Pilates before, give these exercises a go to see and feel the difference in your core!