pilates

Strengthening your core is one of the best things you can do for your overall fitness. A strong core—which includes your abs, obliques, and lower back muscles—helps keep your body balanced and stable, lets you maintain proper posture and exercise form, keeps your spine stable and safe, and overall, helps you move in a more controlled and efficient way. There are tons of ways to work your core but adding Pilates moves into your routine is a great way to engage your core muscles in a new way—because everyone gets sick of doing planks after a while.

“Pilates is a mind-body workout that targets your core muscles with every exercise,” Manuela Sanchez, a Pilates instructor at Club Pilates in Brooklyn, New York, tells SELF. Whether you’re doing a core-focused move or something that targets other muscle groups, your core is always engaging during a Pilates session. And the workout method strengthens all different areas of your core. “It works the abdominal [area] on both a deep and superficial level to achieve true core strength,” Sanchez says—meaning that the moves engage a wide range of muscles, from your deep internal transverse abdominis to the rectus abdominis on top (what you think of when you think “abs”).

To help you reap the core-strengthening benefits of Pilates, Sanchez rounded up some of the method’s best moves that focus on your midsection. They’re all classic mat Pilates exercises, “so all Pilates lovers will recognize them and people new to Pilates can easily learn them,” she says. Another plus: None of these moves require equipment, so you can do them pretty much anywhere.

Sanchez suggests choosing a few of the moves (which she demos below) to do as a warm-up before an intense workout. “Then, integrate the rest of the exercises throughout your workout as a way to keep targeting and working your core,” she suggests. You can also just pick a few you like and do them a couple times through to create a standalone core routine. If you’re new to these exercises, try doing a move for 30 seconds, working your way up to a minute.

Here’s how to do the moves:

1. Roll Over

Targets upper abs, lower abs, and hip flexors

  • Lie on your back with your legs together, reaching on a diagonal. Place your arms by your sides, palms down.
  • Use your abs to reach your legs overhead and then continue until they’re parallel to the mat.
  • Tap toes to the mat, lift and open legs shoulder-width apart, and slowly lower your spine back to the mat.
  • Complete 10 reps.

2. The One Hundred

Targets upper abs, lower abs, and obliques

  • Lie on your back. Curl your upper body away from the floor.
  • While keeping your arms straight, pulse them quickly in a small vertical motion.
  • Inhale for 5 counts, exhale for 5 counts to do 1 set.
  • Complete 10 sets.
  • MAKE IT EASIER: Bring legs to tabletop position.

3. Obliques Roll Back

Targets upper abs, lower abs, and obliques

  • Sit tall with feet flat on the floor and arms reaching out in front of you.
  • Tuck your tailbone and roll back, sweeping your right arm down and back. Let your upper body twist toward the direction of your arm.
  • Roll back up to sitting, retracing the path of your arm.
  • Repeat on the other side to complete your first set.
  • Complete 10 sets.

4. Twist

Targets obliques, lats, and traps

  • Sit on one hip with both legs bent, top leg turned out with foot flat on mat and bottom leg resting on mat with foot behind top foot. Your weight should be supported on one hand, in line with hip, arm extended. Your top arm is extended, resting on your knee, palm up. Stabilize your shoulder, lift your pelvis and top arm toward ceiling, and extend your knees so your inner thighs connect, creating a bow shape between hands and feet.
  • Reach top arm underneath body and mat as you twist your upper body to face the mat, contracting deeper into your abs and slightly rounding through your spine.
  • Unwind and slowly lower yourself back to the starting position.
  • Continue for 30 to 45 seconds on each side.

5. Roll Up

Targets upper abs, lower abs, obliques, and hip flexors

  • Lie flat on your back with your legs extended and your arms reaching overhead.
  • Reaching arms toward the ceiling, nod your chin to your chest and curl your upper body away from the mat with your fingers reaching toward your toes.
  • Carefully roll back down to your starting position.

6. Single-Leg Stretch

Targets upper abs, lower abs, obliques, and hip flexors

  • Lie on your back with your legs in tabletop position. Curl your upper body away from the floor so your shoulders are off the ground.
  • Extend one leg and lightly tap the opposite knee with both hands.
  • Switch legs.
  • Continue for 1 minute.

7. Criss Cross

Targets upper abs, lower abs, and obliques

  • Lie on your back with your legs in tabletop position. Curl your upper body away from the floor, hands behind your head.
  • Extend one leg and simultaneously twist your upper body toward your flexed knee. (Think shoulder to knee, not elbow to knee.)
  • Repeat on the other side.
  • Continue for 1 minute.

8. Double-Leg Stretch

Targets upper abs, lower abs, obliques, and hip flexors

  • Lie on your back with your legs in tabletop position. Curl your upper body away from the floor.
  • Simultaneously reach your arms overhead as if you were taking off a top hat. Extend your legs.
  • Circle your arms out to the side, reaching toward your ankles as your legs return to tabletop position.
  • Continue for 1 minute.

9. Scissors

Targets upper abs, lower abs, obliques, and hip flexors

  • Lie on your back with your legs together. Curl your upper body away from the floor, reaching your arms toward your ankles.
  • Let one leg extend toward the floor while you gently pull your opposite leg toward your chest.
  • Switch your legs in the air to create a scissoring motion.
  • Continue for 1 minute.

10. Hip Twist

Targets upper abs, lower abs, obliques, lats, and traps

  • Sit with your arms extended back, palms on mat, fingers pointing outward, and your legs extended on a diagonal.
  • Keep your legs together and circle them in one direction, completing the circle and returning to the center each time.
  • Complete 10 reps in each direction.

11. Leg Pull

Targets upper abs, lower abs, obliques, lats, and traps

  • Get in push-up position.
  • Lift one leg up toward ceiling, then shift your body back and return to start.
  • Complete 10 leg lifts on each side.

12. Teaser

Targets upper abs, lower abs, and hip flexors

  • Lie on your back with your arms overhead.
  • Reach your arms up toward the ceiling, nod your chin to your chest and begin to curl your upper body away from the mat.
  • Lift your legs to create a “V” shape, bringing your arms to create an “equal” sign.
  • Slowly start to roll back onto the mat.
  • Complete 8 to 10 reps.

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