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Pilates as a movement is very focused on working your core, physical stature and posture. Therefore, it is the perfect exercise to take up if the muscles of your back and stomach need some strengthening. By taking classes consistently, you’ll see firming and toning in your abs.

Even more, there are some awesome moves that can really give an extra kick to the average pilates workout and zone in on those stomach muscles, giving you that rock hard stomach and core!

The most important things to remember are to keep each move simple, slow and controlled. If you rush these exercises, they won’t be nearly as effective and could potentially damage your back or core muscles.

So let’s get to it:

1)     The Leg Lift

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(photo credit: kristinmcgee.com)

The leg lift has become increasingly popular amongst fitness communities because it’s a very simple yet highly effective exercise.

If you are a beginner, start by lifting one leg into the air as high as you’re capable, then slowly lowering it back to the floor. Try not to let your leg drop, as this will lessen the work on your muscles.  Once you become more confident, try moving your leg in slow, small circles with your foot pointing to the ceiling. As you get stronger, allow your circles to become bigger.

For those more advanced, lift both legs to the ceiling and slowly lower them to the floor. Again, don’t let them drop! If you’re feeling strong with this position, try to lift your hips off the floor and let your legs move down towards your head. Keep your legs together and move them in a circle instead of simply lowering them to the floor and back up again.

2)     The Star/Criss-Cross Crunch.

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For beginners, begin by lying on your back. Lift your legs a few centimeters off the floor and bring one knee up towards your body. Lift your opposite elbow and try to touch them together. Slowly lower them both back to their starting positions and swap legs, bringing the other knee up towards your head and touching it to your other elbow. Repeat this movement in sets of 8. Remember to keep your abs tight to protect your back and not to let your spine arch too much.

For those more advanced, spread your legs apart and arms into a “star shape” and lift your legs a few centimeters off the floor. Pull in your legs as you sit up and hug your knees without holding them. Move back into the star shape again and repeat.

3)     Roll Back and Up

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(photo credit: livelifeandbewell.com)

This movement is great as it can be used for any level. Having a small ball will help with your posture and form. If you are more advanced, try adding a weight instead.

Take the ball or the weight in both hands. Lie back on your mat, legs together and arms back behind your head (still holding the ball). Your body should be in a nice, straight line. Without moving anything below your waist, slowly move your arms, keeping them straight, up over your head and out in front of you. As your arms come to the front, roll yourself up into a sitting position. By keeping a hold of the ball with your arms stretched in front of you, the act of sitting up should come completely from your abs. You should feel the constriction and the pull. Imagine you are following your ball or weight. Once you are seated, slowly start to lift your straight arms back behind your head and follow it down, curling your abs until you are lying on the mat again with your arms stretched behind your head.

The key to this move is to perform it slowly, allowing yourself to feel each muscle tighten as you sit up and lie back.

4)     The Swimming Move

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(photo credit: womenshealthmag.com)

It is easy to focus on the front of your stomach and to forget about the muscles in your waist, back and along your spinal cord. The Swimming Move helps to focus some attention on these hard to reach and often forgotten muscles, which are vital in obtaining and maintaining a tight, sexy waist!

Begin by lying down on your stomach. Beginners start by slowly lifting one leg from the floor. It doesn’t have to be lifted far, what is important about this move is to focus on the muscles in the small of your back. This is easier said than done, as your “glutes” are such a large muscle that it often tries to take over. Try to lift from the small of your back, keeping your leg as limp as possible to discourage your bum from getting involved! (Practice doing this before you progress to the next part of this exercise.)

If you are feeling more advanced, try lifting both legs off the floor at the same time and start incorporating your arms. Try lifting one leg and the opposite arm, and then switching. Once you can do a continued set of these, you will start to look as though you are swimming! It may take a few stages of building up strength to fully master this move, but the results in your back will be totally worth it!

5)     The Mermaid Plank

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(photo credit: build-some-muscle.com)

Finally, we can’t forget to work those obliques!

Beginners, begin by lying on your side with your knees together. Lift yourself up onto your elbow, with your arm creating an “L-shape” and your forearm pointing out in front of you. Hold this for 8 seconds, then lower your body to the floor to repeat. Once you become stronger and more confident, lift yourself onto your hand, so your entire arm is holding your weight and your body is in a straight line.

For those more advanced, you can hold a weight in your other hand and lift it above your head so that your arms form one straight line. For that extra oblique burn, bring your weighted arm slowly down in front of you, reach down beneath your waist and then return it slowly back above your head to the starting position.

Remember, these exercises are all meant to be slow and focused. It is not a race or a timed workout! You will get the best results with more controlled movements. Let’s get that core beach body ready!