There’s a long-held myth that traditional crunches are all you need to tighten and tone your waistline. Not so, however. The internal and external obliques, the abdominal muscles that wrap around the sides of your trunk, are the muscles you want to target to burn off body fat and tighten up the waistline. They are also the muscles responsible for the rotational movement of your torso. These 4 Pilates exercises are specifically designed to strengthen your obliques and increase your upper body rotation. What I love about Pilates mat exercises is that they are effective and practical. They can be done anywhere anytime so there are no excuses for not being able to workout. You don’t need a gym, a machine, or even shoes. Just grab a mat and twist your way to a slimmer waist!
4 Pilates Oblique Exercises for a Slimmer Waist
Criss Cross– Lie on the floor with your knees pulled into your chest. Make sure your heels are lifted so that your shins are parallel to the ceiling. Put your hands behind your head with your elbows away from your ears. Pull one leg into your chest while extending the other leg straight out. Try to reach the opposite elbow to the outside of the opposite knee that’s pulled in by twisting your torso. Your navel should be pulled into your spine at all times. If your back is arching, lift the straight leg up higher for more low back support. Keep alternating sides for 20 reps. Make sure your hips stay square as you twist your torso to each side. Tip: the slower you go, the more challenging it is! Breathe naturally.
Spine Twist– Sit on the floor with your legs straight out in front of you. Flex your feet and squeeze your inner thighs together. Your spine should be stacked up nice and tall so you are lifting up out of your hips. If you have trouble sitting upright in this position you may bend your knees slightly, but do not let your inner thighs come apart. You may have your arms straight out to the side or hands behind your head. I like to do this with my hands behind my head to decrease momentum from my arms. Imagine there is a wall against your feet and no matter what you do, your legs cannot shift so that one is longer than the other. Twist your torso off your hips like a cap off a bottle for three pulses. With each pulse, exhale and go farther away from the center. Take all momentum out so that you isolate the obliques. Only twist your head as far as your torso will allow you to. Repeat to each side, coming back to the center each time as you inhale.
Side Lifts– Lie down on your side with your body in one long line. Pull the navel in and bring the legs slightly forward if you are arching your back. Lie on one arm while the other hand is on the floor in front of you for added stability. Squeeze your legs together like they are one leg and inhale as you lift them off the floor as high as you can without letting them separate. This is a great waist slimmer if you lengthen the torso and lift the legs out and up rather than just crunching up. Exhale and lengthen the legs out and down. Repeat 10 times and then for an added challenge, hold your legs up on the last rep and do 10 more little lifts from there or scissor the legs forward and back.
Snake Twist– This is the most advanced of all of the exercises and works the entire upper body including the obliques, lats and shoulder. Sit on one hip with your legs bent and the top foot over the bottom foot on the ground. With the bottom hand on the floor and the top hand resting palm up on your side, inhale and press up onto your feet and hand. The hips should be lifting as high as possible by pulling in your obliques. Make sure your shoulder is right above your wrist once you are lifted in this side plank to prevent shoulder injury. Your top arm will rise above your head. If this is difficult enough you may lower the body down without moving your feet and repeat lifting up and down several times to build your strength. To continue this move, exhale as you twist your torso by bringing your top arm underneath your shoulders. Do not move the feet and pull your abs in and up to lift the hips towards the sky. Inhale to return to the side plank and exhale to lower the body back down. The closer your legs are pulled into your body, the more advanced the exercise becomes so adjust the placement of your feet and legs as needed. Do 5 on each side.
While exercising is necessary to reduce body fat and build muscle, excess weight in the midsection also has to do with diet. Exercise and diet go hand in hand for fat burning and body sculpting, so eat a clean, balanced diet while regularly practicing these moves and you will see those muffin tops and love handles melt away!
More fitness tutorials: 4 Stretches for Lower Back Pain and Stiffness (Video)
5 Best Exercises to Lift Your Butt (Video)
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This article was originally published on April 25, 2016 and updated on March 27, 2023.
Video: Crystal Chin