Before auditions, photo shoots or dance gigs, there was always one exercise routine I did to get centered, activate my core, and quickly tone my abs. It was the Pilates series of five. This ab routine was so easy and effective, I not only did it before performing, but I got into the habit of doing it daily like taking my vitamins. I add it in for my clients in almost every session for an added ab burnout, and I tell them that if they don’t do anything else in between sessions, at least do the series of five.
These exercises get your blood flowing and strengthen the all-important powerhouse, which includes the abdominal, pelvic floor, and back muscles.
The goal is to do all five sets in a row without stopping. This should take about two full minutes when done at a normal pace. The slower you go, the more challenging it is. As with all abdominal exercises, you need to be mindful of initiating the movement from the abs as opposed to from the legs and arms. Make sure to pull the navel in towards the spine upon activation of the abs to keep the lower back from arching off the mat. Keep your feet loosely pointed throughout each exercise, and don’t forget to breathe! Here are the Pilates series of five for that will tighten and tone your abs:
Single Leg Stretch
Bend one knee into your chest, holding onto your ankle with the outside hand and your knee with the inside hand. The hands are there to encourage your legs to stay in alignment as they go in and out along two tracks. Lengthen the other leg long and lift it off the ground just a few inches, squeezing that glute. The key to this exercise is not to let the heel of the bent leg drop towards the butt. In other words, keep the shin parallel to the ceiling and this will activate the core more. With your head and shoulders off the ground and gaze at your belly button, switch your legs using your abdominals. The switching of the legs and hand placement may take some coordination practice. Perform 10 on each side and breathe naturally.
Double Leg Stretch
Hugging both knees into your chest, try to get your head to touch your knees. Just like the last exercise, keep those heels off your butt.
Inhale as you extend both the arms and legs out and then exhale as you circle your arms around and catch both knees back in. Don’t extend your legs so low that you can’t keep your lower back glued to the mat.
This exercise really works on every angle of the abs as your leg extension with the head up challenges the rectus abdominous and the arms reaching around gets the obliques. Do not drop your head as you bring the arms up and around. Do a set of 10.
Single Straight Leg Stretch
This exercise will not only strengthen your transverse abdominals, the muscles that run diagonally across the stomach, but it will help increase flexibility in the hamstrings. It is called a dynamic stretch since you will be in motion as the hamstrings are stretching. Try to grab your ankle by contracting your abdominals. If you are inflexible, you may grab your calf or behind your thigh. Keeping the other leg long and a few inches off the floor, pulse both legs two times before switching sides. The pulses are not done by pulling your leg or just by bouncing the bottom foot. It is the abs that contract to pulse the leg in and the glute of the straight leg that works. Do 10 on each side, breathing naturally.
Double Straight Leg Stretch
With your hands behind your head and legs extended straight up, lower your legs as low as possible without lifting your back for three counts and then lift them back up for one count. Inhale as you go down squeezing your inner thighs together and exhale as you come up. If you have lower back pain or weakness, do this exercise with your head down and your hands underneath your tailbone.
Your back should never lift off the ground so only go as low as you can with the legs while keeping the back pulled in. Your legs should be slightly turned out with the heels together and toes apart. Do a set of ten. For an added challenge, reverse the counts and lower your legs for one and raise them slowly for three.
Working both the internal and external obliques, twist your torso off your hips, trying to get the opposite elbow to the outside of the opposite knee. Switch your legs and twist to each side at least ten times. Make sure your legs are parallel and moving along two tracks as they go out and in. Keep those heels off your butt as you bring each leg in. The slower you do these, the harder they are, so don’t speed through them using momentum as opposed to your abdominals. Breathe naturally.
Initiating everyday movements from your abs actually prevents injury and protects your back, so doing this quick series of five first thing in the morning would be best. Start your day connected to your core!
Also by Crystal: 5 Exercises for Excellent Posture
Get more like this–sign up for our newsletter for exclusive inspirational content!
Photos: Crystal Chin