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2 Pilates Moves for Stronger Abs

By , SparkPeople Blogger
Are you still doing crunches? While there is nothing inherently wrong with that classic abdominal move (I still do them from time to time myself), we now know more than ever about core training. And with this knowledge, you can graduate to a higher level of exercise that will help you get better results from your efforts.
It's no secret that I love Pilates. I've been practicing and teaching it for several years now, and thanks to that consistency, I have better core strength and balance—and less back pain—than ever. One great thing about Pilates is that it helps you strengthen ALL of your core muscles. Whereas exercises like crunches only target the outermost abdominals (rectus abdominis), Pilates moves can engage and strengthen your internal and external obliques, erector spinae, and even your deepest abdominal muscle, the transversus abdominis.
This muscle is extremely important, but hard to target, and often neglected by exercisers. A weak transverse can contribute to back pain, poor balance and an overall weak core—even if you do hundreds of crunches a day. But when strengthened, this important muscle helps you with functional strength—and aesthetic appearance. A strong transversus acts like a corset, not only bracing your core and protecting against injury and back pain, but helping create a leaner, flatter appearance of the stomach. No amount of crunches can do that!
So which types of exercises best target your deep "corset" muscles? Research shows these two Pilates moves do it best.
When researchers from Auburn University in Montgomery, Alabama tested the effectiveness of crunches against three common Pilates moves, they found that two of the Pilates exercises recruited the highest amount of muscle fibers in the transversus abdominis (and internal obliques). What were these two moves? "The Hundred" and the "Double Leg Stretch." Both of these moves can be modified for beginners and adjusted to add challenge for advanced exercisers as well! Here's how to do them.
The Hundred
THE SETUP: Lie on your back with your spine in neutral, your arms at your sides, your knees bent, your feet flat on the floor and your heels in line with your hips. INHALE to prepare. EXHALE to engage your abs and lift the feet off the floor to table top position (90 degrees at hips and knees). INHALE to reach your arms toward the ceiling (straight up). EXHALE to lower your arms toward your hips as you roll the head, neck and tips of your shoulder blades off the mat. Straighten the legs up (optional), then lower them as close to the mat as you can while maintaining a neutral spine (pictured).
THE EXERCISE: Pulse the arms for five counts (hinging from the shoulder) while you INHALE. Pulse the arms for five counts while you EXHALE. Repeat for 10 total sets (100 arm pumps).
NOTES: While your arms pump, the rest of the body should remain still and controlled. Keep your head tucked in toward your chest. Keep your elbows and wrists straight as the arms pump. Progression of intensity (for modification purposes) is pumping arms with feet flat on floor (very beginner), legs in table top (beginner), legs straight up (intermediate), straight legs lowered toward the floor (advanced).

Double Leg Stretch
THE SETUP: Lie on your back with your head and the tips of your shoulder blades rounded off the mat, both knees pulled in toward your chest and hands on your shins or reaching toward your ankles (pictured).
THE EXERCISE: INHALE to reach the legs straight out and the arms overhead without changing the curve of the upper body or the position of the lower back. EXHALE to draw the legs back into the chest, sweeping the arms around to grab the shins/ankles again. Repeat for 5-10 repetitions.
NOTES: Keep legs squeezed tightly together. Only lower the legs as close to the floor as you can while staying in neutral spine.

I demonstrate both of these moves (The Hundred at 1:36 and Double Leg Stretch at 4:05) in my Pilates Abs workout video, which you'll find at YouTube and embedded below. Try them yourself and I'm sure you'll feel the difference in your abs—and see a difference in your belly over time.

Do you ever perform these Pilates moves? Do you think Pilates does help flatten and tone the belly?

Be sure to use the Fitness Tracker to tally up your Pilates workouts!

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Anything is better than crunches Report
KHALIA2 10/13/2018
I do the double leg stretch. Report
Some helpful information Report
PATRICIAANN46 8/31/2018
This is a great article, but I will have to hold off for awhile as I just had 2 surgeries on my spine. Report
Thank you for sharing ! Report
SPUNOUTMOM 7/25/2018
Not sure if pilates has flattened my tummy, but has made me feel my abs and aware of using my core. Report
AJB121299 7/24/2018
nice Report
USMAWIFE 7/22/2018
thank you Report
MNABOY 6/20/2018
Thanks for sharing Report
MNABOY 6/20/2018
Thanks for sharing Report
KHALIA2 5/18/2018
Will try a few of these moves today. Report
KHALIA2 4/21/2018
Haven't tried pilates yet, but after reading this article, I want to. Report
DWROBERGE 4/21/2018
Great ideas Report
Thanks for sharing such a great list of blog….Best blog. It’s really good information. Everybody wants to set up the healthy body and this blog is very helpful.
Hard to get on floor, but when I do I try to work on abs and belly. Report
LIS193 2/6/2018
Great moves! Love those. Report
thanks... Report
I love Pilates and enjoy doing them regularly. Report
SHELLLEY2 1/8/2018
Going to integrate these moves into my weekly workouts. Report
Thanks- will definitely try these! Report
Great moves, thanks! Report
Fantastic ab workout! Report
Thanks- will definitely try these. Report
Awesome moves! Will definitely add to my daily workout! Report
I have always been regretting that
I was not as wise as the day I was born.
- Henry David Thoreau Report
These look great! I think I have some diastasis rectii damage from my second pregnancy and it looks like these exercises would certainly target it. I will have to try the video! Report
These look hard, but I will try. Report
Go to Fittness for tracking your exercises Report
do they have a place on here where they teach you how to track these pilates exercises. I know about the fitness tracker, but I do not know what to put in the spaces, like: reps, other things. I did the exercises but did not log them cas I had no idea how to Report
A little confused. The article that this workout is with talks about NOT doing crunches, but the first 5 mins of this workout are basically variations of a crunch ?? I prefer planks and other core moves because crunches hurt both my back and neck. So, I watched the first 5 minutes, but didn't join in on the exercises until after the crunches. Report
No way!!!! I would re-injure my back and be back in physical therapy. There has to be a better way to strengthen the core without putting strain on the lower back! Report
Coach Nicole - Thank you for going slower and taking time to explain the moves. I want to make sure I have my body positioned correctly so I don't hurt myself. It looks easy, but when you actually get down on the mat it is a challenging workout. Will stick with it to help improve my flexibility as well. Report
WOW! I had no idea how difficult these would be! LOVED it...while simultaneously being horrified at my complete inability to do a couple of the "plank-like" moves. This really showed me very clearly why I have back pain - although some parts of me are VERY strong (i.e. legs), apparently I have almost zero core strength! I'll keep working at this until I can do it properly. Report
I have had both knees replaced and have a lot of back pain my activities have been curtailed what can I do to strengthen the core muscles and get rid of the bulge? Report
I love how deceptively easy these look - after all, lying on the back with the head just lifted a bit, how hard can it be? Hard enough for me not to even make it completely through the first time, but I'll keep at it. These are wonderfully effective, even after only half of it I could feel my (woefully neglected) stomach muscles. Report
At 75 and just starting out these are very difficult. I did mostly crunches and side plank. Report
I love my flat Pilates belly! Report
Love these exercises..... Report
I see soooo many exercises but few on how a person with hip replacement, knee replacements, rotor cuf repairs can safely exercise using chairs, walls, benches, weights to help be active and realize their goals. I know there is swimming and walking but would like to see more alternatives offered for people with those limitations. Report
I love pilates. Do a class a couple of times a week. I do both the equipment classes and the mat classes. I've done both of those moves. Report
I love Pilates and do it several times a week. Oh to have a strong core......what a wonderful feeling. Report
Pilates is great exercise, though it's important to always emphasize proper form. If you've never done them before and don't feel it, then check your form. Specifically ALWAYS be pulling the navel to the spine. That's how you get to those deep muscles. If it seems easy, pause, check your body, breathe, reset, and start again. Doing the exercises with improper form not only wastes time (because you're not doing the work) but it can cause injuries. Every pilates move has adjustments that can be made to make them harder or easier, and if need be only do a couple repetitions and add more reps every few sessions to build up. It takes time, but one day you'll realize how far you've come when you can do the difficult moves without wanting to give up! Report
Sierra Fox Trot you can even save the video in your favourites on SP. Look for the video in the video library then click on it and there's a red 'Save' button at the left hand side or at the top and it'll save to your favourites Report
Boy i know a lot of people say Pilates is good for your abs, but it's so hard. I guyess I have no core strength. I barely made it through this workout. But better to work out smarter not longer so I will keep at it and aim for 1 minute extra each time. I need to reduce the belly pooch. Thanks Coach Nicole, you're so awesome! Report
Interesting. Report
Would this not classify as spot training? Report
I love workouts I can do in front of the TV! This is great- thanks! Report
I did Pilates yesterday for the first time and we did both of those moves. I didn't realize it was so difficult, yet grounding. Report
@ SIERRAFOXTROT you can bookmark it in your browser to bring you back to this page. Depending on your browser it is usually cntrl D (hold both keys same time) Report
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