5 Killer Pilates Exercises That Will Help You Fire Up The Lower Abs

5 Exercises to flatten your lower abs by Laura Gatsos Young

Every time you look in the mirror, you see it. That annoying bulge around your lower abs that you can’t seem to get rid of.

You’ve tried every plank, crunch and sit up ever created, but you just can’t flatten your lower abdominals.

You’ve heard of Pilates, but you’ve never tried it. It doesn’t seem like hard work, and if you are going to suffer through a workout, you want results.

I have news for you …

You’re about to be convinced that Pilates is not only a challenging workout but also the best workout for your core. 

Don’t believe me?

Go ahead, do the exercises below and see if you don’t notice (and feel) a change in your abdominals.

How Pilates Works to Flatten Your Abs

The reason Pilates works so well, is because the practice combines movement with a specific breathing technique that contracts the abdominals.

To perform the Pilates breath:

  • Inhale through the nose, expanding the ribs laterally and towards the back of your body.
  • Exhale through the mouth while closing the rib cage down and in.

By directing the breath to the ribs instead of the lower stomach, you’re keeping your abdominals activated throughout the entire exercise. If you direct the breath lower down in the stomach, the ab contraction is compromised, and the stomach protrudes.

It will take some concentration and practice to get the hang of the breathwork, but it will soon come as second nature. You may even find that you use it while doing other forms of exercise, too.

Now that we’ve learned the Pilates breath, it’s time to add in the movement.

5 Killer Mat Pilates Exercises

While every Pilates move works the core muscles, the five exercises outlined below concentrate on working the lower abs. They are deceptively challenging. Follow along and give them a try.

Exercise #1 — A Variation on the Criss-Cross

• Lie on the mat, inhale (see above) and bring both knees to tabletop*.
• Exhale and place hands on the back of the head, keeping elbows wide. Inhale and curl your head up so that your chin is hovering above your chest.
• Exhale while extending your left arm past your left hip and extending your left leg long until it hovers 1 inch above the floor. The right knee remains in tabletop.
• Return your left arm and leg to the starting position.
• Sticking with your left arm, curl up and twist your left shoulder to bring your left arm across your ribs to your right hip.
• As you do this, extend your right leg long.
• Continue with the left arm, alternating legs. 15 reps.
• Then switch to the right arm, alternating legs. 15 reps.

Tip: Focus on keeping your abdominals as flat as possible as opposed to lifting your upper body high in the air.

Pilates instructor Bailey Brown demonstrates an advanced variation of the Criss-Cross exercise (YouTube.com)
Pilates instructor Bailey Brown demonstrates an advanced variation of the Criss-Cross exercise (YouTube.com)

Exercise #2 — V-Leg Crunch

• Lie on the mat and place your hands above your head.
• Inhale and on the exhale, lift head, neck, and shoulders off the mat and bring your legs straight above your hips.
• Inhale and slowly extend legs out to the sides of your body while bringing your clasped hands through your legs past your pelvis.
• Return legs to meet above the hips while you lower your upper body down to the ground.
Reps: 15

Tip: Reach as far past your pelvis as possible and pause at the top of the crunch for a few seconds.

Pilates instructor Bailey Brown demonstrates the V-Leg Crunch exercise (YouTube.com)
Pilates instructor Bailey Brown demonstrates the V-Leg Crunch exercise (YouTube.com)

Exercise #3 — Scissor Kick

• Lie on your back with your palms resting at your sides or just under your tailbone.
• Inhale and on the exhale, gently press your lower back into the mat by angling your pelvis up toward the ceiling.
• Inhale and raise your right leg, then your left to hover perpendicular to your hips.
• Exhale and slowly lower your straight legs towards the floor, crossing them over each other quickly. Lower the legs as low as you can without your back raising off the floor, or feeling any pain in your lower back.
• Immediate raise them back to the starting position.
Reps: 15

Tip: For an advanced option, place your hands behind your head and curl your head, neck and shoulders off the ground. This will engage your upper abs as well as your lower abs.

Pilates instructor demonstrates the Scissor Kick exercise (YouTube.com)
Pilates instructor demonstrates the Scissor Kick exercise (YouTube.com)

Exercise #4 — Diamond-Leg Crunch

• Lie on the mat with your knees pointing out to the sides and the soles of your feet pressed together.
• Inhale and place your hands behind your head. Exhale and curl your head and neck toward your chest.
• At the same time, raise your legs in the diamond shape towards your chest to meet your elbows.
• Exhale while you lower your arms and legs simultaneously, tapping your feet on the mat.
Reps: 15

Tip: Take your time with this move to ensure you keep your abs engaged and as flat as possible. Also, it will burn more — trust me!

Pilates instructor Bailey Brown demonstrates the Diamond-Leg Crunch exercise (YouTube.com)
Pilates instructor Bailey Brown demonstrates the Diamond-Leg Crunch exercise (YouTube.com)

Exercise #5 — Heel Taps

• Lie down on the mat with your legs extended.
• Lift your right heel to tap the toes on your left foot. Return to starting position.
• Then lift your left heel to tap the toes on your right foot.
• Then lift both left and right heels and tap them on the mat, half-way to your bum. Return to starting position.
• Repeat starting with the right heel.
• Use the Pilates breath as feels good.
Reps: The three moves count as one rep. 20 reps.

Tip: Leave your head resting on the mat as the abs have to work harder to stay engaged.

Pilates instructor Bailey Brown demonstrates the Heel Tap exercise (YouTube.com)
Pilates instructor Bailey Brown demonstrates the Heel Tap exercise (YouTube.com)

*Tabletop refers to a position whereby your back is on the mat with your knees bent and raised so that your thighs are perpendicular to the floor and the shins are parallel to the floor.

You’re Convinced, right?

Tell the truth … your abs are burning.

You’ve discovered muscles in your stomach you never knew you had.

You’re breathing a little bit differently, even when you’re not exercising.

You will notice a difference in the appearance of your abs if you commit to doing these exercises regularly.

That, my friends, is the power of Pilates.

Laura Gatsos Young is a freelance writer specializing in health and wellness. She is devoted to her daily Pilates practice. Learn more about her at lauragatsosyoung.com.

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