9 of the Best Pilates Moves to Sculpt Abs
If you want a set of strong, sculpted abs, Pilates can help you get there. Although a well-rounded Pilates program (like XB Pilates) will work your entire body, your core will get some serious attention. So we turned to Andrea Rogers, XB Pilates trainer and creator of Xtend Barre, to get her favorite Pilates moves for abs.
Below are nine Pilates ab exercises that Andrea loves, which you’ll find in many Pilates workouts, including XB Pilates! We give you step by step instructions on how to perform them, so you can really get the most out of each move. Try a few (or all) of them out, and your abs will be on fire!
“Xtend Barre is founded on Pilates and dance principles, making proper alignment and a connection to your core our main focus,” Andrea says. “Our Pilates-based ab series will sculpt all points of the abdominal wall, helping you achieve strength and tone in your core.”
When you’re ready to try out a full Pilates workout, sign up for Openfit for access to XB Pilates! You can choose from a 21-day, 30-day, or 60-day calendar, depending on your goals and fitness level.
- Lie on your back with your legs extended straight out in front of you, and your arms stretched out by your sides, palms flat on the floor. Engage your core to press your low back into the floor. You will maintain this back positioning throughout the entire exercise.
- Extend one leg straight up with your toes pointed up toward the ceiling.
- From here, move your raised leg in large, controlled, counterclockwise circles, as if you’re tracing circles in the air with your foot. Reverse the circles, moving in a clockwise direction for the same number of reps. Keep your core engaged so your back stays connected to the floor.
- Lower your leg to the floor and repeat with the opposite leg.
- Start lying supine (on your back) on the mat. Legs should be in a tabletop position, which here means that your thighs are vertical, your knees are bent, and your shins are horizontal.
- Engage your abdominals and lift shoulders, curling the spine, and lifting your head off the mat. Keep your lower back in contact with the floor — don’t arch your back. If you can, completely extend your legs so that your feet are pointing towards the ceiling at 45 degrees.
- Inhale, pumping arms by side as they are lifted off the mat, making sure fingers, hands, and arms are straight. Inhale for one, two, three, four, five breaths with the first five arm pumps, and then exhale one, two, three, four, five breaths with five more arm pumps. After you complete ten, you’ll immediately continue to the next round.
- Repeat ten times to reach that magic number: 100.
- Upon the tenth set, inhale, increase your curl, and reach your arms past your hips. Hold. Then exhale and release back to lower yourself to your starting position. In other words, don’t flop down.
3. Single Leg Stretch
- Lie on your back and bring both knees to your chest. Engage your abs to lift your head, neck, and shoulders off the mat, while pressing your lower back into the floor. Wrap your hands lightly around your shins.
- Inhale, and reach your right leg out straight, so it hovers just a few inches above the floor. Keep your lower back pressing into the floor. If it comes up, don’t lower your leg as far down. Your hands can be lightly touching your left shin.
- Exhale, and switch legs, bending your right leg in to the tucked position, and stretching your left leg out straight so it hovers just a few inches above the floor. Your hands can be lightly touching your right shin.
- Continue alternating until all reps are complete.
4. Double Leg Stretch
- Lie on your back and bring your knees to your chest. Engage your abs to lift your head, neck, and shoulders off the mat, while pressing your lower back into the floor. Wrap your hands lightly around your ankles.
- Inhale, and reach both of your arms overhead at the same time you extend both legs out straight, just a few inches above the floor. Keep your lower back pressing into the floor. If it comes up, don’t lower your legs as far down.
- Exhale, and sweep your arms back around as your knees return to your chest.
- Repeat until all reps are complete.
5. Single Straight Leg Kick (Scissor Kicks)
- Lie flat on your back with your legs straight and your arms at your sides.
- Engage your core and press your head, shoulders, and lower back into the floor as you raise both legs about 12 inches off of it.
- Keep both legs straight as you alternately lift each leg toward the ceiling in a fluttering motion.
- Complete an equal number of reps with each leg.
6. Lower Lift (Double Leg Lift)
- Lie on your back and extend your legs up to the ceiling with your toes pointed and heels together. Place your hands behind your head and keep your elbows wide. Engage your abs to press your lower back into the floor. Lift your chest up to bring your shoulders off the floor.
- Inhale and lower your legs down with control. Only lower your legs as far as you’re able to without letting your lower back lift off the floor, or your abdomen popping up.
- Once you’ve reached your end range of motion, exhale and lift your legs back to starting position with control. Repeat for all reps in the set.
- Throughout the whole move, meep your elbows wide and your lower back pressed into the floor. Avoid craning your neck; the curl of your upper body should come more from your abs than from jutting the head forward.
7. Criss Cross
- Lie on your back with your knees bent at 90-degrees (shins parallel to the ground). Gently place your finger tips behind your head with your elbows pointing out to the sides. Engage your core, keeping your lower back pressed into the floor, and lift your shoulder blades off the floor.
- Exhale as you twist your upper body to the right, extending your left leg straight out, and bringing your left elbow to your right knee.
- Come back to the center as you inhale.
- Exhale again, twisting your upper body to the left, as your right leg extends, bringing your right elbow to your left knee
- Continue alternating until all reps are complete.
- Lay on your back with your core engaged and lower back pressed into the ground. Bend your legs so your feet are flat on the ground, about hip distance apart.
- Lift one leg up and extend it out at a 45-degree angle. Reach your arms straight up to the ceiling.
- Inhale as you lift your torso up, reaching your arms toward your toes, creating a “V” shape with your body.
- Hold this position for 5 breaths, then slowly roll back down as you exhale.
- Do all reps on one side, and then legs, performing equal reps on both sides.
9. Tik Tok
- Lay on your back and prop yourself up on your forearms, elbows under your shoulders, palms flat on the ground.
- Extend your legs out straight to 45 degrees. Keeping your core engaged, slowly rock onto your right hip, lowering your legs slightly to the right. Keep your shoulders square, facing forward.
- Come back to center, and then repeat on the left side.
- Continue alternating sides, performing equal reps on both sides.