You work out. You eat right. You are in search of toned abs. Today I would like to share with you two exercises that will help you achieve that. Both of these exercises are from the Pilates Ab Series. They are both also copied often in so many other fitness classes. You have probably done a variation of them since high school gym class. But one of the many reasons Pilates works better than other forms of core work is because you get your body into the proper form so that the exercise is done correctly and more efficiently.
First, lets talk about your head and neck. Proper alignment here will not only help strengthen your upper abdominals but will also keep your neck pain-free.
|Look up and over at your navel, not at your legs or the ceiling.|
Lie flat on the floor with your knees bent. Allow your spine to lengthen, closing the space between your back and the floor. Look up and over at your navel, creating a "candy cane" neck.
Use this for any sort of ab work or floor work where your head is lifted. The top "no" example is placing strain on the head, neck and upper back. The bottom "yes" example engages the upper abdominals to lift the upper body. When done properly you should not feel any strain or pull in your neck. Practice!
Double Straight Leg Lower Lift
Long name for a leg lower :) This is an exercise I see everywhere. I used to do them in high school holding onto a chair. I have also worked with a partner and stood above my work out buddies head and pushed their legs to the floor and they resist it. I would bet 1 million dollars that I was not using proper form. So, here is how to do it correctly:
- Finger tips point to ears, shoulders relax away from ears. Peek up and over at the navel.
- Legs are glued together in Pilates V (heels together, toes fist-width apart) and lifted to the ceiling.
- Scoop, or close off space between your back and the floor.
- Lower you legs keeping your gaze steady at your navel. DO NOT let your back arch off the floor. If it does you are going to far! It's okay if you only lower your legs a few inches in the beginning. The movement will grow as your strength does.
- Return your legs to the starting position (90 degree angle from the floor.
- Inhale as your lower your legs, exhale as you lift
- Keep your tailbone "heavy" on the floor and your back on the floor.
- If your next starts to hurt lower your head.
- 5-10 reps
|Legs together, candy cane neck|
|Head does not move at all, back does not arch|
I know you have done this one, too! More widely known as Bicycle, this is another staple in the gym world. Let's work on form, shall we?
You can go directly from Double Straight Leg Lower Lift (above) to Criss Cross.
- Finger tips point to ears, shoulders relaxed. Look up and over at the navel.
- Draw your left knee in, stretch your right leg long
- Twist to take your right armpit to your left knee cap. Turn your gaze to look at the back elbow (left in the picture)
- Why armpit and not elbow? This movement allows your to lift up and over while twisting rather than just rocking side to side. It also allows the chest to remain open for proper breathing.
- Return to center as you inhale
- Exhale and switch directions, taking the left armpit to the right knee, gaze follows the right elbow.
- No space between back and floor.
- Legs float along an imaginary center line. It's easy for the legs to get all wonky here but press them in to center line (imagine a wall or plate of glass that they are sliding along.
- Shoulders "in the back pockets."
- Legs higher in the beginning to make it easier on the back. You can take them lower to the floor as your strength increases.
- 5-10 each direction.
|"Armpit to knee" or "Elbow to toes"|
|Keep your chest open and your tailbone heavy|
Try these out. Let me know what you think. As you can see, I did them on my living room floor. You can do them anywhere and it takes under 5 minutes. Combining these two exercises works the abdominals and the obliques so that you are hitting every part of the stomach area. Working obliques = a tighter, toned core! Do them every day and you will start seeing results fast!