Toned abs are about more than just looking good — they're the result of discipline and hard work, and represent a strong core and good posture. The best part? To get defined abs, all you need is 10 minutes a day, a mat and this Pilates workout from Lacy Looney, a Pilates instructor at Hot Pilates in Los Angeles.
"Pilates is good for your abs because the workout requires the core to be engaged, including abdominal muscles, in order to perform each exercise," she says. Looney credits this daily Pilates ab workout for giving her the strongest core of any workout so far — but you don't need to be a Pilates guru to master the moves.
"I teach this series in every single mat class as well as every single private session that I conduct," she says. "Including the 'Series of Five' into your daily routine is guaranteed to strengthen your abs and help you on your way to a toned and tight midsection."
Interested in incorporating mat Pilates into your daily routine? Here is Looney's "Series of Five" Pilates ab workout you can do every day from the comfort of your own home.
Series of Five Pilates Ab Workout
Before you begin, there are a few key things to note. Each exercise is performed lying on your back, so make sure you lengthen your spine from the tailbone through the crown of your head. Make as much contact to the floor with your back as you can, but don't force your spine into any position that feels uncomfortable.
Your hips and shoulders should stay square to the mat and perfectly stable throughout the movements while your core does the majority of the work. Constantly scan your body to make sure that you're staying as strong as you started.
If your neck becomes tired or strained at all, place a yoga block or folded towel behind your head to rest while performing exercises.
Read more: 12 Benefits of Pilates (Besides Strong Abs!)
Do: 10 reps of each the following exercises and repeat the circuit three times with a 30-second rest in between. If you'd like to take it up a notch, hold a 30-second forearm plank as an active rest instead.
Move 1: Single-Leg Stretch
- Lie on your back with your knees off the ground and directly above the hips, shins parallel to the floor and feet pointed.
- Raise you head, neck and shoulders off the ground just enough to look between your legs.
- Grab your right ankle with your right hand and right knee with left hand, pulling the knee toward your chest while the left leg straightens out about 45 degrees from the hip.
- Alternate legs back and forth with control. You have to produce the movement and create the feeling of "push" and "pull" from the core as you inhale and exhale with every rep.
- While your legs are working, concentrate on pushing from the glutes and pulling your ribs into the mat.
Move 2: Double-Leg Stretch
- From Single Leg Stretch, pull your heels together but keep you knees hip-width apart.
- Grab your knees or wherever you can reach without lifting your shoulder blades off the ground.
- Your chin should stay tilted towards your chest and your eyes should never lift or look toward the ceiling.
- Inhale, reaching your arms and legs out from torso and aim for a 45-degree angle with the legs and reach arms to the ears. Never let your arms reach further than your ears or your head will become heavy and can injure your neck.
- Exhale, pulling your knees back to your hips as you wrap your arms to grab your legs.
Move 3: Single Straight-Leg Stretch
- Straighten your legs toward the ceiling with a slight external turnout from your hips.
- Deepen the connection of the back ribs to the floor as you grab as high on your leg as you can without compromising the length in your spine or grabbing the knee joint.
- Pull one leg toward the forehead as opposite leg extends from the torso about 45 degrees or lower, depending on your flexibility.
- Pulse the leg toward your forehead using your abs and alternate back and forth.
- Concentrate on the length of the leg while performing this exercise.
Move 4: Double Straight-Leg Stretch
- Bring both legs straight together over your hips, heels pressing together and legs slightly externally rotated.
- With hands lightly placed at nape of the neck to support your head, curl your chin to your chest and lift your head, neck and shoulders off the ground.
- Inhale and count to four as you lower your legs toward floor as far as legs can while your back stays on the floor. Bring your legs up immediately if you feel your spine lift or your knees bend during the exercise — that's your effective range of motion.
- Exhale and reach legs longer as they lift above the hips back to start position.
Move 5: Criss-Cross
- From Double Straight Leg Stretch, keep your hands behind your head to support your neck in the lifted position and bend your knees back to a tabletop with shins parallel to the floor and feet pointed.
- Twisting through your ribs, reach your right armpit (sounds strange, but try it!) across your body toward your left knee as the right leg reaches from the hip at 45-degree angle.
- Rotate back to center.
- Twist to the other side, keeping your elbows wide and reaching the left armpit across the body toward the right knee as the left leg reaches from the hip at 45-degree angle.
- Alternate side to side, slowly and with control, without dropping your shoulders, neck, head or legs toward the ground.