Are you ready to feel leaner, longer, and stronger?

If so, then Pilates is for you! Keep reading to find out why Pilates exercises are your best solution for super toned abs.

First, let’s go through a brief history of Pilates. Pilates is named after Joseph Pilates, a German man whose father was a gymnast and whose mother practiced naturopathy. Joseph moved to England to work as a self-defense instructor during the time of World War I.

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He ended up getting imprisoned as an “enemy alien” due to his German nationality. Joseph taught his exercises to those in the camp. He helped rehabilitate the bedridden and injured by disassembling the camp bunk beds and attaching springs to them for resistance.

Joseph eventually returned to Germany, and his exercise method gained popularity among the dance community. Joseph emigrated to the United States, opened a fitness studio, and his technique continued to spread.

Pilates exercises continue to be very popular among the dance community, those with lower back pain, and those looking for amazing abs!

Before you get started with Pilates, it is important to understand some of the key principles. These include breathing, proper alignment, concentration, control, precision, maintaining a neutral spine (normal curvature), maintaining a neutral pelvis (making sure your pelvis is not rotated forward or tipped back), and fluidity.

Pilates movements are very smooth. Think grace of movement over speed. If you are new to Pilates, I recommend working with a certified Pilates instructor to help ensure you have correct form. This is essential to get the most out of the Pilates exercises.

Now, to the good stuff: how can Pilates exercises give you that flat belly?

Every Pilates exercise is an abdominal exercise. All of the movements come from the core, also called the “powerhouse.” The core consists of the transverse abdominis, the pelvic floor, the multifidus, and the diaphragm.

Let’s focus on one of these key players involved in Pilates, which is the transverse abdominis (TA). The TA is a deep abdominal muscle that is often not activated in traditional abdominal exercises.

You can think of the TA as a corset that wraps around the abdomen. This is a very important area to strengthen in those with lower back pain, and it also leads to that nice, flat tummy you have been hoping for!

pilates exercises2

Here are my top three Pilates exercises that activate your TA to help tone your abs:

1. The Hundred

Lie down on your back and bring your legs up to table top position (knees are bent at 90 degrees with thighs perpendicular to the floor). Your arms should be at your sides. Lift your shoulder blades off the mat, bringing your chin to your chest. Your gaze should be into your belly button. Straighten your legs to about 45 degrees (be sure not to arch your back).

Your arms should be extended and just a few inches off the floor. Take five short breaths in and out. While you do this, move your arms up and down in a strong, pumping manner with control. The abdominal muscles should be doing all the work.

After you have finished your repetitions, bring your knees back into table top position and gently roll your upper body back down to the mat. For a modified version keep your knees bent instead of straightening your legs.

2. Double Leg Stretch

Lie on your back. Bring your knees in towards your chest and place your hands on your shins or ankles. Your head and shoulder blades should be lifted off the mat. Maintain this curve as you inhale and extend your legs long and lean and your arms overhead.

As you exhale, bring your legs back in towards your chest and sweep your arms back around to place your hands on your shins/ankles.

3. The Teaser (an advanced move)

Lie down on your back. Bring your legs up to table top position. Extend your arms over your head. Straighten your legs so that are at about a 45-degree angle (be sure not to arch your back). Inhale to prepare, and then exhale as you curl your chin to your chest. Lift your head, arms and upper body and reach for your toes.

You should be in a seated “V” with your chest lifted. Inhale. Then, exhale and bring your chin towards your chest as you gently roll your spine back down on the mat with control, laying down one vertebra at a time. For a modified version keep your knees bent instead of straightening your legs.

With Pilates, less is more. If you can do five repetitions of the above exercises with control that is better than doing more repetitions with less control. Finally, do not forget the importance of nutrition when it comes to trimming down your waistline.  Good nutrition and Pilates are a great combination to give you the super toned abs you are looking for!

References

Pilates Technique. History of Joseph Pilates. http://www.josephpilates.com/joomla/history-of-joseph-pilatesa-little-about-the-man-behind-it-all.html.  Accessed September 15, 2014.

Aaronson N, Turo AM. Pilates for Cancer Rehabilitation. September 10-11, 2011: Suwanee, GA.

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