6 Pilates exercises for abs

Instructions: Throughout this sequence your hips will be in an imprinted position. You should be in this position whenever you have legs elevated in tabletop as this helps to protect the lower back and makes it easier to engage the abdominals. To achieve this, roll the hips towards you and feel how the lower back gently presses down into the floor, then tighten the lower abs.

1: Criss-Cross

Start by interlacing the fingers and placing hands behind the head. Imprint the lower back into the mat and lift the legs one at a time to tabletop. Inhale to prepare and curl up into a chest lift position to begin the exercise.

Exhale to twist the upper body towards the left, taking the right elbow towards the left knee and allow the right leg to straighten.

Inhale to bring the legs back to tabletop and the body through centre to our chest lift. Breathe out to twist to the other side.

As you twist, feel that you connect one armpit to the opposite hipbone. Avoid losing the height of your chest lift as you come through centre. To make this movement more difficult, keep the legs straight instead of having one bent. You’ll then perform the exercise with scissor legs, ensuring that you’re pointing your toes and not bending through the knee.

Perform 8 to 10 times each side, alternating.

2. Chest lift

Interlace the fingers and place hands behind the head. Imprint the lower back into the mat and lift the legs one at a time to tabletop. To ease into this, feel free to keep the legs bent with the feet flat on the floor. Inhale to prepare and as you exhale, begin to curl up with the head, neck and shoulders.

You will feel the waist cinch in as you curl up but avoid pushing the abdominals out. Knees should stay directly stacked above the hips. Inhale at the top and breathe out to slowly relax the upper body down to the start position.

Repeat 8 to 10 times.

3. Toe taps

Start by lying on your back with your legs bent up and feet flat on the floor. Imprint your lower back into the mat by drawing your pubic bone towards your belly button and notice how your lower abs engage.

Lift the legs one at a time to a tabletop position. You’ll have the knees stacked directly above the hips with the shins parallel to the ceiling. Inhale to prepare and, as you exhale, begin to tap one toe towards the floor, moving from the thigh. Inhale to lift the leg back to the start position.

Alternate from side to side, ensuring the legs are back in tabletop before moving to the other side. Avoid arching from the back by keeping the waist cinched in and only go as far as you feel comfortable.

To make this movement harder, reach the arms up to the ceiling to lessen your support and tap the toe farther away.

Perform 10 to 12 on each side.

5. Single straight leg stretch

Start with the legs in tabletop and the head, neck and shoulders lifted, curled up into a chest lift. Extend one leg up towards the ceiling and place the hands behind the back of the leg. Extend the other leg along the mat until it just hovers off the floor.

As you inhale, allow the legs to come through centre. Exhale to scissor the legs switching sides. Feel the upper body curl up towards the leg rather than drawing the leg towards the body.

For a strong stretch through the back of the leg, grab closer towards the ankle without bending the knee.

To make the exercise more intense, interlace the fingers and place the hands behind the head, still staying lifted, and keep scissoring the legs.

Perform 8 to 10 times each side, alternating.