Flat abs are at the top of many wish lists. Unfortunately, many people—even those with considerable gym experience—go about their core routine the wrong way.
Pilates, a combination of strength and stretching, is a fantastic workout for people of all levels to add to their fitness regimen. The best part about this kind of exercise is that it hones in on your core, which helps you balance better and perform your choice of sport more efficiently—and sculpt your abs.
If you're looking for a quick, go-to abdominal series that will leave your belly burning, try this series of five classic mat Pilates exercises.
More: The Benefits of Pilates
What You Need:
You only need a mat and your bodyweight. This workout can be done anywhere. Do the following series of five exercises all the way through, and repeat once for maximum results.
Do this routine three times a week.
The Hundred: Start by lying down on the mat with your knees bent and your heels roughly 6 inches away from your sit bones. Exhale as you draw your belly button inward, feeling your back grow heavy on the mat and your abdominals engage. Lift your legs up into a tabletop position with your knees over your hips. Exhale as you stretch your arms out along your sides, and slightly off the ground, as you lift your head and shoulders off of the mat. Begin "pumping" your arms in a very small and controlled manner as you breath in for five counts and then out for five counts. Repeat this breathing pattern 10 times, keeping your head and shoulders lifted the entire time. Then relax, lower your head and legs, and return to the start position.
Tip: The arm pumping and breathing pattern are essential to make this exercise work. Until you're more familiar with the position, stare down at your belly button and try to get it to draw in further with each breath repetition. Keep your neck as relaxed as possible (you should be able to nod your head "no" during the exercise easily).
The Roll-up: Starting in the same position you ended after the hundred, extend your legs out long and then flex your feet. Draw your belly button in and feel your back get heavy on the mat as your abs engage. Lift your arms straight out in front of your chest as you inhale. Exhale as you slowly lift your head and shoulders off the mat, curling up to a sitting position. Keep bending forward toward your toes. Inhale. Exhale and start the journey back down to the start position as you roll down your spine back down onto the mat, one vertebra at a time. Powering through your core the entire time to keep your feet on the ground and your legs straight. Repeat this movement eight times.
Tip: The roll-up is as much about stretching your spine as it is about working your abs. It's important that you keep your lower body still and heavy on the mat during the entire roll-up and roll down. If you're having a lot of trouble, try bending your legs slightly. Use your breath to power up your abs as you roll back down onto the mat.