Having core strength is important for back health, posture, balance and movement control. A strong core is also what gives you “flat abs”. One of the best ways to build core strength is by doing PIlates exercises regularly. The Pilates method is based on building a balanced body with a strong core, good posture and smooth, controlled movement. This post shows you how to do Pilates for core strength, with some of the best Pilates core exercises.
Benefits of Pilates for core strength
- Pilates is a whole body system, so as well as training core strength, you improve your upper body posture and the way you move your whole body.
- You don’t need any equipment for Pilates, other than something to lie on.
- There is a strong focus on movement control and exercise technique, which ensures you are actually working your core and not putting strain on your lower back.
- The focus on movement control develops a better sense of awareness of what your body is doing, which carries over to daily life.
- This focus, together with attention to your breathing, promotes mindfulness and relaxation during your Pilates session
- Pilates improves flexibility and joint mobility. It’s especially good for loosening up the joints in the spine.
Core strength routine
Ideally, do this routine 3 times a week. Detailed exercise instructions are given below and you can download a printable with basic instructions. Before you do the routine, please read these general exercise guidelines.
You’ll need some cushioning for your spine, especially with the exercises where you roll through your spine. Ideally, use an exercise mat. If you don’t have a mat, then use a folded blanket or something similar.
In order to do Pilates correctly, you need to understand the neutral pelvis position. Follow the instructions below to find your neutral position.
#1 The hundred
This exercise is often used as a warm up.
- Lie on the floor as shown above, with your legs bent and your head and shoulders raised.
- Breathe in and then pulse your arms up and down by your side 5 times as you breathe out. Keep the arm movement as you breathe in for 5 pulses and then out again. Keep going with this for 10 breaths – that is, a total of 100 pulses.
#2 Heel taps
- Start with your legs in the air like for the hundred above.
- Holding on to the neutral pelvis position, lower one leg to the floor. It’s important not to let your pelvis move – your core muscles will have to work to hold on to neutral. Bring your leg back up to the starting position and repeat with the other leg.
- Keep going until you’ve done 15 on each leg.
#3 Shoulder bridge
- Start by lying on the floor with your knees bent and your feet about hip distance, with your pelvis in neutral. Now press your lower back into the floor, tilting your pelvis backwards.
- Follow this movement through so that your lower back starts to peel off the floor. You should be aiming to come into the bridge position with a smooth, controlled, curling movement. Concentrate on working through one vertebra at a time. You will probably find this difficult at first as parts of your spine will be less flexible.
- Stop when your whole spine is lifted and your weight is resting on your shoulders. Now reverse the movement, lowering back down one vertebra at a time. Again, it should be a smooth, controlled movement, working through each joint in the spine.
- Do 5 of these.
#4 Single leg stretch
- Lay on the floor with your arms by your side, your legs about hip distance apart and your pelvis in neutral.
- Bring both knees in towards your chest, then extend one leg as shown. Your core muscles should be working to hold onto neutral (ie stopping your back from arching).
- Now bring the leg back and repeat on the other leg.
- Keep going until you’ve done 10 on each leg
#5 Rolling like a ball
- Sit on the floor. Balancing on your hip bones, bring your knees towards your chest and put your hands on your lower legs. Point your toes.
- Keeping a curve in your spine and your chin tucked in, engage your core muscles and roll backwards.
- When your upper back is on the floor, contract your core and buttock muscles strongly to start to roll back to the starting position.
- Do 10 of these.
- This should be a SMOOTH, CONTROLLED movement. The spine gradually makes and releases contact with the floor, one vertebra at a time.
- The ball shape you make should stay the same throughout the movement.
- Don’t roll onto your neck – start to reverse the movement once your upper back is on the floor.
#6 Spine twist
- Sit with your back straight and straighten your legs out in front. (If you find it difficult to straighten your legs, have them slightly bent.)
- Raise your arms up to shoulder height, so that they are parallel with the floor.
- Keeping your back straight and your arms lifted, engage your abdominal muscles and rotate your upper body to the right.
- Come back to the centre and keep turning to repeat the movement to the left.
- Keep going until you have done 5 to each side.
Get a copy of the Pilates for core strength PDF printable
Sign up for My Fitness Planner updates and get the free printable download link e-mailed to you:
After you sign up, you’ll get 2 e-mails, one will have a link to your printable download and the other will be a welcome e-mail.
If the e-mails haven’t turned up within a few minutes, please check your junk folder, as some service providers have very strict filters.
Related to Pilates for core strength
Ab workouts FAQ
The stock answer to this is that you can’t get rid of fat from a specific area. This is repeated frequently and emphatically by almost everyone involved in fitness. Given that it’s the go-to answer, you would think that there’s a pile of evidence to support it. In fact, the evidence is surprisingly weak. On the other hand, there’s no evidence that you can exercise to burn fat from a specific area either.
What we do know for sure is that our bodies have preferred places to store fat – and the abdominal area is one of them. So you’re not likely to have a fat-free belly until you’re a healthy weight. The best way to be a healthy weight is of course to have a healthy diet and to exercise regularly. Any exercise helps with weight control.
Even if it doesn’t burn belly fat, regular ab exercise will make a difference though. The deep core muscles pull the abdominal area flat and having a strong core can make a real difference. In fact it’s often the case that what people think is fat is just poor muscle tone allowing the abdomen to protrude.
So, the best things you can do to look slimmer around your middle are to make sure you’re a healthy weight and do some core training.
Plank holds have been an enormously popular abs exercise for years now. This is probably due to the buzz surrounding the exercise in the form of challenges and extreme hold times, rather than being due to its merits as an effective exercise.
Done correctly, the plank will engage the deepest abdominal muscle, the transverse abdominis (TA). This is the one that plays the biggest part in pulling the abdominal area in flat, as well as playing an important role in pelvic and spinal stability. It’s a challenging exercise and most people will struggle to hold the correct position for more than a minute. These are the good points. However, the plank has its drawbacks:
- Doing it with correct technique is difficult for those who are not used to core training. To be effective, the back and legs must form a straight line (like a plank). Inexperienced exercisers fail to do this.
- It’s a static exercise (ie the muscles are held contracted). There are two problems with static exercises. One is that the muscles are only worked in one position and the other is that it causes blood pressure to increase.
- It’s not functional – we do nothing vaguely resembling the plank in every day life. If we want to train our TA to engage when we’re active, then holding it in a static contraction isn’t the best way.
So should you do plank holds? Yes, it’s good to add them to your abs routine sometimes or to do a plank challenge for variety. But you should make sure your technique is correct and you shouldn’t waste your workout time trying to build up excessively long holds.
As with most “best exercise” questions, the answer depends on what you’re trying to achieve. The two main goals people have are flat abs and 6 pack abs. To have a flat abdominal area you need to train the deeper abdominal muscles. This is done by doing core stabilising exercises. The 6 pack muscles are the top layer of ab muscles and are trained by crunches and similar exercises – any exercise in which the upper body and lower body come closer together against a resistance. If you want to train all your ab muscles, bicycle crunches are a good all-round exercise.