These five Pilates mat exercises improve your core strength, flexibility, balance, and posture without complex equipment like a Pilates reformer machine.
Create a Fun Pilates Mat Workout with These 5 Pilates Exercises for the Abdominals
The Pilates Mat Ab Workout Even Beginners Can Do
If you’re looking for fun floor exercises, then a Pilates mat workout is a must. Try these authentic mat Pilates exercises to strengthen your deep abdominal muscles.
If you don't have a Pilates mat, try stacking a couple of yoga mats or placing a thick towel on top of your yoga mat for extra cushion.
1. Single-Leg Stretch
Difficulty Level: Beginner
This is a wonderful stretch for the quads while working on abdominal control. Here’s how to do it:
- Bend your right knee and pull your right leg as far as possible toward your chest while inhaling slowly.
- Make your chin touch your chest. Place your right hand on your right ankle and your left hand on your right knee. This hand placement keeps your ankle, knee, and hip aligned.
- Extend your left leg out at an angle to the floor while maintaining a flat back by pulling your belly button into your spine.
- Elbows should be facing out with very little movement in your upper body.
- Slowly exhale while changing legs. Bend your left knee and pull your left leg into your chest and extend the right leg out.
- Repeat 5–10 repetitions on each leg.
2. Double Leg Stretch
Difficulty Level: Beginner
This is one of my favorites in the Classical Ab series, and it’s a great breathing exercise. You start off in a tight ball.
When you reach and extend your body out, you want to imagine there is someone in front of and behind you. Maintaining good control and a flat back, one person is pulling on your hands while the other person is pulling on your ankles. You want to feel your lungs fill up like balloons while stretching out.
- Lie flat with both legs bent into your chest, pulling your ankles with your hands. Inhaling slowly and touching your chest with your chin, reach your arms overhead while extending both legs. Keep the elbows at or above your ears.
- Make sure to keep your navel to the spine to ensure a flat back. The legs extend only as low as you're able to maintain a flat back. If you find yourself arching, raise the legs higher.
- While slowly exhaling, circle the arms around and pull both legs into your chest again. Your hands are grabbing your ankles while hugging your legs tightly into the chest to further exhalation.
- Repeat 5–10 times.
3. Single Straight Leg Stretch
Difficulty Level: Beginner
This is a very dynamic stretch and great for anyone with tight hamstrings. The pulse and switching of the legs are quick and require great control.
Imagine your favorite beverage is on your chest. Don't let it spill!
If you’re unable to reach your ankles, you can place your hands farther down your calves or the back of your leg.
- Lie flat on your back, pulling your navel into your spine. Lift your shoulders off the mat bringing your chin to your chest.
- Lift one leg into the air and take hold of the ankle with both hands. The other leg extends out.
- Lifting your elbows to the side, pull the leg up with a double pulse toward you, making sure not to let the lower leg "flap in the wind." It should remain steady and still.
- Then, with a scissor-like motion, switch the legs keeping them straight the entire time.
- Repeat 5–10 times on each side.
4. Double Straight Leg Stretch
Difficulty Level: Intermediate
This is a challenging ab exercise. Keep your shoulders off the mat the entire time, making sure they don’t drop to the mat when you lower your legs.
I catch students cheating on this exercise all the time! Remember, keep your favorite beverage from tipping over on your chest by controlling the movement!
- Lie flat on your back and straighten both legs into the air. Lift your shoulders off the mat, reaching your chin into your chest.
- Place both of your hands behind your head with your elbows opened out.
- Knitting your ribs together, pull your abdominal muscles inward and up as you slowly inhale while lowering your legs. Make sure you only lower your legs as far as you're able to maintain a flat back into your mat keep your shoulders off the mat.
- While exhaling, bring your legs back to the starting position.
5. Criss Cross
Difficulty Level: Intermediate
The most important part of this exercise is the twisting motion and reaching back with your lower elbow. Both elbows should be open.
Make sure your shoulders stay off the mat throughout the exercise to work deeper into your abdominal muscles. This is a slow exercise, so be sure to hold each twist for three seconds!
- Lie on your back with your legs reaching the ceiling. Place your hands behind your head with your elbows opened out.
- Lift your shoulders off the mat and touch your chest with your chin.
- Bend your right knee into your chest while extending your left leg out. Maintain a flat back by pulling your navel into your spine.
- While exhaling, reach your left elbow toward your right knee while pulling your right elbow back. Your left elbow and shoulder should be off the mat.
- Keep both hips connected to the floor, focusing more on the twist from your upper body.
- Inhale as you return to the center. Keep your shoulders off the mat.
- Exhale, switching to the opposite side and focusing on the stretch behind you.
- Repeat 5–10 times.
Five Tips to Succeed in Your Mat Pilates Exercises
Make Pilates mat exercises work for you. Here are five tips to maximize the benefits of Pilates:
1. Understand the Differences Among Pilates Exercises
The principles of Pilates have remained the same throughout the years, but the techniques differ. For example, there’s mat Pilates for the abs.
What is mat Pilates? It is a kind of floor exercise that follows the standards of Pilates, so it focuses on posture, alignment, balance, flexibility, and core strength.
You don’t need to use a reformer machine, which is a common type of Pilates equipment. It is a platform complete with a carriage that helps improve strength, stretch, and length.
The Pilates mat workouts, meanwhile, may be either classical or Stott Pilates. Between the two, the latter is more contemporary.
The principles for both are the same, but they differ in their treatment of the back:
- Classical Pilates uses the imprinted spine, which means the back lies flat and is in an arched position.
- Stott Pilates promotes a neutral spine, which means it follows the natural curvature of the lower part of the back as long as one foot is on the floor. If both are high in the air, you follow the imprinted spine method.
What’s the best Pilates mat technique? Each has its pros and cons, but it all boils down to multiple factors such as your health condition and end goal.
2. Do Use Other Exercise Supplies
A good Pilates exercise mat can already give you a great ab workout. If you want to maximize the benefits of Pilates, however, incorporate other supplies.
These include resistance bands. These are stretchable exercise tools that work similarly as weights: improve muscle control and strength.
3. Choose the Correct Pilates Mat
Can you do a Pilates workout while using a yoga mat? The answer is yes, you can still perform ab exercises that enhance your core muscles with it.
They may even look the same as they can also have a carry strap, so you can tag them along anywhere you go. Note, however, there are differences between a yoga mat and a Pilates mat.
A Pilates mat is thicker than a yoga mat since you need more cushioning. The extra thickness protects your knees and joints from the pressures brought by hard surfaces or a hard floor.
One of the best Pilates mat brands out there is Airex. It’s also convenient to clean, so you can use it as many times as you like during the week.
4. Practice Consistency
These Pilates exercises for the abs are great, but you never get to experience the full benefits of Pilates unless you are consistent.
As a general rule, you need to practice or undergo training at least three times a week. Typical Pilates sessions last for about 45 to 60 minutes.
Like other types of exercises, you can do Pilates mat workouts in the comfort of your home. You may buy online DVDs or subscribe to memberships with access to exclusive tutorial videos.
It may not be the best option, however, as wrong postures can offset the benefits. Worse, they can increase your chances of injuries.
As a start, begin by enrolling in a group fitness class in a Pilates studio. This way, a Pilates instructor can monitor your progress.
You may also opt for a personal trainer for private sessions. You don’t need to do this alone as you can invite some of your friends to participate.
5. Rotate Your Routines
Pilates can do so much more than strengthening your core muscles. To make the most of the benefits of Pilates, consider establishing a routine and working out other parts of the body.
These include the arms, legs, and back. You may even create a workout plan for scoliosis, weight loss, pregnancy, and even one for kids!
What is scoliosis? It is an orthopedic condition characterized by the abnormal curvature of the spine.
Learn how Pilates 100s exercises work to strengthen your core in this video from Sunwarrior:
While you’re rotating routines, improve your stamina and energy by complementing your workouts with Sunwarrior Protein Warrior Blend.
A GMO-free, plant-based protein powder, it is rich in essential amino acids that help build lean muscles. You need these to help support your weight when doing the exercises.
A Pilates mat abs workout challenges your body without putting too much strain on you. It is also cheaper and more convenient to do, making it worth trying even by beginners.
What are your favorite Pilates mat postures or movements? Share your answers in the comments section below!
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Editor’s Note: This post was originally published on August 25, 2014, and has been updated for quality and relevancy.
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