Authentic Mat Pilates Exercises for a Great Ab Workout

Try these Authentic Mat Pilates exercises to strengthen your deep abdominal muscles. If you don't have a Pilates mat, try stacking a couple yoga mats or placing a thick towel on top of your yoga mat for extra cushion.


Single leg stretch


This is a wonderful stretch for the quads while working on abdominal control.

1. Bend your right knee and pull your right leg as far as possible towards your chest while inhaling slowly.

Reach your chin onto 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 still maintaining a flat back by pulling your bellybutton into your spine.

Elbows should be facing out with very little movement in your upper body.

2. 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.

Double Leg Stretch


Double_Leg_Stretch_1_pilates_pic1This is one of my favorites in the Classical Ab series and 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 on 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.

1. Lie flat with both legs bent into your chest, pulling your ankles with your hands.

Double_Leg_Stretch_2_pilates_pic22. Inhaling slowly and reaching your chin into your chest, 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.

3. 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.

Single Straight Leg Stretch


Single_Straight_Leg_Stretch_pilates_picThis is a very dynamic stretch and great for anyone with tight hamstrings. The pulse and switching of the legs is quick, and requires 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 further down on your calves or the back of your leg.

1. Lie flat on your back pulling your navel into your spine. Lift your shoulders off the mat bringing your chin to your chest.

2. Lift one leg into the air and take hold of the ankle with both hands. The other leg extends out.

3. Lifting your elbows to the side, pull the up leg with a double pulse towards you being sure to not let the lower leg "flap in the wind." It should remain steady and still.

4. Then with a scissor-like motion, switch the legs keeping them straight the entire time.

Repeat 5–10 times on each side.

Double Straight Leg Stretch


Double_Straight_Leg_Stretch_1_pilates_picThis 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!

1. 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 Double_Straight_Leg_Stretch_2_pilates_picelbows opened out.

2. Knitting your ribs together pull your abdominal muscles inwards 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, and you keep your shoulders off the mat.

3. While exhaling, bring your legs back to the starting position.

Criss Cross


Criss_Cross_1_pilates_picThe 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 in order to work deeper into your abdominal muscles. This is a slow exercise so be sure to hold each twist for three seconds!

1. Lie on your back with your legs reaching the ceiling. Place your hands behind your head with your elbows opened out. Lift your Criss_Cross_2_pilates_picshoulders off the mat and bring your chin into your chest.

2. Bend your right knee into your chest while extending your left leg out. Maintain a flat back by pulling your navel into your spine.

3. While exhaling, reach your left elbow towards 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.

4. Inhale as you return to center. Keep your shoulders off the mat.

5. Exhale, switching to the opposite side and focusing on the stretch behind you.

Repeat 5–10 times.


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