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Authentic Mat Pilates Exercises for a Great Ab Workout: MODIFIED SERIES

The second installment to the “Authentic Mat Pilates Exercises for a Great Ab Workout,” these exercises are modified to accommodate those with limitations in their neck, back, knees, and/or shoulders.

If you have any limitations, especially in your neck and/or back, please get medical approval prior to trying these exercises. These modifications give those with limitations options for the original exercises. You may need to combine more than one modification to suit your body. As a rule of thumb, if anything causes pain, skip the exercise all together. If you have any concerns or questions regarding the exercises, please seek a certified Pilates professional in your area to help customize the exercises to accommodate your needs.

Modified Single leg stretch


This is a great stretch for the quads while focusing on abdominal control. If you’re not able to press your spine into the mat, place a towel or another mat under your lower back for extra lumbar support.

Weak back:

modified_single_leg_stretch_pilates_weak_back_pic1. Lie on your back with both knees bent and feet flat on the floor. Lift your chin onto your chest. Bend your right knee towards your chest by placing your right hand on your right ankle and your left hand on your right knee. Pull your right leg as far as possible towards your chest while inhaling slowly. This hand placement keeps your ankle, knee, and hip aligned.

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

modified_single_leg_stretch_pilates_weak_neck_pic2. Slowly exhale while changing legs. Bend your left knee and pull your left leg into your chest while placing your right foot on the floor. Watch your hand placement.

Weak neck:

Follow the same steps as “weak back.” However, keep your head down on the floor, extending the back of your neck. Feel free to use a small pillow for more support.

modified_single_leg_stretch_pilates_weak_knees_picWeak knees:

Follow the same steps as the Authentic Single Leg Stretch, but place your hands underneath your knees when you pull.

Repeat 5–10 repetitions on each leg.

Modified Double Leg Stretch


I love the original and modified version of this exercise! It really emphasizes control through your Powerhouse and you’ll feel your abs working very hard.

modified_double_leg_stretch_weak_back_picWeak back:

1. Lie flat with both legs bent into your chest. Place your hands palms down underneath your tailbone, not your lower back. I like to make a diamond with my thumbs and index fingers to create a bowl for the gluteal cleft (“butt crack”) to rest in. Lift your shoulders off the mat, reaching your chin onto your chest.

2. Inhaling slowly, extend both legs out.

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 modified_double_leg_stretch_weak_neck_picarching, raise the legs higher.

3. While slowly exhaling, use your abdominals to pull your knees tightly into your chest.

Weak neck:

Follow the same steps as “weak back”, keeping your neck down and elongated. Use a small pillow for more support if needed.

modified_double_leg_stretch_weak_shoulders_picWeak shoulders:

Follow the original Authentic Double Leg Stretch, but reach your arms forward instead of reaching back and circling them around.

Repeat 5–10 times.

Modified Single Straight Leg Stretch


As a runner, this is my favorite exercise to stretch my hamstrings while strengthening my abdominal muscles! If you’re unable to reach your ankles, you can place your hands further down on your calves or the back of your leg.

Weak back:modified_single_straight_leg_stretch_weak_back_pic1. 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. Place the foot of the other leg on the floor.

3. Lifting your elbows to the side, pull the up leg with a gentle double pulse towards you. Your abs should be engaged, preventing your torso from shifting on the mat.

4. Repeat on the other side.

modified_single_straight_leg_stretch_weak_neck_picWeak neck:

Follow the same steps as “weak back,” but place your neck on the floor, using a small pillow if necessary. If you’re able to flex your neck towards your chest, you may prop your neck up higher using a pillow or an exercise ball.

Repeat 5–10 times on each side.

Modified Double Straight Leg Stretch


This is a challenging exercise, so please take caution to protect your back!

Weak back:

modified_double_straight_leg_stretch_weak_back_pic1. Lie flat on your back and place your hands underneath your tailbone to give your lower back more support. Take note that your hands are under the tailbone, not your lower back. Straighten both legs into the air. Lift your shoulders off the mat, reaching your chin into your chest.

2. Strongly 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, keeping your shoulders off the mat.

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

modified_double_straight_leg_stretch_weak_neck_picWeak neck:

Follow the same steps as “weak back,” but keep your neck down, using a small pillow for extra support if needed. You may not be able to lower your legs as far with your neck down, so be sure to listen to your body and adjust accordingly.

Repeat 5–10 times.

Modified Criss Cross


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

Weak back:


modified_criss_cross_weak_back_pic1. Lie on your back with your feet on the floor. Place your hands behind your head with your elbows opened out. Lift your shoulders off the mat and bring your chin into your chest.

2. Bend your right knee into your chest while keeping your left foot on the floor. 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 right elbow and shoulder modified_criss_cross_weak_neck_picshould 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.

Weak neck:

You may hold your head with your hands. Start by doing one set at a time. If your neck gets tired, lower your head and rest. When your neck feels better, return to the exercise. If you experience any pain while doing this exercise, skip it all together.

Repeat 5–10 times.

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