For her workouts, Kirsten King, founder of Fluidform Pilates, says she focuses on integrating isometric holds (making muscles pause at the hardest part of movement) and isotonic holds (requiring muscles to stretch and contract while maintaining the same amount of tension) as well as layering techniques in order to fatigue your muscles while supporting and challenging your body. “I focus on your slow twitch, stabilizing muscles, that support your joints, stability, balance, and posture,” King explains. “I work these muscles in slow, controlled movements.”
Not only is this a smart way to build strength, but it also allows you to address imbalances in the body that may occur when some muscles are stronger and overcompensate for weaker ones. As a result, you’ll minimize your risk of injuries caused by a system that isn’t functioning optimally. “This strength and stability will support not only your fitness, but day-to-day performance,” King says. “You will experience less pain and imbalances, improve your flexibility, and start to move more efficiently.”
Sticking to small, controlled movements performed slowly also means that you can get a really solid workout without breaking a sweat. Don’t believe it? Try these five Pilates exercises for low abs below to see for yourself.
For them to be effective, however, King notes that you need to maintain a neutral spine, meaning you don’t want to tuck your tailbone under or flatten your low back to the floor. Instead, you want your spine to keep its natural slight curvature: Imagine there’s a blueberry under your low back when you’re lying down, and try not to squish it.
5 Pilates exercises for low abs
Prayer position over ball
- Start by lying on your back with a soft Pilates ball (or a small pillow folded in half) between your shoulder blades. Bend your legs so that the soles of your feet come together and your knees are open wide (like a lying down butterfly pose). Bring your hands behind your head to support your neck and interlace your fingers, or keep them long by your sides. Keep your pelvis neutral.
- Inhale here, and on the exhale, gently lift your face and chest up toward the ceiling, feeling like the weight of your body is coming up and off the ball.
- Maintaining neutral, inhale at the top and on the exhale lay back and over the ball.
- Repeat this 10 times, squeezing your feet together the entire time.
Single-leg chest lift
- Lie on your back and over your ball (between your shoulder blades) with one leg extended straight so your toes are flexing back toward you. Your other leg is bent, foot flat on the floor.
- Inhale, and on the exhale, maintain a neutral pelvis as you lift your face and chest up toward the ceiling. Inhale at the top and exhale while lying back and over the ball.
- Repeat this movement, and this time float your long leg up, bringing your knee in line with the one of your bent leg as you raise your chest. Inhale, and on the exhale, lower your leg as you as lie back over the ball. Make sure that you only lift your long leg as high as you can while maintaining a neutral pelvis.
- Repeat this 10 times before swapping legs.
- Lie back and over the ball (still between your shoulder blades), this time with two bent legs and both feet flat on the floor.
- Inhale in this position and exhale to lift your face and chest up to the ceiling. As you lift up, you want to feel your heels pushing down and into the mat, and at the same time pulling back toward your bottom. This ensures you find a deeper connection through your hamstrings and in your lower abdominals. Maintain that connection through your feet as your chest lifts up and over the ball.
- Repeat this 10 times.
Single-leg lift plank
- Come to a quadruped position on your hands and knees with both wrists under your shoulders, pressing your 10 fingers down and into the mat. Then extend each leg out into a plank position, insuring your pelvis stays level with your shoulders.
- Inhale, and on the exhale, lift one of your legs up to be in line with your pelvis.
- Inhale at the top and exhale to lower your leg back down to the ground, then repeat on the other side.
- Repeat this 10 times.
If your plank for could use a refresher:
- Come back to hands and knees, 10 fingers pressing into the mat and both knees beneath your hips.
- Tuck your toes under, inhale, and on the exhale, press through your hands and lift your knees to just hover one inch off the ground. Hold for five seconds, then lower your knees back down to tap the floor.
- Repeat this 10 times.
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