A 20-Minute Ab Workout You’re Going to Get Addicted To
5 toning moves, and you don’t even have to get off the floor for them.
Like every other person on this planet, we’re willing to wager that when it comes to time spent working out, you’re looking for big reward with as little spend as possible. That’s why, when Pilates pro Karen Lord showed us five essential moves that activate the ab muscles we didn’t even know we had without so much as getting us off the mat, it sounded like our type of workout.
“Here are five full-body exercises that I developed to target the abdominals (and teach you how to find them), with a focus on breath pattern to power your body. They’re deceptively simple. Dig in, move through any frustration, and don’t give up. You’ll get better every time you practice, and your body will be strong, hot, healthy, alive!
“Start with three reps of each exercise, and work up to 10 once you feel your body working as one solid unit.”
“Sit and stabilize yourself on the mat. You’ll be using your breath to activate and engage your core to stay balanced. Inhale. Pull your lowest abdominals in toward your spine, creating a C curve. Activate your arms—extend them out in front of you, glide your shoulder blades down your back, widen your collarbone, and feel the energy extend out through your fingertips.
“Connect your inner thighs (still using your deepest lower abdominals), and extend your right leg to 90 degrees, toes pointing just enough to lengthen and energize the leg, but not so much that you curl the foot. You’re in position.
“Breathe. Inhale the legs down six inches, as the upper body follows back six inches. Exhale back up. Repeat.
“Keep squeezing the inner thighs close and extending the legs long. Zip your ribs close in as you lengthen your spine in both directions.”
Tip: “Think about creating a strong internal X shape as your whole body works with the breath. You’ll find your lower abs as your center of power. Move from there!”
“Now you’re in position, and your abs are firing. Same principles apply; let’s add some deep transverse abdominal (that’s the X) twists to work your obliques. These really work, and when you’re doing it right, you’ll know.
“Bring your knees in toward your rib cage; your shins should be parallel to the floor, keeping energy through your toes. Balance on your sit bones, and be gentle on your tailbone. Pull your abs in deeply toward your spine, drop your shoulder blades, lengthen your neck, and bring your elbows out to east-west.”
Tip: “It’s best not to interlace the fingers behind the head. Just use them to gently support your neck.
“Keeping only your upper body rotated, inhale [and] twist to the left as you extend your legs out to a straight 45 degrees. Remember: Stay balanced on your sitting bones, and keep your hips square. Exhale as you twist back to center, pulling your legs back in to your starting position. Inhale [and] twist to the right, legs extended to 45 degrees, and repeat.”
Tip: “Remember you are taking this slow. Holding your body in alignment is more important and more effective than speed. Your abs are steering, and your breath is powering these movements.”
“Now we’re adding on. Follow the same body/breath basics, but we’re going even deeper into the abs, working your arms, legs, butt, [and] shoulders, all at the same time.
“With your left foot planted on the mat, pull your inner thighs close together. Keep your knees, hips, [and] shoulders in alignment. As you inhale deeply, raise your right leg to a high 45-degree angle. Hold. As you exhale, lower your upper body back and down toward the mat for a 3-2-1 count. Inhale [and] raise it back up for 3-2-1 while focusing on keeping your spine safe by concentrating on your C curve (long, rounded spine stays lengthened, not collapsed; belly in toward [the] center).
“Switch legs, and repeat!”
Tip: “Keep a long neck. Your shoulders will want to creep up into your ears—don’t let it happen, by remembering to widen your collarbone and slide your shoulders down your back gently. I want you to feel this evenly throughout your body. Be mindful not to let any part grip or take over, and when you start to loosen your abs, take a deep breath and pull them even deeper in toward your spine.”
“We’re moving on to the legs while working the whole body. Lie on your side. You’ll want your body to be straight, but have your legs at a slight forward angle. Stack your hips, support your head with your hand, and push the mat away with your other hand. This activates your arm muscles and helps get the abs fired up, lifted, and in position. Lengthen your top leg out and point your toes—energize all the way through the middle toe. Keep the energy radiating outward. Inhale with your toes pointed, and lift your leg. Exhale, flex from butt to heel, and lower your leg.”
Tip: “Range of motion doesn’t have to be bold. Focus on your breath and my cues more than big movements. As you get better at it, your range of motion will change/improve. Watch out for your top hip hiking up—keep hips stacked; that’s the most important thing to remember with this exercise. Lengthen your leg as you lower it down and resist the movement. Don’t just let it fly. Resistance is key here.
“Switch sides and repeat!”
“Now you’re a pro at finding your deep abs and keeping them active, so here’s a tricky one. Let’s bring more balance into it, amp up the butt action, and end with a killer whole-body burner. Start by kneeling on all fours. Your knees should be in line with your hips and wrists in line with your shoulders. Flatten your back and keep a long neck. Inhale, extending your right arm forward and your left leg back—both are reaching to lengthen your entire body. Feel that reach through your spine and abs. Exhale and hold.
“Breathe deep and find your low abdominals; move from there. Pulse up higher…higher…higher, three times. Then 10 little mid-line pulses.
“Switch sides and repeat!”
Tip: “Relax your face. Notice if you’re holding tension there; relax your jaw if you’re clenching. Keep your back safe by holding it straight here and pulling your abs in toward your spine—it’s easy to forget. Watch out for hyperextension of the elbows. Hyperextending is easy to fall into here, so stay conscious of it. Hyperextending won’t let you work your triceps and can put too much pressure on delicate joints. We want to work the MUSCLES!”
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