There are all kinds of ways to get rock hard abs–or even just a slimmer, trimmer midsection: crunches, planks, ab wheel rollouts, and the list goes on. But maybe the best of the tummy tightening approaches is one that also promotes overall body strength, posture, and flexibility, too.
It’s Pilates. Completely equipment-free Pilates exercises–no “Cadillac” or “reformer” necessary–can help you get a killer core. In fact, when participants in a 36-week study practiced Pilates twice a week, Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise reported 21 percent of them strengthened the muscles known for creating the elusive six-pack (rectus abdominis) while simultaneously creating better muscle balance between the left and right sides of their midsection.
What is Equipment-Free Pilates?
Pilates itself was created in the early 20th century by Joseph Pilates with the goal of helping to rehabilitate injured soldiers from the First World War. To do so, he introduced exercises focused on building strength, flexibility, and stability in core muscles. The same still applies today, with the focus of Pilates work combining precise technique and control with proper body alignment to strengthen the body from within.
Regarding equipment-free Pilates exercise, in the most obvious terms, it’s the practice of Pilates using only your body weight. No need for a Pilates studios filled with fancy reformers (with upgraded versions called “Cadillacs”), which individually looks typically like some combo of pulleys, crossbars, and padded surfaces. You also don’t need other props commonly used in Pilates, such as exercise balls, resistance rings, poles, and foam rollers. A mat would be useful, but if you want to kick it old school, pile up some towels on top of carpeting for all the cushioning you need.
5 Equipment-Free Pilates Exercises
The great thing about the following exercises is that you can do them anywhere–heck, stay in bed and get your workout in! All you need is you and the motivation to strengthen your stomach and get the killer core (often called the “powerhouse” in Pilates) that workout goals are made of.
1. The 100:
Maybe one of the most iconic of the equipment-free Pilates exercises is this “warm-up” move that will have you feeling the burn fast. Named for the number of reps–yes, 100–the movement is quite small. But as Shakespeare once wrote: “Though she be but little, she is fierce!”
To do: Lie on your back and raise your knees above your hips with your lower legs parallel to the floor. Holding the back of your legs, curl your shoulders and head away from the ground and think about pressing your abs down and toward your spine. Lengthen your arms next to your abs with your palms facing down. Keeping a tight core, pump your arms up and down about six or so inches, slowly inhaling and exhaling as you go. Complete as many reps as you can without stopping, with the goal of working up to 100.
2. Criss-Cross Crunch:
Lie on your back and raise your knees above your hips with your lower legs parallel to the floor. Lock your hands behind your head, being careful not to wrench on your neck. Squeeze your inner thighs together. As you exhale, straighten your left leg at just above a 45-degree angle to the floor as you twist from the rib cage with your left elbow toward your right bent knee. On the inhale switch sides, straightening the bent leg and bending the straight leg. Follow the pace of your breath to complete 30 total reps (15 on each side), breathing slower for a more controlled pace or faster to up the cardio a bit. Either tempo you choose, remember to use your abs to do the work.
3. Single Leg Circles: Lie on your back and with your legs straight out in front of you and arms flat by your side. Anchor your pelvis and shoulders to the ground and tighten your abdominals in. Pull one knee into your chest and the extend your foot in the air toward the sky (your knee can be slightly bent if needed). Point your toe and pretend you’re drawing a circle using the midline of your body. Start the circle by lowering the leg down to about 45-degrees with the floor angling out to the side and rounding out at the starting point. Pause before moving into the next circle. Breathe by exhaling with the down movement and inhaling with the up. Complete 20 reps on each leg.
4. Like a Ball: Exercises like this allow momentum to come into play. The goal will be to use your core to stop the momentum you create. To do, sit at the top of your mat (if using one) and pull your knees into your chest, lifting your feet off the floor as you wrap your arms around the front of your legs. Round out your back, tuck your chin to your chest, and pull your navel toward your spine. With your elbows wide, roll back to your shoulder blades and then immediately roll back up to the starting position using your core to stop the movement so that you do not touch your feet to the ground. Repeat 25 of these exercises, inhaling as you roll back and exhaling as you roll forward.
5. Saw: Sit with your legs extended in an open V position, with feet just slightly wider than hips. Sit up tall with a straight spine and extend your arms out to your side with palms facing down. On an inhale twist to one side. On the exhale, lower your upper body as you rotate your hands so that your pinky finger slides along the pinky toe of the opposite foot, and the back hand is now facing palm up. On an inhale, raise back up to the twisted position with tall spine. As you exhale, twist to the other side and repeat the steps. Complete 30 total reps (15 on each side)
Do you love doing equipment-free Pilates exercises? Share your favorite in the comments!