Shape Up for Summer! Awesome Abs & an Incomparable Core

flat-abs-fastWhether or not you plan on baring your midriff this summer, you can never go wrong with exercises to flatten your abs and strengthen your core.  But don’t just start doing crunches!  The secret to flat abs lies in the proper activation of all the abdominal muscles, not just the vanity muscles on the surface.  Here are some tips to get you flat abs fast, just in time for summer!

We all know “six pack abs” look like, but this refers to just one muscle, the rectus abdominis.  Underneath the rectus abdominis, there are three more distinct layers of abdominal muscles that can be targeted to create amazing abs and a super strong core.  Thus, the best bet for an ab-flattening, waist tightening, core energizing workout is to target all of these muscles with a variety of exercises that move the body in different planes of motion and recruit the fibers of the upper and lower abdominal muscles!

Let’s start from the inner muscles and move to the outer muscles:

Transversus Abdominis (also written as transverse abdominis or “TA”):  This is the muscle that, when targeted effectively, will give you super flat abs, and also create support for your lower back.  While ideally one should keep their transversus abdominis engaged throughout their Pilates repertoire, this can be difficult at first!

If you have a hard time remembering to keep your TA engaged during your Pilates workouts, there are a couple of simple exercises that you can do to tap into this very important muscle. We also suggest our Pelvic Placement technique video for a thorough explanation of how to support the pelvis and engage the TA. To view this video, click here.

1)  Supine (lying on your back):  Make sure that your pelvis and spine are neutral, with your knees bent, feet a comfortable distance away from your hips.  Place your fingertips just inside your hip bones.  Draw up the muscles of the pelvic floor as you draw in the abs, careful not to over-engage the abs or change the shape of the spine (both of which will recruit the internal obliques as well as the TA.)

2)  Prone (face down) on All Fours:  With hands under the shoulders and knees under the hips, ensure that your pelvis and spine are neutral.  Inhale to prepare, then exhale and draw your navel to the front wall of your spine away from the floor, without changing your spinal shape.  Hold for 2-3 breaths, then relax and repeat.

3)  Side Lying:  Lie on your side with your head resting on your outstretched arm, aiming to bring your body into one long line from your ankles to the top of your head.  Place your top hand on your top leg.  Without changing your position at all, flatten your abs, and, if possible, lift your legs a little bit off the floor.  (This will engage your glutes too, of course!)

Because the Transversus Abdominis compresses the abdominal contents when it contracts and is not a muscle with a directional pull, your spine will not and should not change shape, even when you fully engage it.

Internal & External Obliques:  These muscles work in tandem, so for practical Pilates purposes, we will not separate them.  The obliques flex the spine (bend us forward), laterally flex the spine (bend us sideways), rotate the spine (twist right or left).  Thus, to sufficiently target the obliques, exercises need to incorporate all of the above spinal motions.  Here are some suggestions for effectively zapping the obliques!

Flexion:  Half Roll Down, Hundreds, Roll Over Hip Lift

Side Bending:  Side Leg Lift Series 3, Side Plank, Side Bends

Rotation:  Spine Twist, Obliques Roll Back, Saw

Rectus Abdominis:  This muscle is our “six pack” muscle…. and also the strongest flexor of the trunk.  We Pilates folk like to encourage proper recruitment of the obliques as well as the Rectus Abdominis, but we cannot deny that at the end of the day, the Rectus is still our strongest flexor!

Exercises to target the rectus abdominis:  Roll Up, Rolling Like a Ball, Roll Over and for a challenge, Jack Knife, Corkscrew and all the Teasers.

For a detailed description of any of the exercises listed above, visit and find the applicable podcast!

All original Pilates, classical Pilates and contemporary Pilates workouts target the abdominal muscles, but it is up to you – especially if you attend a large class or do videos – to make sure you are keeping your belly button pinned to your spine to the best of your ability.  For two short workouts that target all these abdominal muscles (and more!) and really pack a punch, try Flat Abs in Fifteen or Arms & Core workout in the Strong, Svelte & Savvy Series on!


April 29, 2009. Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Pilates on Fifth Postings, Pilates Posts, The Pilates Center of New York Postings, Postings. 1 comment.

Why core strength training relies on instability

my_first_pilates_workout_watchdogWhether using balls, BOSUs or balance discs, athletic trainers and personal trainers alike know that instability is the key to training the core.

The deep muscles of the core are involuntary muscles that engage automatically when subjected to instability.  In other words, one can go through a lengthy traditional workout involving elaborate weight machines, free weights, etc., but unless instability is introduced into the training regime, the core musculature may not be targeted at all.

Given the right cues by a qualified trainer, one can learn to activate his/her core musculature in traditional abdominal work.  For instance, most Pilates mat exercises do not involve instability (unless you’re doing Pilates on a boat), but you can activate the core by deliberately engaging the muscles of the pelvic floor.  (Think “kegel exercises” if you are not familiar with the term “pelvic floor muscles.”)  Activating the pelvic floor triggers the deepest abdominal muscle, the transversus abdominis, to fire.

good-for-website-4Another key core stabilizing muscle is the multifidus.  The multifidus is comprised of a series of short fibers that act as scaffolding for the spine.  The exercise shown above, the “Watchdog“, targets the multifidus because the spine is challenged to remain straight and NOT rotate as opposite arm and leg lift.  Almost anyone who has ever been to physical therapy for a back injury has been given this exercise because it targets the multifidus.

Keep checking back for more information on this unique muscle and the exercises that strengthen it!  In the meantime, if you just can’t wait, try our “Get on the Ball“, “Meet your Core” and “Small Ball Toning Workouts” on as all provide ways to introduce instability into your workout and target your multifidus!

March 3, 2009. Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Pilates on Fifth Postings, Pilates Posts, The Pilates Center of New York Postings, Postings. 1 comment.

Free Pilates Workouts Online

Free workouts online have become incredibly popular in the last few years, but it’s surprising to realize that free pilates workouts online really haven’t existed until recently.  Of course you can find 10 minutes of a Pilates mat routine on youtube, but if you want to do a full length Pilates workout online, you’re hard pressed to find it.  The longest online free Pilates workout we were able to find was 22 minutes!!

We’ve owned and operated our New York Pilates Studio, Pilates on Fifth, for almost 9 years now, and trained hundreds of students through our Pilates certification program, The Pilates Academy International, and yet we still wanted a way to reach the masses…. The millions of Pilates practitioners across the US who love to do Pilates at home or do Pilates DVDs.

Then, we started our Pilates podcasts.  While these were still not free workouts online, they did (and still do) offer clear, concise Pilates instruction for each and every Pilates mat exercise.  To our delight, the response from the Pilates community was so favorable that we knew we had to find a way to create a website to offer free Pilates workouts online, and thus launched in October 2008.

Now, Pilates mat classes in NYC can be enjoyed by everyone with a computer with our free online Pilates workouts.  Whether you’re a professional to dancers to a senior citizen, the benefits of Pilates mat classes are remarkable. Because Pilates works on the “powerhouse”–the core muscles of the abdomen, buttocks, and lower back–it dramatically affects the posture. Clients who regularly take Pilates privates and mat classes at Pilates on Fifth often notice that they look taller and feel much more comfortable in their own skin.  …And now we bring our New York Pilates studio straight to your living room!

Pilates also improves spinal health. It strengthens the muscles which surround the spine in a way that is completely safe. Pilates mat classes help prevent injuries while creating muscle tone and flexibility. The fluid motions and breath work which are part of Pilates are great for relieving tension, too. Clients who regularly take Pilates have longer, stronger muscles, better posture, reduced tension, and an overall sense of vitality and relief from pain.

So, visit and pick the subscription package that’s right for you!  And remember, Basic membership is really free!!  Really!

January 10, 2009. Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . 1. Leave a comment.