Updated: Oct 5, 2022
Summer is the perfect time to shed some clothes and show a bit more skin. A strong core not only looks good on the beach, but it’s also a great sign of fitness. If you’re looking for a simple way to build core strength at home, give Pilates a try!
Pilates exercises will help you develop strong core muscles, because the Center principle of Pilates is based on the idea that every movement should come from the core, or the powerhouse. Beyond improving your core strength, ab exercises can help you develop better posture and overall health, keeping you in tip-top shape all summer long and beyond!
So, in today’s post, I’m sharing a roundup of the best core exercises to help you achieve the perfect summer abs. Whether you’re doing a workout from home or on vacation, these exercises are simple enough that you don’t need a personal trainer. All you need to complete these abdominal exercises is a mat and a space to do the workout routines in!
10 Best Abdominal Exercises for Summer
As you complete these exercises, keep these pro tips in mind to improve your form, prevent injuries, and get the best results. When working your abdominal muscles, it is so incredibly important to make sure your back is anchored to the mat. If you tend to arch your back during ab workouts, you can use a small pillow or towel to support your lower back.
Be sure to take care of your neck, too! If you feel too much tension in your neck during this abdominal series, make sure you’re keeping your head down or using a hand towel to support your neck.
Lie on your back with your knees bent, feet parallel on the mat. Take a few moments to connect your mind to your body and check in with how you are feeling. First, scan your body and see if your pelvis and hips are flat and level. We do not want to tilt or arch our pelvis, but rather keep it level and pull the pelvic floor muscles in and up.
Next, make sure your back ribs are pressing down into the mat. You are now ready to begin! Centering will help activate your deep core muscles and give you greater core awareness. Both of which will help support you throughout the rest of this ab routine!
2. Half Roll Down
Start seated with your knees bent, feet flat on the mat. Place your hands on your hamstrings. Drop your chin to your chest and pull your abdominals in as you tilt your pelvis and hips, until your tailbone touches the mat. Hold. Come back up and sit up tall while staying connected to your middle. Tip: Use the arms for support and to assist you in pulling back your abdominals.
3. The Hundred
The Hundred is a dynamic abdominal exercise that helps to increase circulation. It can also help you focus on breathing, warm up the body and, of course, strengthen your powerhouse.
Lie on your back with your arms stretched alongside your body. Bend your knees into your chest and place them at a 90 degree angle in Pilates stance. Bring the chin to the chest, making sure your back remains completely flat on the mat.
Now, raise both arms directly above the thighs. Pump the arms up and down vigorously 6 to 8 inches to the count of 5 while inhaling through the nose. Continue to pump the arms up and down while you exhale through the nose to the count of 5. Repeat 10 times. This brings you to a count of 100, which is where the exercise gets its name.
4. Single Leg Stretch
We are warming up the abdominals and starting our stomach series now. The single leg stretch uses your core strength to stabilize your hips and spine while you stretch your legs and engage your core muscles.
Lift your chin to your chest. Pull your right leg towards you as you extend your left leg to 45 degrees while inhaling. Place your left hand on the inside of your right knee and your right hand on your right ankle. Keep inhaling as you switch legs. Then, pull your left leg into your chest, place your right hand on the inside of your knee and your left hand on your left ankle. Repeat 10 times.
5. Double Leg Stretch
We are taxing the abdominals even more on this ab exercise. Bend both knees into your chest. Grab your shins and lift your chin to your chest. You should feel your back ribs pressing intentionally into the mat. Inhale as you stretch both legs up above your hips in Pilates stance and extend your arms directly over your shoulders. Exhale as you bend both knees into your chest and grab your shins, returning to the starting position. Repeat 10 times.
6. Single Straight Leg Stretch
Your abdominals should be feeling it even more now. Also called the scissors, the single straight leg stretch adds on to the other core exercises in this ab routine. Begin by bringing your chin to your chest. Lift your right leg into the air and grab your shin with both hands. Your left leg is reaching long and raised to 45 degrees.
Then, pull the right leg towards your chest twice while inhaling and then switch legs and pull twice while exhaling. Remember to keep the movements dynamic and keep your core engaged to provide stability throughout the exercise. Repeat this 10 times.
7. Double Leg Lift
These abdominal exercises continue to build upon each other, giving you such an effective abdominal workout. The double leg lift targets both your upper and lower abdominal muscles, and it activates your hip flexors and glutes, making it the perfect addition to your summer ab routine.
Lie flat on your back with both legs stretched up to the ceiling. Place your hands behind your head and lift your chin to your chest, focusing on keeping your back ribs pressed firmly into the mat. As you inhale, lower the legs down without returning to the mat, and exhale as you bring your legs back up slowly. The key is to lower your legs down to a height where you can still keep your back anchored to the floor. Keep the range of motion small at first and gradually increase as you can. Repeat 10 times.
8. Criss Cross
Now your core should be on fire! 🔥 Lie flat and place your hands behind your head with your elbows as wide as possible. Lift both legs up to the ceiling. Bend your right knee into your chest while your left leg extends forward to a 45 degree angle. Bring your left rib cage toward your right knee while you exhale. Hold.
Then, switch legs and bring your right rib cage towards your left knee while you imprint your back to the mat as you inhale. Hold. Repeat this whole process 10 times. This abdominal exercise targets the oblique abdominals, so you know you’re working your entire core muscle group in this routine.
9. Side Plank
To continue strengthening your oblique abs, the side plank is a great exercise to add. While your core is the main muscle group targeted here, you’ll also get full body benefits as you use your glutes to stabilize your hips and your shoulders to support the exercise.
To get into the side plank position, start on your left side with your legs extended and stacked on top of each other. Your left arm should be supporting your body, with your elbow directly under your shoulder. Engage your core as you lift off of the floor, keeping your torso in a straight line. Keep breathing as you hold the position for 15-60 seconds, then return to the mat. Switch sides and repeat.
10. Spine Stretch Forward
For this exercise, you’ll begin seated on the mat. Extend your legs straight in front of you and open them slightly wider than your shoulders. Extend your arms forward in line with your shoulders. Inhale, lift tall and engage your abdominals and bend at your rib cage making your body into a C shape.
Then, reach with your arms forward and exhale. Roll up from your waist and repeat the movement 10 times. As you stretch forward and back, your core is still engaged and working to support the fluid movement of the exercise. The stretch in your back is amazing!
Benefits of Abdominal Exercises
1. Keeps your spine healthy and supported.
When you think of your core muscles, you might just think of your abs. But, the core is the entire set of muscles that supports your torso, which includes your back and spine. A strong core is essential to keep your spine healthy and supported in your everyday movements. Practicing these abdominal exercises will contribute to that core strength to help you improve your posture and defend against back pain.
2. Increases muscular strength and tone.
If you want to show off a toned core this summer, abdominal exercises are one of the best ways to increase your strength and tone your muscles. These highly targeted exercises work to build strength and endurance in your abdominal muscles as well as many other parts of the body.
3. Allows you to be more present and empowered.
Performing just a few of these exercises will help you reconnect with your mind and body, recenter, and feel empowered by your own strength. In Pilates, it’s so important to focus on the mind-body connection. As you flow through these ab exercises, you’ll find yourself recentering in your body and trusting the strength you’re building. Doing this abdominal series is a commitment to being the best version of yourself!
4. Improves athletic performance.
A strong core helps support you during all of your movement and exercises. Because the core is the powerhouse for all movement, strengthening those muscles with abdominal exercises will help provide additional stability and strength for other workouts. Even if they target your full body or other muscle groups.
5. Builds functional strength.
Building core strength is about more than just developing abs. Abdominal exercises help strengthen the core so that everyday activities are less taxing and so that you’re less susceptible to injury. Things as simple as bending over to pick something up or doing chores can become easier when you consistently do ab workouts.
6. Promotes better balance.
Just as abdominal exercises help to improve posture and support your spine, they also help you have better balance. A strong, engaged core keeps your body in alignment, thus promoting better balance and making everyday activities that require balance that much easier.
Whip your body into Summer shape with these easy, yet effective, abdominal exercises.
As you go through these exercises, remember that Pilates is about more than just muscle building. It’s about connecting with your inner self, fostering that mind-body connection, and being the best version of yourself that you can possibly be. Pilates is a journey, so don’t forget to enjoy it!