Beach-Ready Abs in 5 Easy (But Challenging!) Steps

Beach season is upon us … are your abs ready? If not (or if you consider yourself a constant work in progress), the Pilates stomach series – sometimes referred to as the “5s” – is a great way to hit your abs at every angle. And it doesn’t take much to get the benefits!

A couple form tips to keep in mind as you get going: through all of these exercises, the position of your lower back will be incredibly important. You want to maintain a neutral spine, with your bellybutton tucked tight into your spine, almost as if you are trying to press it down flat into the floor below you. If, at any time, you feel your spine start to curve off of the mat, all you have to do is raise the legs higher to the sky – it will drop the back down onto the mat, and relieve any pressure you may be feeling in the low back. Remember, if you feel the work in the low back, it means you’ve lost the tension in your abs … meaning you’ve lost the muscle-shaping benefits of the exercise.

So, without further ado, here they are … you should focus on trying to perform these exercises 2-3 times a week, on non-consecutive days, to start seeing results.

 

Single Bent Leg Stretch

Head and shoulders up, bellybutton tucked tight to the spine, hands on the inside and outside of one knee, opposite leg extended straight. Release and switch sides, repeating 8-15 times with each leg.

To make it harder: Pick up the pace, inhaling for two counts and exhaling for two counts.

Hint: Only thing moving should be the legs and hands as they release.

Hint: If the low back starts to pull up, angle the legs higher to the ceiling.

 

Double Bent Leg Stretch

Head and shoulders up, bellybutton tucked tight to the spine, both legs tucked in, hands in blades on top of the shins. Inhale, extending arms and legs in opposite directions. Exhale, using angel arms circling the body, and pulling arms and legs back in tight. Halfway through, reverse the arms, with angel arms back, then pulling up and over, legs stay the same. Perform 6-10 reps in each direction.

To make it harder: Add 2-3 lb. hand weights, pinched between the palm and thumb.

Hint: If the low back starts to pull up, angle the legs higher to the ceiling.

 

Single Straight Leg Stretch

Head and shoulders up, bellybutton tucked tight to the spine, legs at 90+ degree angle – one parallel to the floor, the other leg extended to the sky, hands behind the leg. Reverse the legs, drawing straight lines to the front with each leg. Repeat 8-15 times with each leg.

To make it harder: Speed up the motion, inhaling for two counts and exhaling for two counts (each inhale/exhale is a switch with the legs).

To make it harder: Release hands so they are parallel to the ground, maintaining control through the center as legs switch.

Hint: Only thing moving should be the legs and hands as they release.

 

Double Straight Leg Stretch

Legs to the ceiling, low back grounded, bellybutton tucked into the spine. Legs together, inhale as you draw a straight line down, as close to the ground as you can get without allowing the low back to pull up, then exhale to draw the toes back to the ceiling. Three upper body/arm positions: for low back issues, keep hands underneath hips, head and shoulders on the ground; or keep head and shoulders on the ground, hands next to hips; or head and shoulders off the mat, hands placed lightly behind the head. Repeat 6-12 times.

Hint: Use your exhale! A strong exhale will make it easier to draw the toes up to the ceiling.

Hint: If the hands are behind the head, think of an open chest and elbows – you should be able to let go of the head and have the upper body stay in the same position. Don’t pull on your head!

 

Crisscross

Start lying flat on the mat, head and shoulders up, hands lightly behind the head, knees bent at 90 degrees. Angle one shoulder toward the opposite knee, reaching long (not crunching), then reach toward the opposite side. Repeat 8-15 times.

To make it harder: Balance up on the sit bones. Holding a weight (5-15 lbs.) center, reverse the legs, while twisting the weight through center in opposite directions.

Hint: Think of reaching long, not crunching in – your elbow should never reach your knee. Unless you’re missing a few ribs.

Perhaps most importantly … don’t forget your cardio! All the ab work in the world won’t make a difference if you aren’t actively working to lower your body fat percentage. Like I always tell my classes – never say you don’t have abs, because everyone does. You just may not be able to see them … YET!

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