Recipe for Beach-Ready Abs: The Pilates Teaser

It may be July, but if the weather we’ve had in the DC area (or most of the eastern U.S., for that matter) is any indication, we still have a lot of summer ahead of us. That said – are you rocking the beach body you’d hoped to be by now? Are those crunches getting a little stale? Maybe not seeing the results you’d expected?

Must be time to try some Teasers. Pilates Teasers work the deep abdominal muscles, and as you go through the progressions below, you’ll be hitting the abs from a number of different angles. They are challenging, but the payoff is absolutely worth it.

A couple of tips before you get started:

Always go back to the level one teaser if at any time the progression feels too difficult. It’s always better to work your way up when your body is ready for it, rather than forcing your way through the exercises if you aren’t ready for them (you want the exercises to be fueled by muscle, not momentum). The two main elements to focus on are your breathing – a strong exhale will help you control your movement – and keeping the feet firmly planted on the ground when the upper body is in motion (the rules change a little for the full teaser).

Level One Teaser

Start on lying on the back, with knees bent and feet flat on the ground and arms extended straight behind the body. Inhale, lifting the hands up to the sky, and exhale, lifting the upper body to a seated position. Inhale, lifting the hands to the sky, and exhale, slowly lowering the body to start, hands parallel to the ground.

To make it easier: Only lift the upper body as high as you can without sacrificing form

To make it harder: Add one 2-3 lb. weight in each hand, or one larger weight pinched between both hands.

Hint: The key is to keep the feet on the ground at all times. The farther from the body the feet are, the easier it is to get up, and the closer to the body the feet are, the harder it is to get up. Any pressure felt in the hip flexor (front of the hip) is the body’s way of compensating for weaknesses in the abs – as you get stronger you will start to feel more work in the abs than the hips.

Single Leg Teaser

Start lying on the back, with one leg bent, foot on the floor, and the other leg extended long, knees together. Inhale, lifting the arms to the sky, and exhale, reaching forward toward the toes. Inhale, lifting hands back to the sky, and exhale, slowly lowering back down to start.

To make it easier: Only lift the upper body as high as you can without sacrificing form

To make it harder: Add one 2-3 lb. weight in each hand, or one larger weight pinched between both hands.

Hint: Don’t let the knees separate or the extended foot drop. Think about squeezing  a quarter between your knees, and trying not to drop it. You can also place a yoga block between the knees – this will give you a little space between the knees, making it easier to keep the hips aligned – and if the block moves, you know you’re dropping the top leg.

Prep for Full Teaser

Start the same as Level One teaser, with feet flat on the ground and hands straight behind the body. Inhale, arms lifting to the sky, and exhale as you draw the body up toward the knees. Once the upper body has stopped moving, lift toes off the ground, extend legs out straight, and return toes to the floor. Inhale, lifting arms to the sky, and exhale as you slowly lower yourself back down to the ground.

Full Teaser

Start with the body extended long on the ground, hands and feet reaching in opposite directions. Using angel arms (like you’re making a snow angel), inhale, sweeping the hands from behind the head until they reach the side of the body. Exhale, lifting the hands and feet together. Inhale, hands to the sky, and exhale, slowly lowering the body to the ground, hands and feet reaching the ground at the same time.

As you progress through the Teasers, don’t get frustrated if it takes a while to build up your strength! I’ll be the first person to admit that when I first started taking Pilates classes, this was one of the most difficult exercises for me to work through. You’ll find that once you get the rhythm of the breathing down, it’s easier to control your motion as you pull yourself up and slowly lower yourself down with strong exhales, you’ll start feeling the correct muscles working … and you’ll start seeing the results of your hard work (as long as you’re putting in your cardio time, too).

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