Want an easier route to a flat stomach? Thought so! Pilates—that posture enhancing, graceful exercise—can be a primo way to tone your tummy, if you properly engage your core muscles. (I learned that when I was doing it right, I stopped feeling back pain! When you engage your core, it helps save your lower back.) In fact, several of my favorite new pilates moves are over 200 percent more effective than crunches, according to Michele Olson, Ph.D., of Auburn University in Montgomery, Alabama, the abs-olute genius who created them.
Follow these three steps to target your core, then do the moves below. Your muffin top will be a distant memory:
1) Take a breath Um, yes, you've been breathing since birth, but your standard inhale and exhale won't whittle your middle. Instead of breathing into your belly or chest, send air out into your sides on the inhale, as if growing wings, says Olson. You’ll engage your deepest layer of abs, known as the transverse abdominis.
2) Back it up Positioning your spine properly is the key to recruiting your back muscles, engaging your abs and seeing amazing results. When you're lying faceup, keep a small window of space between your lower back and the mat (your back shouldn't arch up or press into the floor during movements).
3) Squeeze in as you do it Contract those muscles below the belt. This way, you'll be able to work your abs from every angle. Picture your inner thigh muscles tightening for further strength and stability.
1) MODIFIED HUNDRED Lie faceup, legs raised, knees bent 90 degrees. Inhale, then exhale, lifting head and shoulders off mat, arms extended at shoulder height, palms down (as shown). Inhale as you pump arms up and down five times, then exhale and pump five more times. Do 10 times, for 100 pumps. 2) ROLL-UP Lie faceup, legs together, toes pointed, arms extended to ceiling, palms forward. Inhale, then engage abs and exhale as you slowly roll up one vertebra at a time until seated, arms parallel to shins. Inhale; exhale as you slowly roll back to start. Do 10 times.
3) SINGLE-LEG STRETCH Lie faceup. Lift head and shoulders off mat as you pull left knee into chest, a hand on each side of left shin, and raise right leg at a 45-degree angle, toes pointed, abs engaged. Inhale, then exhale and switch legs to bring right knee into chest, hands on right shin, left leg out. Switch legs 20 times. 4) DOUBLE-LEG STRETCH Lie faceup, legs raised with knees bent 90 degrees, toes pointed. Lift head and shoulders off mat and place hands on outside of knees, keeping arms straight, to start. Inhale, stretching arms and legs out, legs together, arms next to ears. Exhale, bending knees and bringing arms alongside knees, to return to start. Do 10 times. 5) ROLLING LIKE A BALL Sit with knees bent and tucked into chest, arms wrapped around shins, head down, heels raised, toes touching mat. Lift toes and balance on tailbone, heels close to butt (as shown). Inhale as you roll back slowly until shoulder blades touch mat. Exhale and use abs, not momentum, to roll up and balance on tailbone again, keeping toes from touching mat. Do 10 times. 6) ONE-LEG TEASER Lie faceup with knees bent, feet flat, arms extended to ceiling, palms facing in. Extend left leg in line with right thigh, toe pointed. Inhale, then exhale as you engage abs and slowly roll up one vertebra at a time, reaching toward ankle. Inhale, then exhale as you roll down, arms extended to ceiling again. Do 10 times. Switch legs; repeat.