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Pilates Core Workout: Mastering the Abdominals Series of Five

Pilates Abs Series of 5 with 5 photos

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Strengthening your core is vital to your health. A strong core supports your spine and makes day-to-day tasks more efficient and manageable. You’ll often hear the common story of a person who has previously had back pain and swore a certain set of exercises helped relieve said pain. Or a doctor prescribing Pilates to a patient recovering from a back injury of some sort. I am one of those people. I injured my back terribly while dancing in a big show in Las Vegas. The stage was made of steel, and the repetitive movements and dance numbers performed eight times per week did a number on my young body (I was 23 years old). I never thought my back would get back to normal, but then I started taking Pilates.

As we all know (or should know), Pilates is a core-strengthening workout, and when I say “core” I mean more than your abdominals. The workouts I did finally got my back feeling normal, and since becoming a Pilates instructor in 2013, I have loved showing people the magic of Pilates. The challenging abdominal exercises in Pilates are humbling, but that’s what makes them effective and rewarding. 

The Pilates Series of Five is a sequence of core exercises that blend stability with destabilizing movements. As a beginner, you can start with the first couple of exercises and keep building until you’re able to do all five. If done correctly, this sequence should never become “easy”. With that being said, let’s learn the Pilates Abdominal Series of Five!

All exercises are performed supine (on your back).

.Single Leg Stretch

Bring your knees to your chest and lift your chest up. Get your forehead close to your knees. Stretch one leg long on a high diagonal. Pull the knee that’s still bent closer to the chest two times as you exhale. The hand that is on the same side as your bent knee goes on the ankle of the bent knee. The opposite hand goes on top of the bent knee. Switch sides as you inhale. As you become stronger, the straight leg can come down closer to the floor. Repeat 5-10 sets (one set is both sides done once).


  • Keep your head down on the ground. If you do this, keep the legs high so as not to strain the neck or back.

  • Only perform the movement of the legs while keeping the arms down by your sides. Chest can be lifted or down.

Double Leg Stretch

Bring your knees to your chest and lift your chest up while holding your knees. Inhale and straighten both of your legs to a high diagonal while simultaneously reaching both arms straight back by your ears. The height of the chest never changes. Exhale and circle your arms around as you bring both of your knees back to your chest. The stronger you’re feeling, the lower the legs can go. Repeat 5-10 times.


  • Keep head down, but lift legs higher.

  • Only perform the legs, keeping arms down by your sides. Chest can be lifted or down.

  • Only perform the arms. Keep the feet flat on the ground with knees bent.

Single Straight Leg Stretch

If you’re doing this as a stand-alone exercise, bring your knees to your chest and lift your chest up. Lift one leg straight to the ceiling and stretch the opposite leg to a high diagonal. Hold on to your high leg with both hands on either the ankle, calf, or hamstrings. Exhale and pull the top leg closer to your body two times. Inhale and switch legs, keeping them straight. Repeat 5-10 sets.


  • Keep knees bent.

  • Keep chest down.

  • Keep arms down by your sides with chest up or down.

Double Straight Leg Stretch

Place your hands behind your head, stacking one hand on top of the other. Lift your chest up and stretch both legs up to the ceiling. Push your heels together and have a slight turn out in the legs so that your knees point to the corners and not straight forward. Inhale and lower both of your legs together as low as the rest of your body (especially your pelvis) stays completely still. Exhale and bring the legs back up. You can switch the breath so that you exhale on the way down and inhale on the way up. It’s fun to do both! Repeat 5-10 times.


  • Keep chest down.

  • Keep arms by your sides.

  • Smaller range of motion with the legs.


Place your hands behind your head with your hands stacked one on top of the other. Bend your knees to your chest and lift your chest up. Twist your ribs to the right, keeping your right knee bent and stretching the left leg. Your armpit is trying to touch your opposite knee. Stay lifted in the chest to twist to the left and switch the bend in the knees. You can find different ways to use the breath. If you’re moving at a slower pace, exhale as you twist and inhale as you’re switching sides. If you’re moving at a quicker pace, inhale for two twists and exhale for two twists. Repeat 5-10 sets.


  • Only perform legs. This will look similar to the Single Leg Stretch modification. Chest can be lifted or lowered.

  • Fewer reps.

  • Only perform upper body twists. Feet will be flat on the floor with knees bent. Make sure the legs and hips stay completely still.

The ultimate goal is to be able to do all five exercises without a break in between but remember, we are all human, and the best advice will always be to listen to your body! There’s no use in yourself while trying to strengthen your abs. That defeats the purpose. Modifications are your friend, so use them when needed. I am a mother to an infant girl, and my body needs modifications regularly.

Sometimes, the use of props can make these exercises more challenging or help build strength, so grab a Magic Circle or small stability ball and have some fun! The best part is it is safe to do these every day. You will feel the benefits of the work in no time. Now, you have something better to do than hundreds of mundane crunches. You’re welcome!


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