I tried this bodyweight workout and it helped me activate deep core muscles

These five low-impact exercises helped me build serious core strength

Fitness writer Alice Porter does a crunch-like exercise in her living room
(Image credit: Future)

I often assume that a workout is only effective if it leaves me sweaty and breathless. But recently, I've been experimenting with Pilates routines that encourage slow, intentional movement—and I've noticed some great results.

Pilates generally targets smaller muscles that are overlooked by traditional workout routines. I've found that the practice helps me activate deep core muscles, like my transverse abdominis (which wraps around the torso) and the multifidus muscle along my spine. 

I came across this 12-minute workout from Pilates instructor Jen Swanson and decided to try it during a lunch break. It incorporates five fairly simple bodyweight exercises that are designed to engage the entire core.

How to do Jen Swanson's five-move Pilates workout

To do the workout, I performed each exercise for 30 seconds, with minimal rest in-between each one. I repeated the routine three times all together with 30 second rests between each round—it took me about 12 minutes to complete.

My verdict

I'm always surprised by just how deceptively difficult Pilates routines can be—and this one was no exception. 

My core immediately fired up during the plank-based exercises, especially my lower-back and lower abdominal muscles. The exercises that I completed while lying on my back also required a lot of core stabilization. My muscles were burning after the first round and I had to take a couple of seconds of rest between some of the exercises.

I also noticed my lower-back lifting off the floor during some of the exercises and I had to consciously think about tucking my ribcage in and squeezing my glutes to ensure it was flat against the mat.

Alice Porter doing a Pilates workout at home in living room

(Image credit: Alice Porter)

I definitely felt some of these moves challenging my transverse abdominis muscles. However, other deep core muscles (like the pelvic floor and diaphragm) weren't targeted in this routine; to make this a comprehensive deep core workout, I would need to add some breathing exercises and kegels.

This was still a challenging low-impact workout that I'll definitely come back to when I want to strengthen most of the muscles in my core in a short space of time.

Need a new mat for your floor-based exercises? Our guide to the best yoga mats can help

Alice Porter
Freelancer Writer

Alice Porter is a freelance journalist covering lifestyle topics including health, fitness and wellness. She is particularly interested in women's health, strength training and fitness trends and writes for publications including Stylist Magazine, Refinery29, The Independent and Glamour Magazine. Like many other people, Alice's personal interest in combining HIIT training with strength work quickly turned into a CrossFit obsession and she trains at a box in south London. When she's not throwing weights around or attempting handstand push-ups, you can probably find her on long walks in nature, buried in a book or hopping on a flight to just about anywhere it will take her.