This Pilates workout will tone your abs in under 30 minutes

Do our expert's quick Pilates workout just three times a week for six weeks to see ab-tastic results

Man and woman doing planks as part of a Pilates workout
(Image credit: Getty Images)

If a toned core is on your list of fitness goals, this power Pilates plan is for you.

Consisting of just ten key moves performed over six weeks, it promises to help create long, lean muscles and sculpt your shape. Short on time? Not a problem. This plan only takes less than 30 minutes three times a week.

Pilates is widely known in fitness circles as being one of the best workouts for abs, something that the plan's creator, Chris Richardson - CEO of Zero Gravity Pilates and a judge at this year's Fit&Well Awards - drew on when compiling it. 

‘This routine will help tighten your abs and flatten your tummy,’ says Chris. ‘It will target muscle imbalances either side of your core stabilizing your lower back, strengthen pelvic floor muscles and increase flexibility.’

This Pilates abs workout isn’t any ordinary strengthening and toning class, either. This is Ultra Dynamic Reformer Pilates – a buzzed-up style that boosts your body and your metabolism. ‘All exercises are controlled with elements of traditional Pilates and functional training (moves that help you perform everyday activities more easily),’ explains Chris. ‘Instead of counting reps, you work to time – the most effective way to get results when you have a 30-minute window to work out.’ 

Ready to get going? First get familiar with the ten key moves...

The key moves to master

Below you'll find the key moves that make up this Pilates workout plan. For most of them, we advise using an exercise mat - our list of the best yoga mats has some suitable options (look for denser options that will provide a bit more cushioning).

Squats

Basic squat

(Image credit: Future)
  • Start by standing with your feet hip-width apart.
  • Keeping your feet flat and back straight, lower into a sitting position. 
  • Lift your arms out directly in front of you to balance. 
  • Hold briefly, then push your heels into the floor and drive up to standing. 
  • For more guidance and variations, see our dedicated guide on how to do squats.

Kneeling plank

Chris Richardson from Zero Gravity Pilates demonstrates how to do a kneeling plank

(Image credit: Future)
  • Kneel on the floor, resting your weight on your forearms and knees so that your feet are just touching the ground. 
  • Keep your elbows beneath your shoulders so your body forms a straight line.
  • Hold for specified time (see below)

Full plank

Chris Richardson from Zero Gravity Pilates demonstrates how to do a full plank

(Image credit: Future)
  • Bring your knees up off the floor and form a straight line from your head to your toes. 
  • Your weight should rest on your forearms and the balls of your feet.
  • Hold for specified time (see below).
  • Fan of the planks? Discover more advanced variations in our 'how to plank' guide.

Mountain climbers

Chris Richardson from Zero Gravity Pilates demonstrates how to do a mountain climber

(Image credit: Future)
  • Go into a high plank with hands beneath shoulders. 
  • Bend your left leg and pull it in towards your body and left elbow.
  • Lower back down, then repeat on other side.

Flutter kicks

Chris Richardson from Zero Gravity Pilates demonstrates how to do flutter kicks

(Image credit: Future)
  • Lie on your back, arms by your sides.
  • Engage your abs and lift feet around 6 inches off the floor. 
  • Make small, rapid up and down scissor motions with your legs.

Side leg drops

Chris Richardson from Zero Gravity Pilates demonstrates how to do leg drops

(Image credit: Future)
  • Lie on your back and place hands under your bottom. 
  • Raise your legs so your feet are pointing towards the ceiling.
  • Slowly lower your left leg towards the floor, keeping your right leg still. 
  • Lift left leg back up and repeat on other side. 
  • For Double Leg Drops: Repeat as above, but lower both legs at the same time.

Kneeling side plank

Chris Richardson from Zero Gravity Pilates demonstrates how to do a kneeling side plank

(Image credit: Future)
  • Lie on your left side, resting your weight on your left forearm.
  • Bend both knees at 90 degrees, resting one leg on top of the other. 
  • Engage the core and lift your hips off the ground. 
  • Lower and repeat on other side.

Full side plank

Chris Richardson from Zero Gravity Pilates demonstrates how to do a full side plank

(Image credit: Future)
  • Turn on to your left side with legs extended and feet and hips resting on the ground, stacked on top of each other.
  • Place your left hand directly under your shoulder to prop up your torso and align your head with the spine. 
  • Lower back down and repeat on the other side.

V ups

Chris Richardson from Zero Gravity Pilates demonstrates how to do V ups

(Image credit: Future)
  • Start by lying on your back. 
  • Engage your core and lift your torso off the floor, while also lifting your legs off the floor. Your body should form a V-shape.
  • Hold for the specified time (see below).

The six-week workout plan

Now that you've mastered the moves, it's time to put them into practice. 

Below you'll find a six-week training program, with instructions on which moves to do when, how long to do them for, how long to rest for, and how many sets to do. You should aim to complete each workout three times a week - Monday, Wednesday and Friday is a good split, but find times that work for you.

Whenever you do them, always aim for quality over quantity. Slow down and get the most from each rep. Also be sure not to tilt your pelvis forward when exercising as this will place strain on your lower back. Keep neutral through your spine and engage your core.

Chris also recommends teaming this routine with a HIIT workout session to complete your weekly workout. It’s great for burning fat and speeding up your metabolism.

Week 1

Do the following moves for 30 seconds each followed by one minute of recovery. Complete three sets.

  • Squats
  • Kneeling plank
  • Mountain climbers
  • Kneeling side plank
  • Single leg drops

Week 2

Do the following moves for 45 seconds each followed by 45 seconds of recovery. Complete three sets.

  • Squats
  • Kneeling plank
  • Mountain climbers
  • Kneeling side plank
  • Single leg drops

Week 3

Do the following moves for 45 seconds each followed by 45 seconds of recovery. Complete three sets.

  • Squats
  • Full plank
  • Mountain climbers
  • Full side plank
  • Double leg drops

Week 4

Do the following moves for one minute each followed by 30 seconds of recovery. Complete three sets.

  • Squats
  • Full plank
  • Mountain climbers
  • Full side plank
  • Double leg drops

Week 5

Do the following moves for 45 seconds each followed by 35 seconds of recovery. Complete three sets.

  • Squats
  • Full plank
  • Mountain climbers
  • Full side plank
  • Double leg drops
  • V ups
  • Flutter kicks

Week 6

It's the final week! To really up the intensity as the plan comes to an end, try to add an extra training day this week.

Do the following moves for 50 seconds each followed by 30 seconds of recovery. Complete three sets.

  • Squats
  • Full plank
  • Mountain climbers
  • Full side plank
  • Double leg drops
  • V ups
  • Flutter kicks
Natalia Lubomirski
Natalia Lubomirski

Natalia is a health and fitness journalist who has written for the likes of Woman & Home and Marie Claire, and likes to practice what she preaches when it comes to staying fit and well. She loves the outdoors and would happily swap the treadmill for the trail at any opportunity. As such, in her free time you'll likely find her up a mountain somewhere. She has hiked eight of the major mountain ranges across four continents, including the Appalachians, the Smokies, the Sierra Nevadas (where she hiked to the top of Half Dome during her honeymoon) and the Atlas Mountains, as well hitting the summits of Snowdon and Pen-Y-Fan (Brecon Beacons), Table Mountain in South Africa and the Blue Mountains in Australia. She was also a fencer for 13 years, wielding an epée for Team GB during her teenage years. Having recently welcomed a baby, Natalia is currently getting back into her fitness routine, and has her sights set on completing a triathlon, something she and her husband started out on before their bundle of joy arrived.