Pilates abs workout: a 4-week total core-toning plan

Look longer and leaner in just four weeks with our at-home Pilates abs workout

Woman doing a Pilates abs workout
(Image credit: Getty Images)

You don’t need to drip with sweat to whip your body into shape. Seriously, if you want a workout to target every part of your body (and we mean every inch) then Pilates should be on your radar. 

‘It will not leave a muscle or joint unattended,’ says celebrity Pilates instructor Gaby Noble, who has taught the likes of Harry Styles and Sadie Frost. 

‘Pilates stretches and strengthens simultaneously, helping create that long, sculpted look, as well as improving coordination, balance and circulation,’ she adds. 

If you’re specifically looking to tone your middle, then you’re in luck - as certain Pilates moves combine to create one of the best workouts for abs.

With this in mind, Gaby has created a four-week Pilates abs workout plan focusing on breath and mobility, core strength, control, stamina and flow. You can find an outline of the nine key moves along with the plan itself below. 

Each week adds more moves to the previous sequence, but don’t rush; take time to learn the basics. Pick your three days as you see fit. 

And with all the moves, remember to engage that core – it will not only prevent other muscles (like your neck) from taking over, which can cause injury, but will also help you get one step closer to achieving a flatter tummy. 

Pilates abs workout: top tips for beginners

  • Get the right equipment

For this workout all you’ll need is a mat to exercise on (one of the best yoga mats will do nicely). If you end up enjoying Pilates and want to take your practice further, items including a resistance band, exercise ball and foam roller may come in useful.

  • Think about your breathing

It’s essential in Pilates to isolate your abs and pelvic floor, help relax tense muscles and relieve mental tension. Inhale to engage your tummy muscles and exhale during the ‘effort’ part of the movement.

  • Master the C-curve

Allow your spine to round by scooping in your abs. It strengthens your deep abdominals and stretches your back muscles.

Pilates abs workout: the moves

Master the following moves before putting them into practice with our workout plan below. 

‘It’s not about rep numbers, it’s about how you do them,’ advises Gaby. Each move should be precise and controlled. 

  • Half roll-up

Half roll-up

(Image credit: Future)

Sit on your sit bones with your knees bent and feet on floor, hip-width apart. Stretch your arms out in front of you with your hands touching. Inhale, lift your spine, then exhale and round the spine as you roll back halfway to the floor. Inhale and hold momentarily, then exhale to bring you back to the start. 

  • Spine stretch forward

Spine stretch forward

(Image credit: Future)

Sit tall on your sit bones with your legs extended out in front of you, slightly wider than hip-width. Extend arms at shoulder width in front of your body, keeping your feet flexed. Inhale as you lift tall, then exhale as you draw your chin to your chest, reaching forward over an imaginary ball to create a C-curve. Inhale as you re-stack the spine on vertebrae at a time and exhale as you return to the starting position. 

  • Saw

Saw

(Image credit: Future)

Set up as in spine stretch forward, but this time extend your arms out to side. Inhale as you draw your abs in and up, lifting tall through the spine. Exhale slowly as you twist your waist to the right and reach your opposite hand towards your right foot. Hips should remaining square and grounded with both butt cheeks on the floor. Inhale as you draw body back to centre and repeat on the other side. 

  • The 100

The 100

(Image credit: Future)

Lie on your back with your knees into your chest and arms alongside your body, palms down. Inhale as you lift your head and eyes towards your belly button. Exhale, sinking the belly button into the spine. Extend legs to 45 degrees (or as high as comfortable), then pump your arms up and down as you inhale for 5 counts, then exhale for 5. Aim to build up to repeat the sequence 10 times - equalling 100 pumps (hence the name). Bend knees back into chest, then lower legs and head. If you have neck or back problems, keep your head flat on the floor at first. 

  • Lower lift

Lower lift

(Image credit: Future)

Place your hands by your sides (or in diamond position underneath your tailbone if you have back sensitivity). Lift your legs to 90 degrees (if too tight, your can open the legs slightly apart with heels together in a diamond position). Lower legs down for one count then up for one count, ensuring that your lower back does not arch away from the mat.

  • Leg circles

Leg circles

(Image credit: Future)

Lie on your back and sink your belly button to the floor. Draw one leg up to your chest and then extend it up to ceiling, keeping your other leg at 45 degrees with the foot on the floor. Inhale and then circle your extended leg clockwise. Exhale then lower leg down towards centre line in circling motion. Reverse the movement on the same leg, the repeat on the opposite side.

  • Single leg stretch

Single leg stretch

(Image credit: Future)

Lie on your back. Draw your right knee into the chest with both hands placed on leg and head lifted (if comfortable). Keeping your tailbone anchored to floor, extend the left leg to 45 degrees (90 if you have back sensitivity). Inhale, change legs, exhale and repeat on other side. 

  • Criss-cross

Criss-cross

(Image credit: Future)

Lie on your back with your knees bent into your chest. Place your hands behind your head with elbows extended out to sides. Lift your head and shoulders, and extend your right leg out in front, maintaining a flat back Simultaneously twist your upper body, reaching your right shoulder to the left knee. Return to centre and rotate to the other side in one fluid motion.

  • Rolling like a ball

Rolling like a ball

(Image credit: Future)

Sit with your knees bent into your chest, knees slightly apart and heels together. Lift your feet slightly off the ground while lightly holding on to ankles (or underneath knees for more support). Inhale, drawing your belly button to spine to create a C-curve, then exhale. Inhale again, rolling back as you do so and thus massaging the spine. Exhale to roll back up. Try to keep your feet hovering above floor and repeat. 

Ready to put these moves into action? Let’s go!

Pilates abs workout week 1: focus on breath and mobility

Day 1

  • The 100 x 10

  • Half roll up x 5
  • Leg circle x 5, then reverse
  • Rolling like a ball x 5

Day 2

  • The 100 x 10 
  • Half roll up x 5
  • Leg circle x 5, then reverse
  • Rolling like a ball x 5 
  • Single leg stretch x 5 

Day 3

  • The 100 x 10
  • Half roll up x 5
  • Leg circle x 5, then reverse
  • Rolling like a ball x 5 
  • Single leg stretch x 5
  • Spine stretch forward x 3-5 

Pilates abs workout week 2: focus on core strength

Day 1

  • The 100 x 10
  • Half roll up x 5
  • Leg circle x 5, then reverse
  • Rolling like a ball x 5
  • Single leg stretch x 5

  • Lower lift x 5-10

  • Spine stretch forward x 3-5 

Day 2

  • The 100 x 10

  • Half roll up x 5
  • Leg circle x 5, then reverse
  • Rolling like a ball x 5

  • Single leg stretch x 5
  • Lower lift x 5-10
  • Spine stretch forward x 3-5 

Day 3

  • The 100 x 10
  • Half roll up x 5

  • Leg circle x 5, then reverse
  • Rolling like a ball x 5
  • Single leg stretch x 5

  • Lower lift x 5-10
  • Spine stretch forward x 3-5 
  • Saw x 3 each side

Pilates abs workout week 3: focus on control

Day 1

  • The 100 x 10
  • Half roll up x 5
  • Leg circle x 5, then reverse
  • Rolling like a ball x 5
  • Single leg stretch x 5
  • Lower lift x 5-10
  • Criss-cross x 3-4 (holding elbow to knee for at least 2 counts)

  • Spine stretch forward x 3-5 
  • Saw x 3 each side

Day 2

  • The 100 x 10
  • Half roll up x 5
  • Leg circle x 5, then reverse
  • Rolling like a ball x 5
  • Single leg stretch x 5
  • Lower lift x 5-10
  • Criss-cross x 3-4 (holding elbow to knee for at least 2 counts)

  • Spine stretch forward x 3-5 
  • Saw x 3 each side

Day 3

  • The 100 x 10
  • Half roll up x 5
  • Leg circle x 5, then reverse
  • Rolling like a ball x 5

  • Single leg stretch x 5

  • Lower lift x 5-10
  • Criss-cross x 5-8
  • Spine stretch forward x 5-8
  • Saw x 5 each side

Pilates abs workout week 4: focus on stamina and flow

Day 1

Take all the exercises from Day 3 in Week 3 and aim to flow from each exercise to the next without taking a break. This will warm your muscles up quicker and get your heart pumping. Remember to keep control. 

Day 2

Repeat day 1

Day 3

For your final day, you could try to add the Open Leg Rocker to your sequence - but only if you 
feel comfortable. 

Balancing on your sit bones, hold your ankles and extend both legs out into a V position (so your arms are also extended). Draw your chin into the chest and roll back onto your shoulders. Exhale and roll back up, keeping legs and arms straight if possible (although it’s OK to bend them a little if you need help getting back to sitting).

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