A Pilates instructor shares a four-move "deep abs" workout for strengthening your entire core

Develop your core muscles to prevent back pain and build functional strength

A woman doing Pilates
(Image credit: Getty Images / Morsa Images)

Bored of standard abs workouts? It might be time to switch up the way you train with a spot of Pilates. 

This "deep abs" routine from Shape Pilates founder Gemma Folkard will strengthen your core without sit-ups and crunches. All you need to do it is one light dumbbell (although you might want a yoga mat for added comfort too). 

Perform the four exercises demonstrated in the video below as a circuit, and repeat this sequence for three total rounds to finish the workout. 

How to do Gemma Folkard's Pilates workout

Pilates uses repeated movements to build strength and boost your mobility, among other benefits. It’s often boiled down to six central principles; breath, concentration, center, control, precision and flow. 

Unlike a HIIT workout, Pilates isn’t something to be rushed. Instead, focus on perfecting your form and moving well in a controlled way. This can activate the targeted muscles more effectively and, in many cases, provide a greater challenge than moving quickly. 

For example, when performing the Russian twists, try to avoid leaning from side to side as you move the dumbbell across your body. Rather, Folkard recommends "trying to keep the trunk lengthened as the ribs spin around the spine", as she demonstrates in the video below. 

What muscles will you work in this workout?

When people think of abs workouts, the rectus abdominis muscle (responsible for the six-pack shape) is often front and center in their mind. The main function of this muscle is spinal flexion, or bending forward, as you do during sit-ups and crunches. 

But the abdominals contain several other muscles with important roles to play in our daily lives, such as the spine-steadying transverse abdominis and internal and external obliques, which are responsible for rotational movements. 

The abdominals then only form part of your core, which is composed of even more muscles spanning from your diaphragm down to your hip flexors. 

To help you build comprehensive core strength, Folkard’s routine looks to work a wider range of these muscles more evenly, rather than targeting the rectus abdominis. 

She pays particular attention to the "deep abs", which is a phrase used to describe the transverse abdominis—the deepest-lying abdominal muscle which wraps around the stomach and back like a waistband. 

Exercises where you’re lying or sitting while your legs are off the ground (featured throughout Folkard’s routine) are great for working the transverse abdominis, as well as the multifidus muscle which runs along the spine.  

Strengthening these areas will improve your exercise performance, make daily tasks feel easier and allow your core to spare your spine from excessive load, preventing common back niggles and injuries. 

Harry Bullmore
Fitness Writer

Harry Bullmore is a Fitness Writer for Fit&Well and its sister site Coach, covering accessible home workouts, strength training session, and yoga routines. He joined the team from Hearst, where he reviewed products for Men's Health, Women's Health, and Runner's World. He is passionate about the physical and mental benefits of exercise, and splits his time between weightlifting, CrossFit, and gymnastics, which he does to build strength, boost his wellbeing, and have fun.

Harry is a NCTJ-qualified journalist, and has written for Vice, Learning Disability Today, and The Argus, where he was a crime, politics, and sports reporter for several UK regional and national newspapers.