A strong core isn’t just about getting visible abs and a washboard stomach. Our core muscles help to stabilize our bodies and support our spine, pelvis, and abdominal organs. Pilates is a popular form of exercise that has a strong emphasis on controlled movements, proper alignment, and mindful breathing. Practitioners report that Pilates positively affects their core strength, flexibility, and overall body conditioning — which can lead to better health outcomes.
Pilates has many exercises that are specifically targeted to strengthen the core muscles.
Many of the key Pilates exercises for targeting the core are easily accessible for beginners.
If you want to burn fat and get visible abs, you'll need to incorporate cardio such as HIIT into your exercise plan.
In this article, we’ll explore the benefits of Pilates for core strength and offer ten routines you can try at home today.
Pilates and core strength
Pilates is a highly effective discipline to try if you want an effective way to strengthen your core muscles. The core encompasses a group of muscles, including:
- Rectus abdominis (six-pack muscles)
- Transverse abdominis
- Deep stabilizers of the spine
These muscles work together to provide stability, balance, and support to the entire body.
Pilates works with fundamental principles, such as:
These elements promote the engagement and activation of the core muscles alongside controlled and mindful movements to strengthen and tone the core — resulting in improved posture, reduced risk of back pain, and enhanced overall body strength.
10 Pilates routines to strengthen your core
Here are ten of our favorite pilates routines and steps to follow that specifically target and strengthen the core muscles:
- Lie on your back with your legs in a tabletop position and arms by your sides.
- Lift your head and shoulders off the mat while pumping your arms up and down in a rhythmic manner.
- Breathe in for five arm pumps and breathe out for five pumps.
- Repeat for ten breath cycles.
2. Single-leg stretch
- Lie on your back with your knees bent and hands behind your head.
- Lift your head and shoulders off the mat and bring one knee towards your chest while extending the other leg straight.
- Alternate the legs, keeping the core engaged throughout the movement.
- Repeat 10-12 times on each side.
3. Double leg stretch
- Lie on your back with your knees bent and hands by your sides.
- Curl your head and shoulders off the mat and bring both knees towards your chest.
- Extend your arms overhead while straightening your legs to a 45-degree angle.
- Return to the starting position and repeat for 10–12 repetitions.
- Lie on your back with your legs extended and arms reaching overhead.
- Inhale as you roll up one vertebra at a time, reaching for your toes.
- Exhale as you slowly roll back down to the starting position.
- Repeat 6–8 times.
- Start in a push-up position with your hands directly under your shoulders and toes on the floor.
- Engage your core, keeping your body in a straight line from head to toe.
- Hold this position for 30–60 seconds, gradually increasing the duration as you progress.
6. Side plank
- Start by lying on your side with your forearm on the mat and your elbow directly under your shoulder.
- Lift your hips off the mat, creating a straight line from head to toe.
- Hold this position for 30–60 seconds on each side.
7. Pilates teaser
- Sit on the mat with your knees bent and feet flat on the floor.
- Extend your arms straight in front of you at shoulder height.
- Lean back slightly and lift your feet off the mat, balancing on your sit bones.
- Straighten your legs as you roll back, reaching your arms towards your toes.
- Roll back up to the starting position with control.
- Repeat 6–8 times.
- Lie on your stomach with your arms extended overhead and legs straight.
- Lift your chest, arms, and legs off the mat while fluttering your arms and legs in a controlled manner as if you were swimming through the air.
- Breathe rhythmically throughout the exercise.
- Repeat for 10–12 breath cycles.
- Sit tall with your legs extended wider than hip-width apart.
- Reach your arms out to the sides at shoulder height.
- Twist your torso to one side, reaching your opposite hand towards the little toe of the opposite foot.
- Return to the center and repeat on the other side.
- Complete 6–8 repetitions on each side.
10. Side bend
- Sit on the mat with your legs extended to one side and the same-side hand on the mat.
- Reach the opposite arm overhead, lengthening the side of your body.
- Lower the arm back down and repeat on the other side.
- Perform 6–8 repetitions on each side.
Pilates for building muscles
Improvements in muscle tone are something that most of us are aiming for when we exercise, and although Pilates primarily focuses on core strength and overall body conditioning, it can also contribute to muscle building.
By utilizing the resistance and bodyweight aspects involved in Pilates movements, you target specific muscles that are worked and challenged by controlled, precise movements.
While you can certainly increase muscle tone, definition, and endurance with a regular Pilates practice, using Pilates alone may not be as effective for muscle building as high-intensity resistance training or weightlifting.
Pilates is a wonderful complementary exercise to engage in as part of a muscle growth regimen; you’ll find yourself more flexible, controlled, balanced, and less prone to injury.
Pilates vs. HIIT for core strength
Pilates and high-intensity interval trainings (HIIT) have their own benefits for core strength, but they approach it differently.
- Pilates. This movement practice focuses on controlled movements, proper alignment, and core engagement throughout the exercises. It emphasizes the precision and activation of the deep core muscles, which can lead to improved core strength and stability over time. It’s not a quick fix; to see results, you’ll need commitment and dedication to your practice.
- HIIT. These workouts are characterized by short bursts of intense exercises, often involving full-body movements. Some HIIT workouts engage the core; however, the primary focus is cardiovascular fitness, fat burning, and overall calorie expenditure. It’s a great way to burn calories and condition the whole body, but it won’t provide the same level of targeted core activation that Pilates can.
Pros and cons of HIIT for core strength
Let's take a look at some of the benefits and drawbacks of HIIT for building up your core strength.
Pros and cons of Pilates for core strength
Now we've explored HIIT for core strength, how does Pilates measure up?
If you are looking to strengthen and stabilize your core muscles in a low-impact way, then Pilates could be just the right movement practice for you. While it can be great for building and toning your core, you’ll need to combine it with other types of training if you want to burn fat and get visible abs. Both HIIT and Pilates have unique benefits for core strength, and combining them could mean you get the full-body workout plus the targeted core activation that your body needs.
- Complementary Therapies in Medicine. Defining Pilates exercise: a systematic review.
- Journal of Orthopaedic and Sports Physical Review. Best exercise options for reducing pain and disability in adults with chronic low back pain: Pilates, strength, core-based and mid-body. A network meta-analysis.
- Muscles, Ligaments, and Tendons. Pilates: how does it work and who needs it?
- Current Sports Medicine Reports. Core training in low back disorders: role of the Pilates method.