Set your abs alight with this pilates workout from Ponzu‘s Oscar Searle.

First thing’s first: yoga and pilates are not the same thing. Anyone who has seriously attempted to link together all 34 original mat-based pilates exercises can attest to that.

Whether you have an injury or are an aspiring athlete, pilates is scalable and challenging for all. The 34 exercises explore the principles of breathing, precision, flow, concentration, control and centering.

The first things you will learn in a pilates session are alignment, breathing and core engagement – known as ‘ABC’. One of the most important benefits of learning ABC, and applying it to how you move, is the improvement of pelvic health. For men, that means improved sexual function and better bowel movement.

Pilates also teaches you how to engage your core – and specifically your abdominals. That has enormous carry-over benefits for anyone who lifts weights regularly. Learning how to properly ‘activate’ your abs when you squat, bench, press or deadlift will ultimately allow you to lift heavier weights and build a stronger physique.

Try the following pilates workout out for size – then check out ponzu.fit for more. 

ABC and Core Engagement Warm-Up

1. Crooked Lying Set-Up

  • Lie down on the floor with your feet close together, toes straight forward, knees bent and head rested into the hands.
  • Close your eyes and start to feel where your body contacts the floor, feel heavy on ground and let go of any tension spots you experience.
  • Now you are going to control your spinal posture, through concentrating on flattening the main curves against the ground.
  • Visualise a large hand is hovering over your belly, breathe in, and gently touch your hand with your belly button as it expands.
  • As you breathe out, the big hand is going to gently push you to the floor, imprinting your lower back to ground.
  • Next, picture holding a pencil between your chin and throat, create a long neck.
  • Holding this new straightened spine posture, you need to breathe deeply to activate the main breathing muscles.
  • Inhale through your nose gently, fill your lungs to what feels like the brim, then take an extra sniff.
  • Exhale slowly through pursed lips, emptying the lungs until it feels like nothing is left.
  • Repeat three more times, while feeling your belly rise and fall, and your ribcage opening and closing.
  • With each breath, relax and let go any unwanted tension.

2. Table Top

  • Lie on your back, then raise both knees above your hips.
  • Maintain a consistent spine posture.
  • Breathe deeply as before, and as you exhale crunch your rib cage down, feeling your back compress against the floor.
  • As you inhale, keep hold of the muscular contraction.
  • On the next exhalation, pull your waist in from the sides like a corset doing up tightly.
  • As you inhale again, keep hold of the squeeze.
  • Final deep breath now, and as you exhale lift the pelvic floor by tightening your back and front passage – as if you need a wee and are holding it in.
  • Relax and catch the breath.

Once you have ABC mastered, try applying it to the following exercise routine.

There is no time limit here, nor amount of reps and sets that have to be completed – rather some recommendations.

Focus on the quality of each and every single movement. To begin with, you may only be able to complete one repetition at a time.

Throughout every movement, ABC must be achieved through consistent concentration, constant breathing and thorough control.

Learn How To Engage Your Abs With This Pilates Workout | Men's Fitness UK

1. Hundred

Reps: 10 breaths / 100 pulses
Sets:
3

  • Adopt the table top position, ABC.
  • Extend the legs and arms down while lifting the head and shoulders up to create a C-shape spine.
  • The lower back should have dropped closer to the floor.
  • Keeping the whole body stiff, begin by breathing deeply, and with each inhale pulse the arms 5 times with the palms facing up.
  • With each exhale, pulse the arms 5 times with the palms facing down.
  • Complete 10 full breaths or 100 pulses of the arms to complete 1 set.

Coaching cues:

– Imprint your spine to the floor.
– Pump your arms up to fill your lungs with air.
– Pump your arms down to squeeze the air out.

Learn How To Engage Your Abs With This Pilates Workout | Men's Fitness UK Learn How To Engage Your Abs With This Pilates Workout | Men's Fitness UK

2. Roll Up

Reps: 10
Sets:
3

  • Lie flat with the lower back close to the floor.
  • Initiate the movement by engaging the core (ABC).
  • The arms lift together with the upper body, rolling yourself up to a seated position.
  • Inhale at the top and pause, then exhale into a lean forward from the hips, reaching with the arms towards the toes.
  • Feel a strong stretch in the legs, hips and back.
  • Inhale back to a tall seated position, then exhale to reverse and roll the spine sequentially, piece by piece, to the floor again.
  • Take another breath to rest before beginning the next movement. That completes 1 rep.

Coaching cues:

– Like a conveyor belt, uncurl your spine from the floor.
– Imagine string tied to your chest, pulling you forward into stretch.
– Think slow controlled movements throughout, breathing consistently, and flowing the motions into a seamless, elegant exercise.

Learn How To Engage Your Abs With This Pilates Workout | Men's Fitness UK Learn How To Engage Your Abs With This Pilates Workout | Men's Fitness UK

3. Roll Over

Reps: 10
Sets: 3

  • Lie flat with the lower back close to the floor.
  • Initiate the movement by engaging the core (ABC).
  • Exhale and push the arms into the floor while lifting both legs over the top, rolling the spine and balancing up onto the shoulders.
  • If possible, touch the toes to the floor, but prioritise keeping the legs straight.
  • Inhale to slowly roll back down to the floor, imprinting the spine to the ground again.
  • Let the legs rest and take another full complete breath before commencing the next repetition.

Coaching cues:

– ‘Peel’ your spine off the floor.
– Think legs made of steel.
– Push the ground away.

Learn How To Engage Your Abs With This Pilates Workout | Men's Fitness UK Learn How To Engage Your Abs With This Pilates Workout | Men's Fitness UK

4. Body Rolls 

Reps: 30 
Sets:
2

  • Lie flat with the lower back close to the floor.
  • Initiate the movement by engaging the core (ABC).
  • Precisely lift into table top, one leg at a time, while concentrating on core engagement.
  • Lift the head and shoulders, chin to the chest.
  • Rest the hands gently on the side of the knees.
  • Spine in a strong C-shape now, begin to rock back and forth from hips to shoulders.
  • The feet and head stay off the ground throughout.
  • Slow control, use the abdominals to control the speed and height on the roll.
  • 1 repetition is one roll, from hips to hips.
  • Imagine your spine is smooth and round, like water we flow effortlessly.
  • Breathe constantly throughout, never holding the breath.

Coaching cues:

– Curl into a tight ball.
– Imagine a heavy steel ball in your lower gut.

Learn How To Engage Your Abs With This Pilates Workout | Men's Fitness UK Learn How To Engage Your Abs With This Pilates Workout | Men's Fitness UK

5. Single Leg Stretch

Reps: 30 
Sets:
2

  • Lie flat with the lower back close to the floor.
  • Initiate the movement by engaging the core (ABC).
  • Precisely lift into table top, one leg at a time while concentrating on core engagement.
  • Lift the head and shoulders, chin tucked close to the neck.
  • Rest the hands firmly on the tops of the knees and pull close to the chest.
  • Exhale to extend one leg: toes points, knee locked, all the way to floor.
  • Simultaneously, pull the other knee close to the chest.
  • Empty the air from the lungs.
  • Inhale to alternate, exhale to extend and stretch.
  • Begin slow and progress to faster movements.

Coaching cues:

– Think ‘machine-like precision.
– Imagine the flow of movement starting in your core and sending out down your arms and legs.