Strengthen Your Core With This 7 Moves Pilates-Inspired Abs Workout

Develop core strength and tone your abs with this seven-move pilates inspired core workout
3 mins read
Pilates core workout

Activating specific muscles is one of the hardest parts of core exercise. For instance, if I asked you to contract your glutes and abs at the same time to tilt your pelvis backward, I imagine you might have some trouble. Furthermore, if I then asked you to contract these muscles while performing another task, like cooking, I think you might struggle even more.

Pilates, and other exercise schools that deal with core activation and strength, focus on the activation of individual muscles throughout the body (1). For this reason, core exercises, such as those seen in a Pilates class can be beneficial for people trying to improve core strength, reduce back pain, or otherwise achieve a movement-related goal.

In this article, I’ll review a pilates-type workout that is perfect for anyone looking to improve core strength and stability, regardless of their experience level.

Strengthen Your Core

I recommend performing this workout as a circuit, performing each movement for 30 seconds then immediately moving on to the next one (2). Beginners should attempt to complete 1-3 rounds of the circuit, while more advanced exercisers should try for 4-5 rounds through the circuit, at least 2 times per week.

If you need any guidance on the proper form for these or any other exercise programs, be sure to consult with an exercise professional, such as a physical therapist, as soon as you can. 

1. Bird Dog Level II

Bird dogs are a classic move found in pilates, yoga, and other core strengthening programs. This move requires the dissociation of certain muscles and co-contractions of others. A perfect core move!

How to Perform

  • Start on hands and knees.
  • Reach your right arm straight out in front of you as you simultaneously kick your left leg back behind you, straightening through your trunk from your right fingertips to your left toes.
  • Repeat on both sides for the interval, then move on to the next exercise.

2. PPT’s

PPTs, or posterior pelvic tilts, are the perfect way to unwind the hips and encourage better posture. In time, this move can be performed when sitting, standing, or even when walking. 

How to Perform

  • Lie on your back with your knees bent and your feet on the floor.
  • Tighten your abs as you simultaneously squeeze your glute muscles, flattening your back on the ground.
  • Hold this position for the duration of the interval.

3. Crunches

As simple as they seem, crunches are one of the best exercises for activating the abs. There’s nothing like a good old crunch to get the abs working!

How to Perform

  • Lie on your back with your knees bent and your feet on the floor.
  • Lift your shoulders and mid back off of the ground, then return to the starting position to complete the rep. Perform as many reps as possible during the interval then move on to the next exercise.

4. Unilateral Leg Lift

Performing single leg and arm movements can help to address any asymmetries from one side of the body to the other. The unilateral leg lift strengthens the hip flexors and abs.

How to Perform

  • Start by lying on your back with your right leg bent, and your foot flat on the floor. 
  • Straighten out your left leg, pointing your toes.
  • Lift your left leg toward the ceiling, then slowly return it to the ground to complete the rep. 
  • Complete as many reps as possible in the time interval, then move on to the next exercise.

5. Modified Dragonfly

Bruce Lee and Sylvester Stallone made the dragonfly famous. Modifying this move helps anyone, of any experience level, enjoy the benefits of this killer ab movement. 

How to Perform

  • Start by lying on your back, with your legs out straight.
  • Lift both legs up to the ceiling, then slowly lower them down to the ground.
  • Perform as many reps as possible in the time interval. Then, move on to the next exercise.

6. Ab Bicycles

Bicycles are a classic ab move that most people have seen or performed at one time or another. This exercise is a perfect way to get the obliques working alongside the rest of the core muscles. 

How to Perform

  1. Lie on your back with your legs out straight.
  2. Perform a crunch as you simultaneously turn to your left and bring your left knee to your chest.
  3. Then, return your leg and trunk to the starting position and repeat on the right side. Continue to alternate in this manner for the duration of the interval.

7. Planks

Isometric exercises are excellent for improving the endurance of the involved muscles. The plank is an isometric movement that uses many different muscles all at once. Plus, they are easy to modify to make them easier or harder.

How to Perform

  • Place your forearms and toes on the ground.
  • Keeping your back straight, contract your abs.
  • Hold for the duration of the interval, then conclude your session or move on to exercise #1 and restart the circuit. 


Pilates and other core-emphasized exercise programs are terrific choices for overall health and wellness. The above-core exercise routine is a good, simple routine for both novices and experienced exercisers.

Give this program a try and see how you feel after the first week!

Works Cited

  1. Hsu SL, Oda H, Shirahata S, Watanabe M, Sasaki M. Effects of core strength training on core stability. J Phys Ther Sci. 2018 Aug;30(8):1014-1018. doi: 10.1589/jpts.30.1014. Epub 2018 Jul 24. PMID: 30154592; PMCID: PMC6110226.
  2. Ramos-Campo DJ, Andreu Caravaca L, Martínez-Rodríguez A, Rubio-Arias JÁ. Effects of Resistance Circuit-Based Training on Body Composition, Strength and Cardiorespiratory Fitness: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis. Biology (Basel). 2021 Apr 28;10(5):377. doi: 10.3390/biology10050377. PMID: 33924785; PMCID: PMC8145598.

Bennett Richardson, DPT, PT, CSCS

Bennett Richardson, based in Pittsburgh, PA, is a dedicated physical therapist and writer. Certified as a strength and conditioning coach (CSCS) since 2014, he holds a BS in exercise science and a doctorate in physical therapy, both from Slippery Rock University. Beyond his professional pursuits, Bennett enjoys leisurely reading and staying active.

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