Pilates Mat Exercises #6-10: The Ab Five

Pilates Mat Exercises #6-10: The Ab FiveThe infamous Series of 5.

Stomach Suicide.

The. Ab. Five.

No matter the level of practitioner, these 5 iconic Mat exercises challenge our connection and stamina. They teach us control, lower body connection and determination.

They remain dreaded beloved by clients and teachers alike.

Located early on in the order of the Mat exercises, the completion of these 5 exercises gets you dialed into the workout and grateful to sit up for a bit afterwards.

Who doesn't enjoy a little dessert (Spine Stretch Forward) when you've finally completed Criss Cross?


Single Leg Pull and Double Leg Pull

Pilates Mat Exercises #6-10: The Ab Five

The first 2 exercises in the series come from Joe Pilates.

Pilates Mat Exercises #6-10: The Ab Five

They are featured in Pilates' manifesto Return to Life. They are also referred to as Single Leg Stretch and Double Leg Stretch.

Hmmm… let's think about the addition of the word ‘stretch' into the names…

Single Straight Leg Stretch, Double Straight Leg Stretch and Criss Cross

Pilates Mat Exercises #6-10: The Ab Five

Romana Kryzanowska, Joe Pilates' chosen protege, added these 3 exercises (to which Jay Grimes says: “Because they’re good”) because she saw too many “poochy bellies” and Romana did not like “poochy bellies.”

Pilates Mat Exercises #6-10: The Ab Five

(Click here for more information about my awesome blue Mat!)

Pilates Mat Exercises #6-10: The Ab Five

And they are good. They never disappoint.

Single Leg Pull and Double Leg Pull are in my opinion ‘wind-relieving’ exercises to help to stimulate digestion and ultimately rid the body of toxins. They are a great strengthener of the entire trunk and the deep breaths of the Double Leg Pull again lead to a stretch and a wringing out of the entire system: stretch out and lengthen, and then fold up completely.

Just what we need to be doing.


I get by with a little help from my stomach

As a beginning practitioner you may work through these exercises at a deliberate pace, perhaps resting your head in between exercises.

Slowly you will build strength and endurance.

With more proficiency you'll proceed gradually toward a brisk pace with no stopping until post-Criss Cross.

In any event your stomach will be on fire before you reach the 5th exercise.

And why are the hardest ones at the end?


What if the Series of 5 wasn't about your abs?



Let's entertain a new spin on this legendary series.

Back to the Lower Body

Continuing my fixation on all things lower body…let's look at the reach away from the center.

Yes, there is a lot of pulling into the center in each of the five exercises, but there is also a long reach away from the center. Hmm.

The reach of the lower body.


My bottom is a Spine Corrector and why it's okay to say so

Take a look at these 2 photos:

Pilates Mat Exercises #6-10: The Ab Five

The above photo is Scissors done on the Spine Corrector.

Look familiar?

Pilates Mat Exercises #6-10: The Ab Five


What if we were to fasten in the upper stomach on the Mat in the same manner that one must to work the Scissors (Single Straight Leg Stretch) on the Spine Corrector?

Our scoop will work fiercely to anchor the trunk into the Mat as we reach the legs long and away.

We can mine all the benefits of the apparatus and take it with us to the Mat.



The outward reach of the lower body will allow us to elongate the thighs and ultimately open the hips.

Just like our friend the Spine Corrector 🙂

OMG hello #premiseofthemethod…

You'll open up in the front just in time to sit up for Spine Stretch. How convenient!

Open up in the front, and then you'll open up the back.

Sounds like a plan.

The Song Remains the Same

Later we'll turn this exercise onto its head and tackle the High Scissors and Control Balance at the end of our Mat sequence.


Pilates Mat Exercises #6-10: The Ab Five

Stay tuned in 2016

For those of you who enjoyed my series on Transitions on the Reformer you can look forward to more Transitions – this time on the Mat – coming up in the next few months.


It's also not too late to enter to win a FREE Skype lesson. The deadline for entries has been extended to January 15.

So get your New Year's workout on and show me your stuff!

Pilates Mat Exercises #6-10: The Ab Five

On the 7th Day of March MATness Joe Pilates gave to me…

On the 7th Day of March MATness Joe Pilates gave to me...

Double Leg Stretch (Double Leg Pull)!





Joe Pilates says:

if only one move per day

this must be the one

Use MM hashtags on Facebook, twitter and Instagram to find amazing Pilates Mat inspiration from around the world.

Thank you so much Dana Santi, Colleen Naughton Strong and Chris Robinson for an amazing Classical Pilates Conference in San Diego! 

(Round the clock, yo!)

Where else would I be able to find beautiful and strong Pilates teachers ready to burst into action at the drop of a blogpost?!

Just joining us? 

Here’s some MATness you may have missed:

1 Year of Study that Changed my Pilates POV

Congratulations Vintage Pilates 2012 Class of The Work

Classmate Samantha Walley receives her diploma!

2012. Technically 2011.

My year of The Work started in October of 2011 in the best of all possible worlds: The Mat. The mat exercises are the foundation of the Pilates Method. To perfect our mat we have at our disposal: (1) all the other apparatuses in the studio and (2) time. Considerably less time may be necessary since Joe so generously gave us the Reformer, the Cadillac, the Barrels, et al.

Wait, there's MORE

Thanks Vintage Pilates for a jam-packed year of hard work, sweat and Pilates. Upon completion of The Work (in my case with the marathon Chairs and Barrels workshop) the education I received far exceeded my expectations. With Jay Grimes at the helm you're surely gonna learn something…but my eyes were opened to a vast new territory of Pilatesland that I am overjoyed to explore.

1 Year of Study that Changed my Pilates POV

Classmate Alisa Wyatt Jumps off her Stomach!

Practice Practice Practice

The super-objective of The Work is to cultivate and digest the Pilates exercises into your own body. There is simply no better way to teach the work to others than to possess the fullest possible understanding and execution of the exercises. My workout changed considerably as I resumed a weekly lesson for myself for the first time in several years. Now I remember what made me want to become a Pilates teacher in the first Place – I love this stuff!

1 Year of Study that Changed my Pilates POV

Classmate Amy Kellow at the Cadillac

Q: What's this exercise for? Joe Pilates' A: “The Body.”

Under the direction of Jay Grimes, Vintage Pilates has created a program of study that extends the premise of Pilates (whole-body exercise) into a roadmap for effective and efficient teaching. I now strive to teach Pilates in a much more wholistic way. We only have one exercise. Every exercise has the same actions, or oppositional forces, working toward an individual goal. I know the exercise is called Thigh Stretch, but what am I busy doing to accomplish that goal? And how am I doing the same actions in the next exercise, Neck Pull, even though my body is organized into a different position and the goal or “result” of the exercise is different? And so on and so on until my body learns. Repetitio Est Mater Studiorum: Repetition is the mother of all learning (Study).

1 Year of Study that Changed my Pilates POV

Classmate Ken Heizman does Headstands on the Mat

Vintage Pilates Est Mater Studiorum.

There may soon be a 2nd installment of Another One Bites the Dust… It's amazing how a formidable exercise becomes delicious when you learn to do it properly…and don't worry, it's not Pulling Straps on the Reformer 🙁

1 Year of Study that Changes my Pilates POV

Jay, Classmate Nicole Marcione and a Cup o' Joe

 Like what you read here? Please ‘Like' or Retweet 🙂 Thanks

5 Steps to Invest in Your Own Workout

5 Steps to Invest in Your Own Workout - Pilates Andrea

My article, Self Study, appears in the January/February 2013 issue of Pilates Style magazine. Get their free iPhone/iPad app to download their digital edition. Here's some further reading on the “What Did You Learn Today?” subject. 

Romana Kryzanowska always asked her apprentices “What did you learn today?”

Romana Kryzanowska

“Okay, yesterday I learned the progressions for the teaser exercise and taught an Intermediate Reformer and the Spine Corrector. Tomorrow I will review spotting techniques for the Wunda Chair.” Done. Check. Linear. Literal.

But let’s zoom out and look at the larger world-view of Romana’s seemingly simple question.

Training and continuing one's education in the Pilates Method can be a substantial investment. Independent workouts can be one of the most profound ways to refine our depth of understanding of the method. First, it’s “free” and takes only an hour 3x/week. With every workout there emerges at least one shining moment of new information about my body and therefore the exercise…or about the exercise and therefore my body.  I literally learn something new EVERY day. The more I work out the more I discover the infinite scope of the Pilates Method and the wonderful magic that it has on my mind and my muscles. My full experience of the exercise is essential to communicate the work to my clients.

I am not advocating working out as a substitute for regular lessons with another teacher by any means. Lessons are your empathy check, think of it as karma – I get poked when my stomach goes on vacation just as much as I poke the stomachs of my clients.

So here are my thoughts on making your own workouts even more effective!

1. Choose a Timeframe

For a long time I held fast to the idea of working out daily. This idea originally came from watching Jerome Weinberg workout at True Pilates NY: Daily. Laser-Focused. Bad Ass. He's one and I wanted to be one too.

Mr. Glick, a long-time student of Romana now in his 90s, declared Jerome to be the Strongest Man in the Studio. Mr. Glick is a sharp cookie. Okay, I will workout for 1 hour everyday. I really like an hour.  It's long enough to feel that I have really taken care of business. Joe Pilates did not intend for you to spend hours in the studio. An hour for your workout and then get out and go live your life! That gives me time for a full Mat or Reformer as well as some special needs exercises and, my favorite, a fun ending.

This timeframe worked well until my schedule filled and it became difficult to reserve an hour for my own workout. Now when would I find the time to workout? What if I skipped a day? What was happening to my plan? Anxiety about The Plan didn’t seem productive…

So I reevaluated.  I now workout 3x/week with the option for another workout or outdoor activity on Sundays. I have a private lesson on Mondays to jumpstart my week. Therefore I am reluctant to slack off and destroy my track record of perfection.

Accountability to myself, priceless!

2. You have time, now you need a plan!

Determine at least initially what you will do during your hour. If, after you begin, you feel differently, of course let your body's needs guide you, but have a plan. Focus.

Teachers, honor your own workout just like you would one for a client. Decide where you will go and gather any accessories so you don't take time “during” the workout to wander around the studio deciding what you feel like doing next or looking for something: weights, other apparatus: small barrel, spine corrector, etc…

For the student at home with your mat, this goes for you too. Don't forget your towels everyone, because certainly, you will be sweating. Challenge yourself to keep your transitions efficient and focused so you may even have time for an extraordinary finishing sequence, like the Wall.

3. Meet yourself where you are today

Check in with yourself. Simply observe, don't beat yourself up if you are feeling lethargic, distracted, or just really into the book you are reading right now. That is why you work out, right?  To stir up the qi! To invigorate the Life Force! You're feeling dusty and you need a good internal shower followed by an external one – I get it. Once you lie down and begin you may even surprise yourself and surpass your plan. If you have been away from your workout for a few days your theme can simply be to MOVE. Remember it is the act of doing your workout that is the important part – Pilates works! Move your body and see what happens. All is good if you are moving and sweating!

Eyes on the Prize!

Remember that one of the reasons you do your workout is because you love the way Pilates makes your body feel afterwards. You are not competing for the Nobel Pilates Prize…well maybe this is what you get when all the members of the United Nations can do the first five mat exercises and there is hope for world peace. Yes!

4. Let your workout have a theme

We all have heard our instructors give us the same correction over and over again, whatever it may be. These cues are more than likely all about getting you more connected to the center of the body, the trunk, the back, and minimizing tensions in the extremities, shoulders, feet, thighs, etc…

Choose just one correction you hear all the time and really investigate what that everpresent direction is telling you.  What does it feel like in your stomach, in your back, in the trunk of the body when you try to really execute that correction?  Investigate. Use your mind to help develop a thought the body can recognize it and repeat again, initiating the exercise deeper in your center. Hear your instructor's voice (or even your own voice) in your head spurring you on!

My Favorite Mantra: The Double Leg Pull

The Double Leg Pull

Joe Pilates said that if you can do only one exercise in a day, it should be the Double Leg Pull.  This exercise captures the very essence of the Pilates Method: the strong center, the 2-way stretch out of it, and the breath. So there’s one big over-arching theme: to imagine and execute every exercise as though it were the Double Leg Pull (sometimes called Double Leg Stretch). With this in mind I bet you'll be surprised how some exercises feel. Snake/Twist on the Reformer, anyone? “Twist on the Wunda Chair?” I hear you cry. See, they’re not such fancy, scary exercises, it’s just the double leg pull…with a twist…on one side…on a moving apparatus…what’s not to love?

5. You are here NOW!

In my opinion, my Pilates workout is an hour for me to check in and be present in the now. There are too many body parts to keep track of and therefore my mind cannot wander into the past or the future. I must pay attention. 

Stay in the moment.

At Excel Movement Studios Kerry DeVivo, owner of their Annapolis studio would begin her workout with a notebook by her side.  During the first few exercises she would stop if necessary to write down tasks that were important yet ultimately interrupting her workout (finish payroll, confirm Friday clients, discipline Andrea…).  She would spend a few minutes in the beginning of her workout dumping her to-do list out of her brain and onto paper saved for later. Do whatever you have to do.


Pilates is hard work. Be good to yourself.  These exercises are not for the squeamish! Like a bright shining moment of truth as an actor on the stage – focus on the exercises that you did better than ever before. Ones that felt better or stronger. There may only be a few such moments in any given hour.

And you must savor them. When one exercise gets better everything gets better.

Now wipe your sweaty brow and ask yourself What did you learn today?

Related Posts: What Did You Learn Today?

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