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

Pilates Mat Exercise #25: Side Kick Series

Pilates Mat Exercise #25: Sick Kick SeriesThis one has been a long time coming.

Initially not even close to being a beloved exercise of mine, the Side Kick Series can deliver rich rewards with diligent practice. I'm very surprised to admit that I'm now a big fan.

Nope, I'm more of a stalker actually, obsessed with every moment I spend with this challenging series.

I began studying at Vintage Pilates in early 2011, and the Side Kick Series remains as one of the biggest revelations in my Pilates practice. Current students of The Work are all in agreement. Just like all the other exercises that precede it, the Side Kick Series is not really about your leg.

Let me say that again.

The Side Kick Series is not about your leg.

Amazingly simple, isn't it?

Just relax your leg and connect it to the center of your body, your stomach, your powerhouse.

What could be more straightforward?


In my first year of studying the Mat exercises way back in 2000, I had dozens of excuses why I didn't have time to include the Side Kick Series in my homework between classes.

“Side Kick Series takes forever, I don't have time to do them.”

Yeah, right.

Lame-o excuse #57: “I don't have time.”

Clearly I did not understand how the Side Kick Series would benefit me (and my tight hips and thighs and weaker side…duh…). Yet I could respect the candidness of the Teaser: it either happened or it didn't and I used my stomach, so beautifully simple.

Or so I thought…but I digress, again distracted by the bright, shiny object that is the Teaser.

Side Kicks, right…

Side Kicks, however, remained shrouded in mystery, in a dark Pilates haze of one-sided-ness and reminiscent of exercises in other disciplines, yet not quite that either.

Those are the hardest exercises, I find. The ones that are so similar to something else it's misleading as they are often completely different. 

“No ‘Sexy on the Beach!'”

Thank you Romana for frowning upon lounge-y behavior, our heads casually propped up on our arm.

The Side Kick Series is another ‘first' on the Mat – really the first and only time in the Mat series where you will work one side at a time while lying on your side.

Gone is the luxury of lying on your back or your front. And you must multitask! Ach!

So how best to tackle the slippery Side Kick Series?

1. The Order of the Universe

Pilates Mat Exercise #25: Side Kick Series

I find several (if not ALL) of the exercises that precede the Side Kicks to be indispensable. And for me, the most important being the One Leg Circle.

Of course, the One Leg Circle is another exercise that can be at first misleading with that leg circling away up there. But don't be distracted by flashy moving parts. Stay grounded in your center and make this a stomach exercise.


Yes, one side at a time, just like the Side Kick Series – except for the whole ‘lying-on-your-side-thing' you can learn to activate your standing leg. The leg on the Mat must be encouraged to do just as much work if not more than that spectacular circling leg that has so captivated you.

Lately I am also enamored of the Jackknife and the help it provides with connecting the lower body into the center. Perhaps I like the Jackknife as a help since you get to have both sides working together, always a plus.

Let's face it, you're coerced into using your stomach and seat to lift your hips up into the air and control your way down to the mat. Why abandon all that when you lie on your side? It just doesn't make sense 🙂

But give it a try. Find your control and connection in the Jackknife and then see if you can keep all that same stuff when you begin your Side Kicks. I bet it will at least give you a different look at lying on your side.

2. Vertically Speaking

Pilates Mat Exercise #25: Sick Kick SeriesFight off a severe case of ‘sexy on the beach' and take a look at this exercise standing up.

Yes, to perfect your Side Kicks, why not take that ‘standing' leg and literally stand on it?

Without the loungey lying down position, you can feel your stomach reach all the way to your foot standing on the floor.

  • Push into the floor and grow tall first.
  • Lift your belly button in and up as though it lifts all the way to the nape of your neck.
  • Don't get any shorter as you reach one leg forward. Reach fully into both legs.
  • Continue to reach as you move your leg a bit behind you.
  • If your trunk wants to wiggle forward and backward to counter your leg movement, resist!!

Please note: I am using this standing exercise simply as a teaching tool to find connection, not as an alternative or variation of the Side Kicks exercise.

3. Cadillac to the Rescue!

Pilates Mat Exercise #25: Sick Kick SeriesLet this exercise be your reward for wanting to perfect your Side Kick Series in the first place. Leave it to the Cadillac to save your a$$ every time…or at least find it.

Now you'll “stand in the spring” using all the information you gleaned from your previous standing experience.

Springs make life a little bit more lovely, don't they?

What's going on? Now the exercise is even more about my leg!

You've got that spring on but how is this helping?

Remember you've got several choices of springs at your disposal. At the very least you've got “leg” springs and “arm” springs.

Do what you have to do – if you have the heavier leg spring on and you just feel like you are fighting the spring and it's hard to feel work in your center, then by all means change it up and use a lighter spring.

Which spring??!

For now, I am using the lighter “arm” spring so I can especially connect to my center on my weaker more challenged side. I will gain more strength and coordination overall by working in this manner.

At some point it will be time to take what I've learned/strengthened with the lighter spring and challenge it further with the heavier spring. All the while working more efficiently from the muscles of my center.

The spring doesn't matter.

What has that spring done for me lately?

Helped you find your butt and your stomach? Relaxed your thigh, for the love of God?

Then that's the spring to keep. For now. Not forever…but perhaps for a little while.

The yummiest part about using the Side Leg Spring to better your Side Kick Series is the control you need to reach the leg from front to back – not just the arrival at the end points of your pendulum. The continual reach along the entire arc (your journey from where the leg reaches front until it arrives at the back plus your return trip) is what you seek.

Total control of the spring = total control of your muscles.

Control + ology, baby. Let's study up.

See how these 3 tips work for you. Share your success in a comment below.

Now go work out. You know you want to.

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Romana Kryzanowska 1923-2013

I knew the legend of Romana long before I ever met her.

My first Pilates teachers Lesa McLaughlin and Kerry DeVivo spoke of her fondly. They would tell their apprentices and clients stories about studying at Drago's gym (now True Pilates NY).

Sadly, I was only able to meet Romana a handful of times. My study at Drago's was just at the time of her retirement. She had recently moved to Texas and was no longer in the studio everyday. My dear colleagues that studied regularly with Romana for years have truly received a special gift.

I got just a little taste of her magic, and even that small amount was huge!

Romana Kryzanowska visits San Diego, California…

Moses Urbano brought Romana to San Diego in 2006. We had a big party and Mat class at the Hotel del Coronado.

It was my first time to meet Romana and I remember I did the Rocking with such a will that I rocked myself into a crazy calf cramp.

It was still my best Rocking ever and hey…

It's Romana!

I don't see her everyday and I made sure I got myself into top shape before the event.

Jerome Weinberg, one of Romana's top teachers, was next to me in class. Romana looked at him with a twinkle in her eye as he did the Teaser.

“Get your legs together. Work a little.” Jerome also had a twinkle in his eye and a smile, and of course, worked even harder for Romana.

2008 New Orleans

Romana Kryzanowska 1923-2013

It was Halloween in New Orleans and it was my first Romana's Pilates Conference. I had completed their training program the previous year and I was super-psyched for this event. I did not know Romana personally, so I took every one of her classes. My favorite was a class on the Reformer, about 30 of us, again, striving to do our best as Romana watched and inspired us to do it better than we ever had before.

Just in case you're curious about the photo above, my ‘popo' is the first one on the left.

After class Daria was kind enough to introduce me to ‘Grandma.' I had heard a colleague say that Romana was slowing down some and not the tour-de-force she once was in the 1990s.

Well, neither was I.

Romana shook my hand, firmly I might add, and took one look at me after teaching that big class.

“Honey, you need to relax your neck.”

Oh she's still got it.

Romana Kryzanowska 1923-2013A bit later in Los Angeles 2008

Romana is in the state of California! And there was much rejoicing!

Michael Levy hosted the yearly continuing education and Daria and Romana were in Los Angeles. Wooo Hooo!

This time it was a Mat, Reformer and Reformer Mat extravaganza.

Early on in the Mat workout – during Rolling Like a Ball – Romana had us do somersaults and come up to standing. It was early in the morning, this was not a move I was familiar with yet and Romana was shaking us all up.

Alas, she was not very happy with our efforts. But after about 20-30 more of them we got a little bit better.

All that happened before 10am.

By afternoon most of us were on the Reformer. If you were not on the apparatus for all the exercises you were expected to follow along doing the Reformer exercises on the Mat. Yum yum. Much to my surprise Romana encouraged me to fold myself up smaller than I thought possible in Coordination. Such an innocent exercise, you might think…

Now I understood all that talk of “Squeezing the juice out” of the exercise. I had worked harder in that one exercise than I had all afternoon.

“Now it's Something!” said Romana.

Arlington, TX 2009

Seeing Romana in Texas was perhaps the best time ever. My in-laws live in a tiny town in Texas about 2 hours from Metroplex Pilates in Arlington. 2 hours? Perfect. I was in the same state as Romana, there was no way I was not going to see her. We were in Texas during the Christmas holiday, so Romana's daughter Sari was in town as well. I was hoping to get a private lesson with Romana. Oh boy. Christmas indeed.

Good Cop Bad Cop

As it turned out, I would have my lesson with Sari, although Romana would be in the studio. Ok, still great. Although I had been eating a lot of BBQ since my arrival in Texas…hmmm…

When I arrived Romana greeted me wearing the beautiful Robin's egg blue color I always saw her in. She also sported some really awesome cowboy boots. Red ones, I believe. Sari gave me a lesson on the Reformer and Romana sat beside us.

Romana soon became my cheerleader.

Whatever Sari picked on, Romana applauded. To my horror, after the debacle that is the Snake/Twist, I began to take requests.

Me: “Should I do the Backbend with the Straps?”
Sari: “Why do you want to do that when you can't even do the Snake/Twist?”
Romana: (applauding) “I want to see it!”

So I did the Backbend with the Straps – and even Sari had to agree that it was better than my Snake/Twist.

Romana taught a duet after my lesson to Cha Cha (owner of Metroplex Pilates) and Sari. That was a fun treat as well. At one point Romana decided that Sari needed some help with (irony alert!) the Snake/Twist…

“Honey, help her.”

To my surprise I was now giving Sari a spot for the Snake/Twist.

See, it's everyone's favorite exercise 🙂


Thank you so much, Romana, for all your hard work through the years to disseminate Pilates to the world.

You have given me and countless others a passion, a discipline and a livelihood while enabling so many to become the best person they could be.

My thoughts go out to you Sari, Daria, Monica and your families. Peace and warm wishes to you all.

Love all around.


Share your thoughts or stories about Romana in a comment below. Thank you so much for reading and sharing the love.

7 Spot-On Pilates Quotes to Keep you Honest

Literal. Clear. To the Point. I love it when a Pilates teacher does not mince words.

I thought I'd share a few of my faves.

1. My personal favorite and a Sandy Shimoda special.

7 Spot- On Pilates Quotes to Keep you Honest

I have heard this one many many times. Weekly actually. Making the exercises as painstakingly perfect as you possibly can makes for a tense, slow turn of events. Oops, almost forgot Sandy has another fine quote for that too.

The suspense is killing me.

This one popped out due to the glacial pace of my Thigh Stretch on the Reformer. Her comment was memorable. And my Thigh Stretch is the better for it.

2. My own commitment to connection.

7 Spot-On Pilates Quotes to Keep you Honest

It's easy to poop-out in the middle of the exercise.

To anticipate the lying down in the Roll Up. Oh, mat so comfy

To rest when you roll up to sit in Spine Stretch. Cause sitting up tall is soooo easy…

To lie down for a little too long between reps of the Teaser.


Oh you know you've done it. We've all been there. I'm aghast when my teacher points up a little secret rest that's crept in unbeknownst to me. Gah!

My quote takes inspiration from Kerry DeVivo who was the first teacher to explain an ultimate goal of the Pilates workout. Use the exercises to find connection when you begin your workout and never let it go until the workout is finished.


3. Karen Frischmann of Vintage Pilates fame in top form.

Lessons with Karen are jam-packed with revelation. This one pertains specifically to the action of the upper back in the 2nd of the Stomach Massage Series on the Reformer. Mostly we (I) want to squeeze the shoulders together and back, essentially squishing the upper back.

Squishing is not really engagement.

It's just squishing.

7 Spot- On Pilates Quotes to Keep you Honest

Long the Back! Yes!

Squish the Shoulders!

I don't think so.

In the 2nd of the Stomach Massage series as well as its other exercise friends (Reverse Push Thru and Long Back Arms on the Cadillac, Backward Arms on the Wunda Chair) there is more to be had in the broadening of the upper back effectively relaxing the shoulders (in lieu of the squish) which will result in greater more yummy stretch across the chest.

And don't forget to Long the Back!

4. Kathi Ross-Nash gets extra points for gravitas.

I just think this one is hilarious.

7 Spot-On Pilates Quotes to Keep you Honest

I've tried to steal it, but I don't quite own it and it falls flat… But when it comes from Kathi I have to giggle. She says it in a sweet and gentle (mocking?) voice of false comfort while you wrestle with an exercise of outrageous proportion.

Reformer on the Mat anyone?

5. Cynthia Lochard gets right to the point.

7 Spot-On Quotes to Keep you Honest

I am guilty of this myself (of course) and it's a wonderful mantra for clients. It may seem like you need to take a moment to rest.

But maybe you don't.

What would happen if you willed yourself to continuously move for the entire hour?

Endurance. Stamina. Perseverance.

Tenacity. Grit.

Not too shabby.

 6. Jay Grimes always has a gem at the ready.

7 Spot- On Pilates Quotes to Keep you Honest

It's one of my favorites, really and it's always delivered in a silky-soft soothing voice while you sweat it out doing no less than the Twist with One Arm on the Reformer – ALL of it mind you.

 7. Romana quoting Joe Pilates. This one's a keeper.

Pilates is hard, yo. And full of tough love.

What doesn't kill you makes you stronger…yes?

7 Spot-On Pilates Quotes to Keep you Honest

Heard any Spot-On Quotes that really upped your game?

Leave a comment below and keep us in the loop. Then go workout. You know you want to.

3 Amazing Words that Define Pilates and So Much More

“You can say what Pilates is in three words. Stretch with Strength and Control. And the control part is the most important because that makes you use your mind.”  Romana Kryzanowska

Strength + Stretch = Control.

Stretch beyond your next workout. Examine the Strength of your convictions and marvel at the depth of the Pilates Method. What else is well within your Control? The answers may surprise you.


3 Amazing Words that Define Pilates and so Much More

The common thought on the common matter: pure physical prowess.

Health. Power. Vigor. Stamina.

Okay, pretty straightforward, but how about another angle?

Resilience. Courage. Strength of character. Spirit.

And Joe Pilates would love a look at the super-serious nature of strength:

Skill. Supremacy. Puissance. Backbone. Guts!

The uncommon thought on the common matter: what else is in the realm of strength? Strength + Control =

Calm. Stillness. Composure.

Just a shout-out to all you strong, silent types.

As a new apprentice I remember watching one of my first teachers, Dianne Garrett, give a correction in mat class for the Side Kicks. Using her hands on the trunk of the student’s body to keep it still, Dianne was adamant about the position of the hip and firmly delivered her direction. She had a wonderful, enviable confidence.

Yeah. I want that.

Stretch3 Amazing Words that Define Pilates and so Much More

First and foremost:

Suppleness. Resilience. Bounce. Spring!

Now let’s go all humanity on it.

Latitude. Space. Freedom. Tolerance.

Adapt or perish. Move it or lose it. “IN wit the air and OUT wit the air!”

Kathy Grant stated that Pilates is “for the unexpected.” As an 84 year-old woman with decades of Pilates under her belt she was able to avoid serious injury after a fall on a New York City subway platform. It was her Pilates training that enabled her to “bend easily without breaking” and “adapt to different circumstances.”

Control3 Amazing Words that Define Pilates and so Much More


Okay, take it easy…

Command. Mastery. Direction.

Nerve Center. Composure. Cool.

Yeah…Pilates is cool…

Control Yourself!

Joe Pilates named his exercise method Contrology, or the study of control. Heed this word only and you can't go wrong. Total Control shall be the fruit of your sweaty labors.

Information Central

The Pilates method gives us a wealth of information about our bodies. It is truly amazing what you can discover by simply paying attention. Pilates helps us control our physical lives and can often direct the future of our movements. We can retain our composure in the face of life’s upheavals and stay grounded in our central command post. Our bodies and minds deserve to be top of the list of controllable items!


Transitions in Pilates can be challenging, intricate, vexing and the perfect moment for the body to want to poop out.

During the exercises

Have you found control or it's shiny alter-ego, momentum? (ominous sound-effect here…)

Why does each moment matter so much? Control. But I want to whip my leg around in Single Leg Circles…Nope. Control. Contrology remember? You are in control at all times, not just during the exercises, but in the moments in between as well, linking each exercise seamlessly and efficiently to the next. You are in control not just at the beginning and end of your leg circle, but at every single point along the way. Even that hard part when your foot is really far away from you…why is it so far away if you are not in control? Who's in charge here, you or your leg?

This is Pilates. You might have to use your stomach.


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