The Pilates series of five is a popular sequence of Pilates mat ab exercises that you can put in any workout you do. If you are basically following the classical Pilates mat sequence, the series of five goes between rolling like a ball and spine stretch.
Below is a quick reference for the series of five. The basic instructions for each exercise are there accompanied by a photo. Click on the photos to make them larger and be sure to check the detailed instructions for each exercise at least once.
Notes on Form
Most people agree that these are some of the best ab exercises of all time. Yes, they are challenging. You can modify them by not taking your legs too low and/or keeping your head down. There are modifications for these exercises included in the detailed instructions.
In general, use your abdominal muscles to keep your upper body curl, to stabilize your pelvis, and to move the legs from your center. Do not take your legs any lower than you can control the movement from your abs and keep your back from coming off the mat. Your pelvis must stay stable.
Some people teach the series of five with no break between exercises holding the upper body curl the whole time. This is only for the most advanced people. Put your head down, if briefly, between exercises. Keep all of your Pilates principles in mind.
Remember, excessive muscle fatigue is not part of Joseph Pilates’ method.1
Single Leg Stretch
For the single leg stretch, lie on your back with you knees bent and legs in table top position (shins parallel to each other and to the floor).
Exhale: Let your abdominal muscles drop down toward the mat as you lengthen your spine, Lengthen the back of your neck to bring your chin down slightly as if you are holding a tennis ball between your chin and chest. Use your abs to curl your upper body off the mat to the base of your shoulder blades. (This is the upper body curl for all of the exercises.)
Extend your right leg straight out.
Put your right hand at your right ankle and your left hand at the inside of the right knee—elbows wide, shoulders down.
Inhale: Switch legs—left hand is at the left ankle and the right hand at the left knee.
Continue to inhale as you pull the bent knee slightly more toward your chest, creating a deep crease at the hip.
Exhale: Continue changing legs in this fashion, performing 5 to10 reps on each side.2
Double Leg Stretch
Lie on your back with your legs pulled into your chest to perform the double leg stretch.
Exhale: Deepen your abdominal muscles, lengthen your spine and curl your upper body off the mat. Squeeze your legs lightly toward your chest with your hands.
Inhale: Moving from your center extend your legs out at about the height of where the ceiling meets the wall and extend your arms overhead in the opposite direction. The head stays lifted with a long neck and shoulders away from your ears. Keep your arms connected to your core.
Exhale: Bring the arms around and pull the legs in again, 5 to 10 reps each side.3
Single Straight Leg Stretch
For this move, lie on the mat with your legs extended straight toward the ceiling. Your knees can be slightly bent if you have tight hamstrings.
Exhale: Curl your upper spine off the mat and grasp the backs of your calves or behind your thighs if you can’t yet reach your shins (that’s OK, it’s not the point of the exercise).
Exhale:Scissor the legs away from each other. Keep them straight. Your hands come behind your right leg as it moves toward your chest. Use your hands to pulse the leg toward you in a light stretch twice. At the same time, the left leg lowers toward the floor, hovering above it.
Inhale: Keep the upper body curl, bring your legs back up.
Exhale: Switch legs, 5 to 10 reps each side.4
Double Straight Leg Lower/Lift
To perform the double straight leg lower/lift, lie on your back with your legs extended toward the ceiling. Rotate your legs slightly out at the hip into Pilates stance.
Put your hands behind your head—shoulders down, elbows wide.
Exhale: Curl your upper spine off the mat to the base of the shoulder blades.
Inhale: Lower your legs toward the floor. Only go as far as you can control the movement with your abdominal muscles and not let your back peel up off the mat. A small move is fine.
Exhale: Use your abs to bring your legs back up, 5 to 10 reps.5
For criss cross, lie on the mat with your legs in table top position.
Place your hands behind your head, shoulders down and elbows wide.
Exhale: Curl your upper body off the mat.
Exhale: Extend your right leg as you rotate your ribcage to the right. The elbows stay wide as you bring your left armpit toward your right knee. Turn your torso a little more with a small pulse as you continue to exhale.
Inhale: Return to center.
Exhale: Extend the left leg and rotate the torso to the left, 5 to 10 reps each side.6
Counter With a Back Extension Exercise
That was an intense ab workout with lots of forward flexion. It is important to counter that with a back extension exercise and perhaps a hip extension exercise as well.