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Flat Abs, the Pilates Way

Do you dream about flat abs? Try this Pilates-inspired workout.

WebMD Magazine - Feature
Reviewed by David T. Derrer, MD

Looking to sculpt a flat, strong midsection without sit-ups? Pilates exercises can activate and tone your core muscles.

Pilates professional Risa Sheppard, creator of The Sheppard Method, owner of the Los Angeles studio of the same name, and trainer to country music star Reba McEntire, shares three belly-flattening moves.

Progression 1

Lie on your back. Knees are bent, and feet are flat on the floor. Hips are level, and the spine is sinking into the floor as if it's a sandbox. Shoulders are pressed back and down toward your buttocks. Hold arms toward the ceiling straight up from your shoulders, fingers extended toward the ceiling.

Inhale. Then, as you exhale, press the arms for a count of six toward the floor until they're at your sides. Pretend you're pressing through mud. Reverse the motion for a count of six to the starting position. 

Progression 2

Use the same starting position as in Progression 1. Lift your feet off the floor so there are 90-degree angles at your knees and hips. Your arms are extended straight out from your shoulders, and your fingertips are slightly off the floor.

Keep the shoulder blades down, using the same resistance as before. Inhale. Then, as you exhale, bring your arms to the sides of the body so your fingertips are pointing in the direction of your feet. Hold for six counts. Inhale; then, as you exhale, reverse the motion to return arms to the starting position.

Progression 3

Repeat either exercise above, but this time lift and hold the upper body off the floor as you lower your arms.

How to Get Past a Weight Loss Plateau

Getting stronger helps you move past a weight loss plateau.

"Keep up the cardio, but add some strengthening moves to challenge your body in new ways," says Los Angeles-based trainer Ashley Borden, who has coached celebrities like Christina Aguilera and Ryan Gosling.

"Changing up your moves, reps, and cadence with your training will stimulate your muscle growth and shape a more fit physique," Borden says.

She suggests doing this variation of a pushup, which works your core muscles.

"Use your arms to slowly raise your body into pushup position, and hold the position while pulling your right knee toward your chest. Straighten the right leg, then repeat the move with your left knee. Do each side once per rep, and repeat four times."

"I love the challenge of a pushup," Borden says. "It's a tough move to do correctly, but don't give up!"

Find more articles, browse back issues, and read the current issue of WebMD the Magazine.

Reviewed on February 25, 2014

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