And we’ve reached the end, my friends. The fifth and final exercise in the Pilates Series of Five, the Criss Cross. Perform directly following the Single Leg Stretch, the Double Leg Stretch, the Single Straight Leg Stretch and the Double Straight Leg Stretch. My clients complain that this is the most difficult of the five exercises. Whether this is because the movement is the most challenging or it just hurts the most because you’ve already done four other ab exercises, I don’t know. Either way, it’s one of the best moves I know for whittling your waistline and toning up your obliques (aka those muscles that run along the sides of your tummy).
Exercise 5- Criss Cross (10 reps)
1. Begin on an inhale. Draw your bellybutton into your spine. Bring your hands behind your head, curling your head and shoulders up and off the mat. (Elbows wide, head should be heavy in you hands so as to keep the strain out of your neck.) As you bend your right knee into your chest (while stretching your left leg away), curl your left elbow towards your right knee. Think of not so much reaching your elbow as your underarm and shoulder towards your knee.
Things to keep in mind
-Don’t allow your lower back to arch off of the mat. This is an indicator that your legs are too low and you are working less in your core (and are more at risk for straining your back). Raise your legs to a height where your low back is no longer arching.
-Eyes forward. (If you’re looking up at the ceiling, your neck is going to kill you. Either keep your eyes forward and your upper body curled all the way up, or put your head down.)
-Elbows should remain wide the entire time. You are lifting and twisting with your abdominals, not just bending your elbows towards your knees.
-Keep your shoulders down and away from your ears. In other words, make sure you always have a neck.
-Keep your hips steady. No sassy, hula-dancing hips.
-Same goes for the rest of your body. Your legs are switching and your upper body is rotating, but your torso should remain stable.
-Tummy pulled in nice and flat. Imagine zipping on those skinny jeans. You know the pair. Where you have to pull your tummy both in and up. Now do that throughout the exercise. We want to work on building your abdominal muscles in, not out.
– Raise the height of your legs. They can be as high as 90 degrees (straight up to the ceiling), while still challenging your abs.
-Reduce the number of repetitions and don’t be afraid to take breaks. Proper form is more important than risking the integrity of your body.
-Lower your legs. As long as you are not arching in your low back, your legs can go as low as just above the mat.
-Increase the number of reps.
-Vary the pace. Do some reps more quickly and make some painfully slow.
Photos by Michele LoBosco