Forget sit-ups — this Pilates ring ab workout carves your core in just 5 moves

Woman performing a crunch during ab workout using Pilates ring
(Image credit: Shutterstock)

It doesn’t matter whether you enjoy Pilates or yoga, learning how to use a Pilates ring during ab workouts could have massive benefits for your core muscles. 

“The magic circle,” as it’s also known, could help activate and strengthen your abs during exercises using one piece of compact, lightweight equipment. The best part is that you don’t need the gym or heavy weights for this ab workout, just your Pilates ring, one of the best yoga mats and these bodyweight ab exercises.

Here are the benefits of Pilates rings and five ways to fire up your abs in under 20 minutes from anywhere, whether you’re home for the holidays or traveling on vacation. 

What are the 5 Pilates ring ab exercises to strengthen your core?

These five beginner Pilates ring exercises fire up 360-degree core activation, helping you target more muscles than just your abs, like the obliques and deeper core muscles responsible for posture and stabilization. 

The Magic Circle Ab Series, created by Jeni DelPozo, doesn’t specify reps or sets, so we’ve created a short 15-minute workout to follow. Remember to work at your current ability and scale reps and sets if necessary. If you’re returning to exercise from an injury or pregnancy, always seek medical consultation before beginning a new exercise routine. 

Here are the Pilates ring ab exercises:

1. Pilates ring single-leg stretch

Start on your back with your knees bent and legs raised from the mat. Press your Pilates ring against your left thigh, then extend your right leg away from you while engaging your abs and pushing against the ring. Return your right leg to the starting position and complete reps on one side before switching sides.

2. Pilates ring single-leg lower lift

Stay on your back with your knees bent, legs lifted away from the floor, and the Pilates ring pressed against your left thigh. Engage your stomach, then raise and lower your right leg with control. Complete reps on one side before moving to the other.

3. Pilates ring leg raises

Stay lying on your back and place the Pilates ring between your thighs or just above your ankles. Press against the ring to engage your legs, then squeeze your stomach, lift your upper back away from the mat and place your hands behind your head. Pull your shoulder blades together, then drive your legs up and down with control to perform your leg raises.

4. Scissors

Set the Pilates ring against your left shin just above the ankle and press your right palm against the other side, extending both legs into the air and lifting your upper back away from the mat. Keep your right arm straight above you and hold the position. With control, raise and lower your leg while pressing your back into the floor. Switch sides. Here's how to do scissor kicks in more detail to help level up your technique.

5. Crisscross

Lay on your back and place your Pilates ring against your right thigh with your right leg bent in the air. Simultaneously position your left elbow against the opposite side, holding the ring over your stomach. Lift your upper back, engage your core and extend your left leg into the air with pointed toes. From this starting position, try to crush your circle using your elbow and knee using a pulsing motion. Switch sides. 

5-move 15-minute Pilates ring ab workout to try from your yoga mat

Watch the video above to keep your form in check and learn how to do each Pilates ab exercise properly. Keep your stomach braced and movement controlled without arching your lower back away from the mat or putting pressure through your lower back. 

Work for 50 seconds, switching sides after 25 seconds for single-sided exercises. Rest for 10 seconds, then move to the next exercise and complete 3 rounds. 

Add rounds for a more intense ab workout. If you’d prefer not to switch sides halfway through, perform a round on your left side, then one on your right and mix it up on the last round. 

Verdict

Pilates rings are easy-to-access pieces of resistance equipment made from rubber. They have small cushions on either side and can be placed between your hands, arms, or legs to help activate every major muscle group and your smaller stabilizer muscles (which can be harder to fire up) by giving them something to contract against. The same applies to yoga blocks, although they have less give, which is why this yoga block ab workout is also worth trying if you're traveling or short on equipment.

Using one regularly could help you build strength and muscle tone across your whole body, including your arms, shoulders, back, core, chest, thighs and glutes, also building balance, stability, flexibility and mobility. We recommend engaging in some form of resistance-based training several times a week for best results for your abs. 

Firmly squeezing your Pilates ring inwards or pushing outward against the inner side can help muscles work harder. You could add a Pilates ring to any bodyweight workout, ab routine, or warm-up to help ramp up the intensity. During this workout, practice squeezing as many muscles as possible and press against the Pilates ring at all times, and remember to breathe deeply toward your belly rather than your chest.

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Sam Hopes
Senior Staff Writer - Fitness

Sam Hopes is a level III fitness trainer, level II reiki practitioner, and senior fitness writer at Future PLC, the publisher of Tom's Guide. She is also about to undertake her Yoga For Athletes training course. Having trained to work with mind and body, Sam is a big advocate of using mindfulness techniques in sport and fitness, and their impact on performance. She’s also passionate about the fundamentals of training and building sustainable training methods.  When she's not writing up her experiences with the latest fitness tech and workouts, you’ll find her writing about nutrition, sleep, recovery, and wellness.