When building a solid core, I’ll try just about anything. From doing 100 dead bugs a day for a week, to holding a minute-long plank every morning, I’m no stranger to a weird and wonderful ab workout. Far from just being an aesthetic goal, as a runner, a strong core is essential when it comes to running stronger and faster. With that in mind, I embarked on my next challenge — Pilates toe taps.
A classic Pilates exercise, toe taps look pretty easy, but are a brilliant exercise when it comes to working your core. The move targets the rectus abdominis — the outer abdominal muscle that sits on the front of the body and is responsible for a visible ‘six pack’, as well as the transverse abdominis, which is the deepest abdominal muscle. When done with the correct form, this exercise can also work your obliques and hips. But what would doing 100 toe taps a day for a week do to my abs? Read on to find out more.
Of course, it goes without saying that 100 reps of anything is a lot, and if you’re completely new to an exercise, or returning from injury, it’s a good idea to opt for lower reps. If you’re unsure, always check with a personal trainer to ensure your form is correct before adding repetitions or weight to the exercise.
Looking for more workout inspiration? Here’s what happened when I tried the Pilates workout Meghan Markle swears by. and here's how to do a reverse plank for killer abs — as told by Ariana Grande's personal trainer.
What are toe taps?
Different to standing toe taps, Pilates toe taps — also known as supine toe taps — are done on an exercise mat. (If you don't have one, be sure to check out our picks for the best yoga mats.) To do toe taps, start by lying on your back with your legs in tabletop position. Ensure your lower back stays pressed into the mat at all times during the exercise. Keeping your leg in tabletop position, tap your right toe down to the floor, keeping your knee bent. Then raise your right leg back to tabletop position, and repeat the exercise on the left.
To make the move harder, try lowering both legs down to the mat at the same time, or raising your pelvis onto a pilates ball. To make the exercise easier, keep the non-moving foot on the floor, rather than in tabletop position.
I did 100 toe taps a day for a week — here's what happened
I’m a huge fan of Pilates, and have been for years. I know how a lot of the simple-looking exercises can have amazing benefits to the body, and toe taps is definitely one of them. Unrolling my exercise mat on day one of this challenge, I completed a simple Pilates workout before finishing on the toe taps. I did two sets of 50, and realized just how many 100 reps really was. My core felt a good-amount of achey, but nothing too dramatic. So far, so good.
On day two of the challenge, I felt the burn in my lower abs pretty soon into the 100 reps. I kept reminding myself to slow down, and follow the correct Pilates breathing method — exhaling as you tap the toe down to the mat, and inhaling as you raise it back up to tabletop. This isn’t a HIIT training exercise — it’s not designed to work up a sweat, or torch calories, but really engage the muscles in the core.
On day three, my core was pretty achy as I started toe tapping, but I’d gotten into a rhythm, and quite enjoyed doing this as part of my pre-run warm-up. As I’ve mentioned before, I suffer from sciatica, so often have to be mindful of my lower back during ab exercises. Toe taps are a brilliant exercise for people suffering with lower back pain, as unlike exercises like crunches, they don’t put any extra pressure on the lumbar spine. Check out the best exercises to do if you have lower back pain here.
On days four and five, I decided to up the intensity and try 100 double toe taps instead. The previous three days felt like a warm-up compared to this — tapping both toes down and raising them with control really forced me to engage my core, and I opted for four sets of 25 reps to ensure I wasn’t rushing to get to the end of the workout.
By day six, I was getting bored of toe taps — it’s never a good idea to do the same exercise again and again, not just because it gets dull, but because hitting the same muscle groups relentlessly isn’t that good for your body. Yet in the name of good journalism, I reached for my inflatable Pilates ball, which I propped under my pelvis for the toe taps. Again, this seriously increased the intensity of the exercise, as your core is working to stabilize your body on the ball as you move. I was on the home straight, and my core was aching.
At last, I was 100 reps away from the end of the challenge. In an attempt to go out with a bang, I grabbed my ankle weights and went for weighted toe taps. The added weight made the exercise far more intense and gave my legs a workout as I raised and lowered my legs with control.
700 toe taps later, did I have the six-pack of my dreams? Sadly not. Unfortunately, the human body doesn’t work like that, and visible abs are a result of having a low body fat percentage, not doing endless toe taps or dead bugs (here’s how to calculate your body fat percentage, and why it matters). I did feel like I’d worked my core hard, however, and the week reminded me that you don’t need to do overly complex exercises to get results.