This Pilates exercise is one of the best for sculpting your abs — here’s how to do it

Pilates ab workout
(Image credit: Shutterstock)

So you’re looking for the best Pilates ab exercises for working your core, and you’ve come across the hundred. This simple-looking exercise, often used as a warm-up in a Pilates workout or class, targets the transverse abdominal muscles (the deep core muscles that span from the lower ribs to the pelvis), the rectus abdominis (the outer core muscles often referred to as the ‘six-pack’), the obliques (the core muscles that run along the side of the torso), and pelvic floor. 

But how do you do the hundreds exercise correctly, what form mistakes should you look out for, and what exercises should you pair them with to really sculpt into the core? To find out more, we spoke to Victoria Gibbs and Robert Cadiz, two trainers at Fiture. Read on to find out everything you need to know about the exercise, and how to use it in your routine.

Looking for more workout inspiration? Here are 8 of the best Pilates exercises for targeting your core for the ultimate burn, a dumbbell ab workout that sculpts your core in 15 minutes, plus 5 push-up variations to try on your next chest day

How to do the hundreds exercise correctly 

Let’s start with how to do the exercise. “There is a lot of coordination that goes into proper execution of the hundreds,” says Gibbs. “Firstly, lay down flat on your back with your legs in a tabletop position to start, shins and ankles should be parallel to the floor. Secondly, tuck chin to chest and scoop your abdominals in and back towards your spine with your head, neck, and shoulders up and off of the mat. 

Next, extend your arms out directly in front of you so they are perfectly straight and parallel with energy running through your fingertips the entire time. From tabletop, extend your legs so that they are completely straight and angled to where the wall and ceiling meet. Lastly, pump arms up and down taking five short breaths in and five short breaths out.”

an illo of a woman doing the pilates hundreds

(Image credit: Shutterstock)

What are the benefits of the hundred? 

“Like a big layered sandwich, the Hundreds Exercise will work your entire core from deepest transverse abdominis, to your top layer rectus abdominis, as well as the outer walls of the core — your obliques,” Cadiz says. “It will also help strengthen the pelvis, your hip flexors, and quads.”

What form mistakes should you look out for? 

Like all exercises, you’ll only reap the rewards of the hundreds if you’re doing it with good form. Let’s start by looking at the neck — if you allow the chin to point up to the ceiling, you’ll create tension on the neck, Gibbs explains. “Think long neck, chest proud!” Cadiz adds. 

It’s also important to keep the lower back pressed into the exercise mat during this move. “Your lower back should be flush flat to the ground so that you can really brace the core and fire up your pelvic floor. If your lower back begins to feel like a bridge over water, pull the knees in so that you can drop the back down flat. Keeping your knees over your belly button is okay if it keeps your back safe — just engage that core!” says Gibbs. 

a photo of a woman doing the one hundred pilates exercise

(Image credit: Shutterstock)

How important are the five breaths in and five breaths out? 

If you’ve ever taken a Pilates class, you’ll have noticed the instructor spend a lot of time talking about your breath, and the hundreds exercise is no different. In order to do the move correctly, you’ll breathe in for five pumps of the arms, and out for five. But how important is this? “The breath-work is absolutely pivotal in the hundreds,” says Gibbs. “It is the foundation of the exercise, coordinating movement with breath to energize the body.” 

How can you make the exercise easier and more difficult?

Looking to modify the move? We asked Gibbs and Cadiz how to make hundreds easier if you’re a Pilates beginner, or more difficult if you’re up for a challenge. To make the exercise easier, “start with legs in a table top and shoulders off the ground. Drop the heels down to your mat for less of a demand on the lower body, while keeping shoulders hovering. Similarly, you can drop the shoulders and head if there is a strain on the neck and keep the legs up to a table top. Another option is to move slower with the breath, and work your way up to 5 arms pumps for one breath in and another out,” explains Gibbs.

“Adding instability, such as extending the legs longer out in front and lower to the ground will intensify the need of your core to stabilize your body and protect your low back,” in turn making the move more difficult, explains Cadiz. “I personally, love a Hundred movement with my legs low enough that I'm in a slight hollow hold. Separately, you can also amplify by loading weights like ankle weights or small dumbbells that will not pull the arms down. Any loaded weight has to be something you can control!” he adds.

What Pilates exercises would you pair this with for an intense ab workout?

Looking to up the ante, we asked both trainers what exercises they’d pair hundreds with for a full abdominal workout. “Some of my favorite exercises to pair with the hundreds are the following; single leg stretch, double leg stretch, scissor kick, double straight leg lower & lift, starfish crunch, rolling like a ball, and open leg rocker — this combination of exercises in any order will torch your abs and sculpt them over time,” says Gibbs.

“I love to follow up the hundred exercise with lots of oblique work,” Cadiz answers. “It's such a great way to fire up the entire trunk that I then like to put the focus on the outer abdominal walls by adding in some side planks or oblique v-ups. Separately, if you're short on time, slow bicycles while in the hundred move will start cooking a fire quickly!”

Jane McGuire
Fitness editor

Jane McGuire is Tom's Guide's Fitness editor, which means she looks after everything fitness related - from running gear to yoga mats. An avid runner, Jane has tested and reviewed fitness products for the past five years, so knows what to look for when finding a good running watch or a pair of shorts with pockets big enough for your smartphone. When she's not pounding the pavements, you'll find Jane striding round the Surrey Hills, taking far too many photos of her puppy.