A Pilates instructor says these 6 exercises strengthen your abs without weights — so I gave them a try

Woman on hands and knees with right leg extended in the air during Pilates workout
(Image credit: Getty Images)

It’s not always easy to find the time to work out, so why not try these six Pilates instructor-certified abs exercises? You only need five minutes and your body weight to tick a core workout off your to-do list.

We also recommend rolling out one of the best yoga mats to support your lower back during the short abs routine, and considering Move With Nicole performs the workout from the beach, we believe you could roll it out almost anywhere.

The Pilates abs routine suits most fitness abilities, meaning beginners and advanced Pilates lovers can benefit from the exercises, which target the abs, obliques and hips, and help counteract the effects of sitting. Just remember to scale accordingly and stop immediately if you experience pain. 

Watch Move With Nicole’s five-minute Pilates abs workout

There’s little time for introduction as you dive straight into this abs routine, curated by Pilates instructor, dancer and YouTube sensation Nicole, better known as Move With Nicole. 

“Enjoy it on its own or pair it with one of my other workouts,” recommends Nicole. “If you are feeling particularly strong, repeat the workout for that extra burn!”

The workout format is typical for abs routines; you’ll follow along for 45 seconds and rest for 15 seconds. Throughout the working sets, focus on pressing your lower back into the mat and bracing your stomach, gently sucking your belly button toward your spine. 

You won’t be working with weights, although you could add a light dumbbell or some of the best ankle weights if you want to scale up on the intensity and dial up the deep burn factor. 

Nicole demonstrates perfect control over the exercises, moving slowly to recruit as many working muscles as possible and directing the breath with the body, cueing how to breathe as she moves. The idea is to avoid rushing through the moves, which can take an exercise from a three to a solid 10 on the intensity scale, simply by slowing things down.

Anyone new to these Pilates exercises can follow the workout from start to finish with Nicole — if you can stomach the slightly retro background tunes reminiscent of phone call holding music from the 80s.

Here’s my verdict on the six Pilates ab exercises

Think about your torso from your ribcage down to your hips as a powerhouse center; it’s where you drive movement and generate stability and control. Within this powerhouse sits a network of muscles collectively known as your core. 

Each of the Pilates exercises shown in this video targets some of these muscles, including the hip flexors, abs (superficially known as the rectus abdominal muscles and more internally the transverse abdominis), obliques (internal and external) and, to a much lesser degree, the lower back, glutes, legs and arms see some action. 

I tried the short routine on my yoga mat one morning as a warm-up before a run, noticing a greater degree of core engagement than I expected, which was particularly helpful before heading out to pound the sidewalk.

For beginners, the abs workout might be enough as a standalone routine, but otherwise, consider tacking it onto the beginning or end of another workout, or adding extra rounds if you want to increase the intensity. 

Strengthening these muscle groups will build a more functional powerhouse, helping you generate better movement quality driven from your core rather than your lower back or more dominant and overused muscle groups that habitually take over. 

Many of us sit for long periods at desks or during commutes, meaning our core muscles, hips, glutes and hamstrings can become underused and weak. To counteract the effects of sitting all day, try strengthening these powerhouse muscles and learning to engage your core while you move, adding regular movement during the day.

That doesn’t mean hammering out ab workouts every day either; compound exercises target multiple muscle groups and joints at the same time and can be found in a variety of workouts, like full-body bodyweight workouts, calisthenics routines, or weighted workouts, and exercises like heavy squats and deadlifts also heavily recruit the core muscles. 

It’s about moving more and working smarter, so we’ve included some more ideas below to help you hit your abs hard without spending too much time in the gym. 

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Sam Hopes
Senior Staff Writer - Fitness

Sam Hopes is a level III qualified 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.