A Pilates instructor shares an 8-minute Pilates abs workout for deep core activation — so I tried it

Pilates ab workout: Image of Nicole on all-fours with left arm and right leg extended
(Image credit: YouTube/ Move With Nicole)

When you hear the words “deep core activation” during workouts — what do you think of? It might be the intense burning sensation in your abs that signals your core workout is tough, or a dull ache in the abs the day after a workout when the DOMS start kicking in. 

If you haven’t checked in with your core muscles lately, it really means activating the deep layer of core muscles nestled beneath the superficial and visible midsection muscles, which are responsible for posture, movement, support and stabilization. 

Some examples include the erector spinae (muscles that hug your spine), transverse abdominis (a belt of muscles beneath the superficial abs across the front of your stomach) and internal obliques (waist muscles that sit below the external obliques). 

There are plenty more, of course, but getting to know some of these muscle groups can improve core engagement and build a better mind-muscle connection while you exercise. Sound good? Here’s an eight-minute Pilates ab workout, shared by a Pilates instructor, that ticks boxes for deep core activation — and I tried it.

Watch the 8-minute Pilates abs workout video by Lilly Sabri

Pilates is famed for building strong muscles and tone (definition), improving core strength and stability and generally strengthening and lengthening. Pilates lovers also swear by the method for better posture, reduced injury risk, a stronger physique and better flexibility and range of motion. 

It’s a popular exercise style for a reason and not just for rehabilitation. Research by the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research shows that a regular Pilates routine could improve muscular endurance and flexibility in a low-impact environment, meaning your joints are less likely to suffer for the benefits.

And even better, this one dials straight into those deep core muscles, helping you to learn where they are, what they feel like and how to activate them. 

Lilly Sabri boasts an impressive following on her YouTube channel (we’re talking millions here) for a reason — and not just because she tempts you in with buzzwords like “get lean” or “lose belly fat,” which, by the way, is more down to your diet and overall lifestyle choices than how many abs workouts you can cram into your week.

Sabri has set up a deep core activation challenge, and this workout takes just eight minutes to complete. She promises you’ll feel “the most incredible burn,” without equipment. We just recommend rolling out one of the best yoga mats and keeping props on standby if you decide to add resistance. She also recommends sticking to the routine consistently for the best results. 

“The most important thing when it comes to deep core activation is mastering your pelvic tilt,” Sabri explains. By posteriorly tilting your pelvis toward you, you can flatten your lower back into the mat beneath you, helping to increase core activation and reduce stress on your spine. 

Learning how to activate your core properly is the single most important thing you can do when heading into an ab workout or any workout, for that matter, so we’re glad Sabri takes the time to set this up before the workout begins. 

The workout includes Pilates principles but follows a typical abs workout format — you’ll work through a 30/20/10 second structure, performing one move for 30 seconds, an advanced version for the next for 20 and maintaining a holding position for 10 seconds. 

Isometric contraction — a low-impact way to build strength without moving the body through a range of motion — is a great way to increase intensity using your body weight, and even 10 seconds can ramp things up when switching between moving and holding positions. 

“This Pilates abs deep core activation challenge will help you get a strong Pilates core…and teach you deep core activation,” Sabri says. Some moves also work the hip flexors, which technically count as part of your network of core muscles and help lift and hold the legs in the air. 

My verdict on the 8-minute Pilates abs workout

Anyone looking to get deep into those core muscles and feel the burn will find it by following Sabri's workout. 

I much prefer full-body workouts with a strong core component when exercising, but this short Pilates abs workout still floored me in eight minutes, and my core was surprisingly sore the next day.

There's some gentle twisting involved, which activates your waist, plus variations on sit-ups and crunches and holding exercises that require stabilization. All in all, most of your core muscles get the nod at some stage.

For some exercises, I recommend bending your knees if you struggle to keep them straight, and lifting your legs higher into the air should help you keep your lower back pressed down into the mat if you feel it lifting.

Admittedly, I find abs workouts quite boring — I much prefer throwing heavy weights around at high intensity — but the continuous eight-minute working set kept me stimulated and challenged, with little to no rest available. If you’re looking to slot something short and sweet into the day at lunchtime or before or after work, this one sure does the trick. 

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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.