Want a stronger core? A Pilates expert shares her top three exercises for beginners

Sack the sit-ups and give this three-move workout a go instead

Woman performing the Pilates exercise bird dog
(Image credit: Shutterstock)

If you’re looking to build up your core strength, but are bored of your regular sit-ups, then this three-move Pilates workout could just be what you need to spice things up. Requiring nothing but your body weight (and something soft beneath you like a yoga mat), this workout will take you no longer than 15 minutes – perfect for those days you’re pushed for time or can’t get to the gym.

This workout comes from Lotty Campbell Bird, Founder of Collective Fitness, a Pilates and barre studio based in the Cotswolds. “Pilates is a great way for strengthening our deep core muscles – the abdominal muscles, the muscles surrounding the spine, the muscles in the diaphragm, and the pelvic floor," explains Lotty. "This creates a strong central base for the body, supports major joints, reduces pain and helps prevent injury. But a strong core also boosts stability and improves posture, which supports our functional movement and agility in everyday life. "

Ready to fire up your core muscles? Grab your gym water bottle (things are about to get heated) and give Lotty's workout a go...

1. All-fours extensions

Lotty Pilates teacher performing the bird dog exercise

(Image credit: The Collective Fitness Studio)

Benefits: This movement is a great way to engage your abdominal muscles to stabilise the pelvis and work the muscles in the arms and back to stabilise the spine.

How to:

  • Place your hands on the floor under your shoulders and knees underneath your hips, keeping a neutral spine – imagine you have a cup of tea balanced on your tailbone
  • Maintaining this position, exhale as you extend one leg backwards and the opposite arm forwards and hold for one to two seconds
  • Inhale as you return to the starting position
  • Alternate sides with each rep

Reps/sets: 8-10 reps per side and repeat three times

2. High plank

Lotty Pilates teacher performing the high plank

(Image credit: The Collective Fitness Studio)

Benefit: The plank is a full-body exercise, where every single muscle is engaged to support the body and also as an opportunity to lengthen and strengthen the spine.

How to: 

  • Place your hands on the floor underneath your shoulders
  • Extend your legs out behind you to hold your body in one long line, maintaining a neutral spine without tucking or tilting your pelvis 
  • If this is too hard, you can drop to your knees to make it easier

Sets/reps: Hold for 30-45 seconds and repeat three times 

3. Ab curl

Pilates teacher Lotty performing the ab curl

(Image credit: The Collective Fitness Studio)

Benefits: Finding stability in a neutral pelvis provides the most efficient and effective way to engage the abdominals and pelvic floor muscles, while the flexion in the upper back helps to improve mobility in the spine. 

How to:

  • Lie flat on your back with your knees bent and feet flat on the floor – your spine and pelvis should be in neutral alignment
  • Interlace your hands behind your head to support your neck 
  • Inhale, then, as you exhale, lift your head, neck and shoulder blades off the mat. 
  • Use your upper-back muscles to stabilise your body and engage your abdominal muscles
  • Inhale as you lower

Once you’ve mastered these moves you could either try increasing your reps/time, or even try adding some extra resistance into the equation, such as a light pair of dumbbells, ankle weights, or even a small weight plate. Need more core-inspired workouts? Give this standing ab workout a go next, or this six-move workout (spoiler, there's no crunches).

Bryony Firth-Bernard
Staff Writer, Active

Bryony’s T3’s official ‘gym-bunny’ and Active Staff Writer, covering all things fitness. In her spare time, you will find her in her natural habitat - the gym - where her style of training is a hybrid of bodybuilding and powerlifting. Bryony loves writing about accessible workouts, nutrition and testing innovative fitness products that help you reach your fitness goals and take your training to the next level.