Reform: The Criss-Cross


Fab Abs with the Pilates Criss-Cross

I’ve been requested to post another abdominal exercise, so here goes. This is one that targets all your abdominal muscles, so it’s quite a tough one. Please read all the instructions as correct technique is everything. Good results come with good execution. Read it through once and then give it a go!

Debbie Jenner Pilates Company
Photo: Kasper van ‘t Hoff

Tip for extra results: during the movements also try to draw your tummy in, think of pulling your belly button towards your spine throughout the exercise. This will help to activate your deep-lying postural muscle – the musculus transversus abdominis, which we call the T.A. We often neglect or forget this muscle, but it is so important and will give those extra positive results if you add pulling it in to all your ‘ab’ exercises.

Watch out:

  1. keep the elbows wide
  2. that you bring the shoulder to the opposite knee, and not the elbow
  3. keep the pelvis still, don’t roll from side to side
  4. keep the legs parallel to each other
  5. if you are new to exercise or you have lower back problems, do not be tempted to have the stretched leg too low, or you will put undue pressure on your back. The stronger you get, the lower the leg can go but the foot should NEVER go lower than eye height.


Many people complain about their neck hurting when they do this type of exercise with the head off the floor, but that is usually because the head is held too low and is tilted backwards. The tiny neck muscles have to lift the head off the floor, and your head is heavy, so by tilting is backwards you are feeling tired neck muscles at the front (and you’re not using your abs properly). So get your head upright, crown to the ceiling, forehead to the opposite wall! Look straight ahead not at the ceiling. This way there is less strain on the neck muscles at the front. You may feel the muscles at the back of the neck pulling, but that is just a sign that you need a massage! You’re just stiff!

If you have a shoulder issue and can’t lift your arms above shoulder height, place the hands on your shoulders and have the elbows to the side, just under shoulder height. Still keep them wide, away from each other.

Starting position:

On your back, bend one knee towards your chest, bend the other one in. Keep the legs parallel to each other. (Pointing the toes can help you to control the legs better).

Place two fingers from each hand against the side of your head, you won’t need to pull on your head. Keep the elbows wide but so that you can just see them in your peripheral vision.

Breathe in, breathe out and pull the tummy in, lift the head off the floor until it is upright. Try to get the shoulder blades off the floor.

Breathe in and as you breathe out slowly rotate the upper body – bring the right elbow to the left knee, stretch the right leg out. Look along your bottom elbow. Remember to keep the elbows wide and bring the shoulder to the knee, not the elbow. Don’t rock the pelvis, and keep the legs parallel. Hold for a ‘nano’ second. And change sides – breathe in, breathe out and rotate to the other side. Hold.

Do as many as you can with good technique.

It only takes a couple of minutes at the most… you could do this every day! But 3 times a week is a good start!

Remember correct technique is essential.

Such fun!



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