WebMD the Magazine – Feature

Reviewed by Michael W. Smith, MD

Looking to sculpt a flat, strong midsection without sit-ups? Pilates exercises can activate and tone the muscles of the trunk — the rectus and transversus abdominis, and obliques. Pilates professional Risa Sheppard, creator of the Sheppard Method, owner of the Los Angeles studio of the same name, and trainer to country music star Reba McEntire, shares three belly-flattening moves.

Progression 1

Lie on your back. Knees are bent and feet are flat on the floor. Hips are level and the spine is sinking into the floor as if it’s a sandbox. Shoulders are pressed back and down toward your buttocks. Hold arms toward the ceiling straight up from your shoulders, fingers extended toward the ceiling.

Inhale, then as you exhale, press the arms for a count of six toward the floor until they’re at your sides. Pretend you’re pressing through mud. Reverse the motion for a count of six to the starting position.

Progression 2

Use the same starting position as in Progression 1. Lift your feet off the floor so there are 90-degree angles at your knees and hips. Your arms are extended straight out from your shoulders and your fingertips are slightly off the ground.

Keep the shoulder blades down, using the same resistance as before. Inhale, then as you exhale, bring your arms to the sides of the body so your fingertips are pointing in the direction of your feet. Hold for six counts. Inhale, then as you exhale, reverse the motion to return arms to the starting position.

Progression 3

Repeat either exercise above, but this time lift and hold the upper body off the floor as you lower your arms.

How to Get Past a Weight Loss Plateau

Q: “I’ve lost 25 pounds doing cardio, but I’ve hit a plateau. What can I do at home to mix up my routine and continue losing weight?”

A: “Keep up the cardio but add some strengthening moves to challenge your body in new ways,” says Los Angeles-based trainer Ashley Borden, who coaches celebrities like Christina Aguilera and Ryan Gosling. “Changing up your moves, reps, and cadence with your training will stimulate your muscle growth and shape a more fit physique. Try a twist on a traditional push-up three times a week. Use your arms to slowly raise your body into push-up position, and hold the position while pulling your right knee toward your chest. Straighten the right leg, then repeat the move with your left knee. Do each side once per rep, and repeat four times.”