Are you looking for an ab series that is quick and effective? Time to try the Pilates Series of Five. This popular Pilates sequence is sure to get you feeling your abdominals and working the core! Best part? It only takes 2 minutes to complete from start to finish.
The basic series includes these five exercises:
1) Single Leg Stretch
2) Double Leg Stretch
3) Single Straight Leg Stretch
4) Double Straight Leg Stretch
This series helps build the support structure that keeps us standing upright with our best posture and presenting our best selves forward. The core, also often referred to as “the powerhouse”, is always a great place to access inner strength to aid our extremities (arms and legs) which helps us preserve energy for things like a long walk, hike, or a day out running errands.
Parts of the Core
The core is comprised of four key components, the most famous or often spoken of, the rectus abdominis, is our most superficial layer. It’s often referred to as “the 6-pack muscle”, and its main job is forward flexion of the spine. But this is not the only part of our core. The external obliques and internal obliques are the next deepest layers that aid in rotation and flexion. But the final and most powerful layer that assists with our strength and posture is the deepest layer, the transverse abdominis. This muscle is our key core stabilizing muscle that wraps around us like an inner tube and helps hug the core inward, helps with upright posture, and most importantly stablizes the thoracic cavity and pelvis. Without using this muscle well it’s difficult for the body to perform efficient movement patterns. And without efficiency we have unnecessary energy expenditure. And I don’t know about you, but time and energy are precious to me…so if there are ways for me to be more efficient, I am all for it. The beauty of the “Series of Five” is that together these five exercises target all of the various components that make up our full core.
The Series of Five
Ultimately we want to work up to being able to perform each exercise for ten repetitions before moving to the next. And from start to finish, trying to make it through each set without stopping or lowering the head. But with all things in life, it’s best to work your way up to that level of strength and endurance. Start with trying to do each exercise just four times, and work up from there until you find yourself performing ten of each with ease.
The videos below will show two repetitions of each exercise.
1) Single Leg Stretch
Keep the pelvis stable and lift the head and shoulders off the mat. Left hand to your right shin, right hand to your right ankle. Inhale as you hug the right shin in with wide elbows. The opposite leg shoots out long at a high diagonal. Inhale again to change legs. Then exhale twice as you exchange from right to left again. Right and left counts as one rep.
Then draw both legs into the chest to transition into…
2) Double Leg Stretch
Begin with both shins hugged into the chest. Inhale as you extend and reach the arms high overhead (without lowering the shoulders) and send the legs out long to the high diagonal. Exhale as you brace the core in deeper and circle the arms to gather the shins back into center.
Extend the right leg long towards the ceiling and grab behind the thigh or calf. Lower the left leg towards the mat…
3) Single Straight Leg Stretch
Tug the right leg towards you as the left leg moves down. Take two quick breaths in through the nose as you “tug” the leg. Pulse twice in this position. Hold the crunch in your upper body as you switch legs and exhale through the mouth. Keep the knees straight and work for a smooth transition from side to side. Right and left counts as one rep.
Draw both legs together and press them into one another. Support your hands behind your head and extend the legs up towards the ceiling…
4) Double Straight Leg Stretch
Inhale to lower both legs down to hover above the mat as you point through you ankles. Try for as low as you can without arching the low back. Exhale flex your feet to reach energy long through your heels and hug the abdominal muscles in towards the spine as you lift the legs back up to the ceiling. Maintain the shoulder blades hovering off the mat throughout.
To transition, draw the right knee in and extend the left leg out to the low diagonal…
Upper body is lifted with hands behind your head, then rotate to bring the left shoulder towards the right knee with an inhale. Inhale again to bring the right shoulder blade towards the left knee, maintaining the lift of the torso through center as you change sides and legs. Then exhale for two actions (right and left). Right and left is one rep.
To finish, draw both legs into your chest and lower the head, neck, and shoulders to the mat. Turn your head to the right and let both knees fall left, then switch head to the left knees fall right.
Tips for Good Technique
Keep the torso and hips stable throughout the whole series
Pelvis maintains neutral throughout meaning that your front hip bones and pubic bone remain parallel to the ground
Legs should only lower towards the mat as much as you can without arching the low back
Don’t rush it! Enjoy slow, fluid movements to get the most impact
Pull the abdominal muscles in towards the spine instead of letting them press out
Each exhale allows you to pull the stomach muscles in deeper
Keep shoulders wide throughout the exercises, and all arm pulling actions are assisted from your lats
When hands are behind your head, they are supporting the weight of your skull, not pulling on the neck. Let your head rest heavy in the basket of your hands, and your spine flexing forward is what produces your forward flexion and abdominal curve
Start with just a few repetitions of each exercise and work up to the full series
Take breaks between each exercise as needed until you build up strength and endurance
I hope you enjoy this sequence and find it as a helpful tool for your movement practice. If you have any questions, feel free to reach out to me at firstname.lastname@example.org or if you’re interested in doing one-on-one training to practice, I train students virtually and sessions can be booked on my booking site.
If you had to describe the current pace of your life using one word what would it be? Frenzied? Peaceful? Panicked? Joyful? Never-ending? Mindful? Is pace something that is just happening to you? When is the last time you made a conscious choice about your pace?
Fast, slow, sprint, sneak, are just a few of the ways that kid play. Exploring the world around them and the various paces of being they can implement. Our pace is a choice we make. But do you find yourself falling into the same pace without giving it much thought or consideration? I have found that noticing and playing with pace has been one of the most powerful remedies for my anxiety.
Childhood Exploration of Pace
When we were kids we played with pace all the time. It was part of exploring our own physical body within the environment around us. It was part of interacting with others in the spaces around us. Curiosity and possibility at the forefront of our young minds. But when did the playing stop and at what cost?
Growing up, I used to play this game with my siblings. When watching a TV show during the commercial breaks (this was before the time of Netflix and DVR) we would run to our bedrooms and try to clean up as many things as we could and then try to sneak back and arrive the closest to the end of the commercial break without going over (think Price is Right). We’d experience the contrast and rush from sitting and watching TV, running and picking things up, and then sneaking quietly down the stairs to the TV without being noticed, all the while having friendly competition with one another. This also provided a way for us to feeling like cleaning our rooms was fun…imagine that? And playing with contrasting speeds made this feel all the more exciting.
Then we had the game “Red light, Green light” we would play with friends during recess. In this game a group of people stand in a line far away from one person, a caller, who is facing away. The caller exclaims “green light” and the group of people try to race forward and be the first person to tag the caller. At any moment, the caller can exclaim “red light” and then turn around to look at the group. The group then has to “freeze” in place, if the caller detect anyone still moving that person is out. The caller then turns around and says “green light” and the travel forward continues until they yell “red light” again and try to catch someone still moving.
Though these may be games from childhood, they offer me some insight. The contrast in these games is what created the challenge. We had to wield control over the pace in which we were doing things. How can I both quicken and then immediately slow or stop? How can I take control of my own pace within my body, my environment, and the world? We learned that we were capable of doing so…and then we grew up.
Play Outsourced for Productivity
Work, life, home maintenance, social schedule, responsibilities, relationships, all started vying for our attention. Making their demands of our energy, our resources, our time, and we default. The pace of life began to snowball, collecting more and more speed as it raced down hill. Making its demands bigger, louder, and faster and faster until inevitable, we get sick, depressed, anxious, overworked, on auto-pilot, and are forced to slow down. Benjamin Franklin said “There will be plenty of time to sleep once you are dead”,but let me tell you Ben, your body is not a machine. It is not designed to perpetually work on overdrive, overworked, overwhelmed, and over-committed. We shouldn’t need a health crisis in order to grant ourselves permission to slow down. And we don’t have to live as a slave to the frenetic pace of life that the modern Western world touts as necessary to “keep up with the Jones”.
There is a lot of space in between sprinting and stopping? There is a lot of bandwidth available. Do you operate in more than one bandwidth? Do you exercise the option to choose your pace throughout the day?
Anxiety and Speed
I often find that when I’m anxious, I begin moving at a faster pace, physically quickening the speed at which I’m performing my tasks. Sometimes I’m not even aware of my anxiety because I’m moving so quickly there isn’t time to acknowledge it. But the moment I stop to take an exhale, I can feel the rising panic: the dissonance, the dissatisfaction, the doubt, the fear. The fastness feels frantic. The frenzy leads to fury. And the fact that I’m “getting things done” doesn’t even matter because I feel so disconnected from myself and the world around me.
I believe we often move quickly because we feel overwhelmed with the amount that we believe we have to do each day. With a massive lists of tasks, chores, correspondence, responsibilities, we see speed as the only viable solution. Quickening as our only option. But what if I told you that slowing might be the solution? How would your day feel if you tried that?
Slowing as Solution
I like to use the physical act of slowing down to bring me back to myself. When my anxiety is high, my pace is typically fast. Just the act of noticing this and slowing down my body immediately makes me feel more at ease. Do I have to be moving that fast? Is hurry even helpful?
Author Mark Buchanan in his book The Rest of God reflects “I cannot think of a single advantage I’ve ever gained from being in a hurry. But a thousand broken and missed things, tens of thousands, lie in the wake of all that rushing. Through all that haste, I thought I was making up time. It turns out I was throwing it away.” What lies in the wake of your rushing? What are you missing out on for the sake of getting that “just one more thing done”?
The physical act of slowing and yielding brings me into the present awareness of what I am doing. It makes sure that I’m not missing each moment of life that passes by. My life experience is more valuable than my output. Slowing my pace allows me to be an insider in my own life, versus an outsider looking in seeing my life pass before me as a line of outputs on a conveyor belt. Slowing helps me enjoy the moment and really notice the nuances and joy in even the most mundane and common tasks. I keeps me in the present and helps me to connect deeper to myself, my immediate environment, and the world around me.
Speed as Selection
Playing with speed and cadence of movement can be fun when we become aware of it. We are not a slave to the pace of life that we live. We have choice in how we move through the world. We can run, sprint, meander, crawl, leap, skip, or just be. We have more control over our physical experience than we often think. We are not fully slave to the feelings and sensations that we experience, and finding ways to manage them can be super empowering. Maybe pace is just one of the tools we can wield.
When we are anxious, we do not have to move fast or quicken our pace. When we feel tired or lethargic, we do not have to move slowly. When we are bored, we do not have to sit and sulk. Each of these options are a choice. And in order to change our choice, we have to first become aware that we can choose! It all starts with noticing.
Never Too Old for Play
Once we grow out of school aged, it seems our environment doesn’t build in as many opportunities to play. The memories of these games linger on as nostalgia, but we often do not recapture the essence of these games in our adult lives.
When we open our eyes to see pace not as something happening to us, but as a conscious choice we can use it as a super power. A way to play with our experience in the world around us. And I believe all of our lives could use a little more play!
Here are three games that I love to implement to explore pace in my adult life as choice:
1) A Snail’s Pace
I used to have a plastic molded early 1970s sign in my bedroom. I found it a local thrift shop, and it had a large cartoon graphic of a snail and in bubble letters the words “Slow is Beautiful.” A small visual reminder to slow, exhale, and see beauty. I started practicing A Snail’s Pace exercise when I caught myself becoming anxious from the pace I was demanding of myself. I also like to use it when I notice that I’m moving super quickly as a means to just “get something done”.
In “A Snail’s Pace”, make the conscious choice to move super-slow and see how your nervous system shifts. See how your awareness shifts. See how your presence in the moment shifts. Start by moving at 50% of the rate. Try that for about a minute. Then, see if you can again cut in half your pace, and decrease by another 50%. Sit with that pace for a while. How does that feel? What nuances do you become aware of? Can you decrease by another 50%? This may even feel like slow motion.
The slower we move, the more intentional we must become. Really sensing and feeling, how does my arm move? What are the micro-shifts happening in my body to maintain balance while I’m moving more slowly? This is a great one to implement when doing the dishes or folding laundry. It’s helps to bring interest to the often mundane. How does this fabric feel? What sound does the sponge make? Where is my body in space at this exact moment?
This exercise I often find myself performing out of need. When I catch myself in the pattern of moving too quickly, getting stressed and overwhelmed, or completely not feeling present in the activity I’m doing. I do this exercise as a personal prescription. It’s time for Snail’s Pace…exercise ensue.
2) Race the Clock
If you’re anything like me, tidying up the house is not a favorite past time of mine. But I find play, games, and friendly-competition (even if it’s with myself) super enjoyable. So, take a look at your time window. You have 15 minutes until you have to be out the door…set a timer for 10 minutes, and Race the Clock. How much can you tidy up and put away before the timer goes off? I love this exercise because it physically gets me moving faster with awareness. And after all, variety is the spice of life! We need movement variety and variance to keep us on our toes, and since I’m making the conscious choice about my pace and speed, it’s enjoyable to race around and chase the clock.
You will find yourself bending, jogging, reaching, lifting, ducking, and speeding around from space to space. Who knew you could accomplish so much in such a small time window by just challenging yourself with a timer. Maybe, you’ll even break a small sweat! And don’t worry, it will still leave you with 5 minutes before you have to be out the door and on to what’s next. When you’re done racing the clock, upon stopping, the world around you will feel slower paced. The richness of the contrast will stick with you for hours to come. And when you’re done being out and about, you’ll be able to come home to a more inviting space with less visual clutter and mess. Happy mind, happy body.
3) Interval Training
You’re likely familiar with the phrase interval training ever since H.I.I.T. (High Intensity Interval Training) became popular within the last decade. But intervals don’t have to just be for high intensity. The magic of interval training lies in the contrast between one state and another. For H.I.I.T. it’s the high intensity exercises and then the period of complete rest. How could intervals be implemented into your daily life? Many runners do this through Fartlek running. The Swedish word “Fartlek”, which literally translates to “speed play”, describes this exact process of running at a quick pace for a period of time and then switching to a slower pace, and then repeating this pattern, quick to slow. But pace is not the only think that Fartlek running varies, it also emphasizes varying terrain. Changing our speed and terrain are both ways to add more interest to our work and our environment.
Next time you are taking a walk with your dog, with your stroller, with a friend, try and incorporate some interval training to bring more interest. Power walk for a few blocks, then meander for a few blocks. Take a new route to change your terrain. Walk on the grass in the median instead of the concrete sidewalk. Hike through a nature preserve on mulch instead of on the paved walking path.
Kids love this too as a means to make walking more interesting. Racing to the light post, romping through the grass, slow motion as you step over the sidewalk cracks, the variety is as expansive as your creative mind.
Power over Pace
Pace can be overpowering, or pace can be play. We must become aware of when we are hurried, worried, racing. Without this awareness we are unable to harness pace for its power. We can use pace as a choice, instead of allowing it to be a dictator. May you invite pace into your life as a playful partner to your day. Slowing and quickening with conscious choice.
I wrote this short poem below after walking alone along the Atlantic ocean shores in Myrtle Beach South Carolina last November. Taking notice of my relationship with speed, pace, urgency, and slowing. It’s a conscious practice, and maybe someday it will take me less conscious effort. But for now, I’m happy that I can acknowledge and note within myself when I’m physically quickening as a response to my mind’s racing. And with this simply acknowledgement I can then make a conscious choice to quiet the anxieties within me, and rest on the helm of slowing.
Now, I realize that this is a very millennial thing to say, but I cannot deny the truth of it. And if I’m being transparent, before the RV trip it started with the pandemic, panic attacks, and having pursued and fulfilled a childhood dream of opening a Pilates studio. After graduating college with a degree in Dance and Spanish, and simultaneously pursuing my Pilates education, I moved back to my hometown of Neenah, WI where I swore I’d never live again…I made an original business plan for a Pilates studio in entrepreneurship class back in high school. I saw the need in my hometown local community and felt I would be remiss to not use my skillset to meet the need in my community. Spring of 2016 I opened Waveforms Pilates, specializing in highly-specific one-on-one training with bodies of all abilities. We owned a beautiful 1941 mid-century modern house, I spent years creating beautiful gardens, expanding my business, and building a movement culture throughout the Fox Cities area. On paper everything was amazing, a thriving business, sharing my passion for movement, building community, and a lovely home. But looming in the background, anxiety and panic began to consume larger portions of my days.
Starting around August of 2020, I began having a series of small panic attacks. The chaos and uncertainty of the pandemic, balancing the needs of myself, my students, and my family, and my growing anxiety started to make life more debilitating. On top of that, my husband had just received a pretty big diagnosis that gave him more insight into why over the past 2-3 years his health and physicality was deteriorating. I have managed minor anxiety throughout my whole life, but the panic attacks were new territory. Intellectually I could talk myself out of the anxiety, but it was always background noise even in the environments I felt most safe and in control (the Pilates studio and my home). The sensations of a panic attack coming on I felt no control over. This was terrifying for me. I lost weight, I lost sleep, I started to avoid making plans, and I began to feel like a shell of myself. Stress had taken over and my body and mind were fighting a constant state of fight-or-flight, with no sign of thriving even though from the outside view everything looked amazing. Rationally the business had never been busier, our finances were incredible, my husband super supportive, and I had great relationships with friends and family, where was the dissonance?
Fast-forward to January of 2021, my husband and I both came home from work with the same thing in mind. Is this what we want the rest of our lives to look like? A successful business, beautiful home, comfortable life, but our mental and physical health suffering? Sometimes in life we are called to say goodbye to things, even when they are good. Just like the lyrics from The Fray’s song “All at Once”, “sometimes the hardest things and the right thing are the same.” There are seasons to life and a boldness often required. A braveness to look within and continue to ask questions what might be best for oneself? Even if it’s not easy. We didn’t want to be people who stuck with something that was good, even though it no longer felt right. We wanted to step into a life design that could include prioritizing our personal health and wellbeing. We felt confident that there was a new place, a new chapter, and a next iteration of what our future could look like to be explored. My family and I entered into the great unknown with a lot a bit of blind faith and a whole lot of trust.
After our conversations together and a few months of getting some affairs in order, May 2022 we sold our home and most of our possessions, and June 2021 we sold our successful brick-and-mortar Pilates studio to our dear friend who had been an instructor at the studio for over two years. We wanted to hit the road on a year-long sabbatical to take time for pause and re-evaluation. Spending part of our thirties to rest and restore our personal health and wellbeing, and look deeper into what we wanted our future life design to not only look like, but feel like. Cherishing time with one another and re-discovered what makes us come alive. We started by living in community with some dear friends, transitioned to the road traveling full time in an RV, and then bought a condo and settled into the beautiful lakefront of Sheboygan, WI.
Move and Yield Emerges
Move and Yield emerged out of this journey and the self-discovery of what I found provides me with the most fulfillment: movement, yielding, nature, creative expression, and community.
Move and Yield is a community initiative that was born out of my own need to slow down and find joy in all aspects of my life. As an entrepreneur and small business owner I found myself full of purpose, but lacking in fulfillment. The fast-pace of modern society left me feeling worn out, full of anxiety, and with little time and space for listening inward to what my body and mind truly needed. I longed for delight, connection, and expression.
The focus is on encouraging people to move more, connect to the natural world, find creative expression, invest in community, and spend thoughtful time in yield. When we race through life it passes us by, and joy gets lost in the spaces in between. Slowing down the modern pace of life is essential for helping us connect to self, build meaningful relationships, and contribute to the world. Nature provides a perfect backdrop to take us away from the many distractions and stressors of modern life and helps connect us to the vastness of the world. So many of the movement meet-ups and events will exist in outdoor spaces.
Move may seem obvious, in our modern sedentary-laden culture, but what do I mean in terms of yield? In life we must slow and listen in order to know what our bodies and minds truly need. When we stay “busy” we are robbed of the ability to tap into self-awareness and connection. When we are disconnected to self it’s extremely difficult to connect with others, and to sense our connection to the greater world around us. This in turn makes our purpose feel lacking and our lives feeling empty. The feeling of life in a “hamster wheel” is not an enjoyable outcome of our efforts. Yielding is a process of slowing to help us tap into an embodied and full existence, and to help us discover what our true inner desires in life consist of. Slowing down to take notice of all life has to offer. And savoring and prioritizing the experiences that bring us alive.
Move and Yield is a community that provides curated content and classes that balance moving more and yielding to reconnect and slow the modern pace of life. All of these things encompassed and focused on the themes of both moving and yielding more in our day-to-day lives.
Drawing Inspiration from:
Pilates, functional fitness, intuitive movement, dance, and play
Building variety, frequency, and awareness in our movement practice
Connecting to nature and spending time in outdoor spaces
Teaching compassion, capability, and kindness to ones body
Thoughtful introspection and turning inward to discover our inner desires
Moving the spine in all directions and exploring movement possibilities
Beauty that surrounds us in one another, nature, and within ourselves
Simplicity, sustainability, and minimalism
Curiosity and creativity about what our artistic expression is in this world
Daring to play to access joy and delight in life
A holistic approach to wellness that considers mind, body, and spirit
Setting intentions in our movement practices and lives
Online Pilates-informed movement mat classes
Bi-monthly book club meetings on themes surrounding Move and Yield
Small group movement series
Movement Meet-ups and classes in natural settings
Instagram inspirations and content @courtneyannemoves
A newsletter with articles, musings, tips, and upcoming events
Adult modern dance/embodied movement classes
A combination of virtual experiences and in-person experiences for people to join from near and far
We are being called towards movement and yielding.
Emerging from sabbatical with fresh insight
This is my next iteration of life and I’m certain it will not be a final one as I value the importance of continually looking within and reassessing. Does this no longer serve me? And then the bravest part of it all, being willing to exercise boldness when the answer to that question is “no”, but the road to change looks insurmountable. The big steps that each have a hundred little steps required that feel like they’ll never end…but the risk of staying put feels all the more mountainous. What helped was not looking at the situation as loss, but an act of letting go. Loss is something that happens to us and is not within our control. But the act of letting things go is a process that we exercise purposefully. A willingness that we cultivate within ourselves and do with permission and recognition. I’m letting this go because it no longer serves me, and freeing myself to the future possibilies that await me. Move and yield is full of possibitilies, aligns with my values, and I believe has a lot of value to offer to in these modern times. I cannot wait to share more with you in the months and years to come. Stay tuned. <3
-Courtney Anne Holcomb
Follow the instagram account @courtneyannemoves to join the dialogue and find access to classes and offerings here on courtneyanne.org and by signing up for our free newsletter here.
To see adventures from the road on our RV trip, check out my page @moveandyield on Instagram.