Get Pilates Strong: The Criss Cross

Get Pilates Strong: The Criss Cross - Step 1


Few exercise systems outside of Pilates concentrate so thoroughly on the core of the body as a source of power and strength. As one of the five essential abdominal moves in the classical Mat repertoire, the Criss Cross resembles an old school gym move.  But don't be fooled. Execute this move with the Pilates principles and you'll reap the benefits more quickly and effectively than any other version you've seen before. 

A word of caution to those with delicate backs. The Criss Cross is a rotation exercise that involves twisting of the torso. Such moves are the last moves to add when you are returning from an injury or are prone to back problems. Move slowly and cautiously following the instructions exactly and you will avoid any unwanted negative effects. 

Begin on your back on a mat with your knees into your chest and your hands behind your head, palm over palm. 

To gauge your strength here, practice curling up the head, neck and shoulders off the mat. Aim to rise up as high as the base or bottom of your shoulder blades. Keep the elbows wide, the abdominals drawing inward and take your gaze downward.

Timing: Muscles need a moment to contract to their deepest potential. Take 3 full counts to curl up, followed by a 3 count hold and 3 more counts to lower down.

Focus: The articulation of your spine peeling up off the floor one bone at a time is key to contracting your waist. The more effective the curl in the upper body, the more your abdominals will pull inward.

Form: Watch your legs. Rather than let them just drop lazily into the body, hold them up and away from you just out of reach. When you curl upwards you should try to reach your head right to the center of your knees so keep them just out of reach to motivate yourself to curl higher.

Repeat this controlled curl 4 - 6 times as a preparation to fire up your abdominals and mobilize your spine in order to move forward. 

Get Pilates Strong: The Criss Cross - Step 2


 On your final curl up, remain lifted. Pivot the upper body around aiming the right elbow for the left knee and stretching the opposite knee out long.  Don't over twist or rock onto one side of the body. 

Complete one set to the right and left and then repeat 4 more sets for a total of 5 full sets.

Timing: This is a specifically timed movement. Twist the body and hold your position for 3 full counts trying to lift higher with each count. Repeat the hold on each repetition.

Form: Your goal is to lift higher as you twist not lower. Just as you pulled your knees a little forward in the preparatory move, keep the knees just out of reach of your elbows on this twisting portion.

Focus:  Concentrate on the rotation coming from your waist. Avoid any twisting from your arms or shoulders. Isolating the twist to the core of the body will give the best results. 

Tips and Tricks:

You may simply perform step one without moving on to the twisting part of the exercise. 

Reduce your repetitions to 3 sets to begin if 5 is too much.

If you are able to complete this move with ease, raise the level of difficulty by adjusting your hands to cross more fully behind your head. Repeat the series this way.

The Criss Cross is a signature Pilates move you can practice at home, in the studio or at your gym. 

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